Car travel within the urban corridor north and south of Denver can be congested, particularly weekday mornings and afternoons. Weekends, too, can have quite a bit of traffic, particularly along I–70 between Denver and the high mountains. Heavy traffic is not limited to ski season or bad weather. It is nearly a matter of course now for eastbound I–70 to be heavily congested on Sunday afternoons. If you are returning to Denver International Airport for a Sunday-afternoon or evening flight, allow plenty of time to reach the airport.
At this writing, gasoline costs between $3.50 and $4 a gallon. Gas prices in larger communities are comparable to those elsewhere in the country, but can be considerably higher in rural towns and mountain resorts. Although gas stations are plentiful in many areas, you can drive more than 100 miles in remote areas without finding gas.
License Plate Toll
Denver's Eastern Beltway, the E–470, and the connecting Northwest Parkway are both toll roads. You are automatically a License Plate Toll customer on both roads if you're not an EXpressToll or GO-PASS customer with a transponder. No advance registration is required, and customers drive nonstop through the tolls. Cameras photograph the license plates and a bill is sent one month later to the registered owner of the vehicle for tolls incurred during that period.
On-street metered parking as well as by-the-hour garages and lots are fairly plentiful in larger cities. Meters take coins and, increasingly, credit cards.
Colorado offers some of the most spectacular vistas and challenging driving in the world. Roads range from multilane blacktop to barely graveled backcountry trails; from twisting switchbacks considerately marked with guardrails to primitive campgrounds with a lane so narrow that you must back up to the edge of a steep cliff to make a turn. Scenic routes and lookout points are clearly marked, enabling you to slow down and pull over to take in the views.
One of the more unpleasant sights along the highway is roadkill—animals struck by vehicles. Deer, elk, and even bears may try to get to the other side of a road just as you come along, so watch out for wildlife on the highways. Exercise caution both for the sake of the animal in danger and your car, which could be totaled in a collision.
AAA Colorado (866/625–3601. www.colorado.aaa.com.)
Colorado State Patrol (303/239–4501; *277 from a cell phone.)
License Plate Toll
E-470 (303/537–3470 or 888/946–3470. www.expresstoll.com.)
Northwest Parkway (303/533–1200. www.northwestparkway.org.)
Road Condition Information
CO Trip (303/639–1111. www.cotrip.org.)
For police or ambulance, dial 911.
Rules of the Road
You'll find highways and national parks crowded in summer, and almost deserted (and occasionally impassable) in winter. Follow the posted speed limit, drive defensively, and make sure your gas tank is full. The law requires that drivers and front-seat passengers wear seat belts.
Always strap children under age five or under 40 pounds into approved child-safety seats. You may turn right at a red light after stopping if there's no sign stating otherwise and no oncoming traffic. When in doubt, wait for the green.
If your vehicle breaks down, or you are involved in an accident, move your vehicle out of the traffic flow, if possible, and call for help: 911 for emergencies and *277 from a cell phone for the Colorado State Patrol.
The speed limit on U.S. interstates in Colorado is up to 75 mph in rural areas and between 55 mph and 65 mph in urban zones. Mountain stretches of I–70 have lower limits—between 55 mph and 70 mph.
Modern highways make mountain driving safe and generally trouble-free even in cold weather. Although winter driving can occasionally present real challenges, road maintenance is good and plowing is prompt. However, in mountain areas tire chains, studs, or snow tires are essential. If you're planning to drive into high elevations, be sure to check the weather forecast and call for road conditions beforehand. Even main highways can close. It's a good idea to carry an emergency kit and a cell phone, but be aware that the mountains can disrupt service. If you do get stalled by deep snow, do not leave your car. Wait for help, running the engine only if needed, and remember that assistance is never far away. Winter weather isn't confined to winter months in the high country (it's been known to snow in July), so be prepared year-round.
AAA Colorado (www.aaa.com.)
Rates in most major cities run about $70 to $95 a day and $490 to $660 a week for an economy car with air-conditioning, automatic transmission, and unlimited mileage. Rates can vary greatly from company to company, so it's worth comparing online. Keep in mind if you're venturing into the Rockies that you'll need a little oomph in your engine to get over the passes. If you plan to explore any back roads, an SUV is the best bet, because it will have higher clearance. Unless you plan to do much mountain exploring, a four-wheel drive is usually needed only in winter.
To rent a car in Colorado you must be at least 25 years old (or be willing to pay surcharges) and have a valid driver's license; most companies also require a major credit card. Some companies at certain locations set their minimum age at 21, and then add a daily surcharge. In Colorado, child-safety seats or booster seats are compulsory for children under five (with certain height and weight criteria).
You'll pay extra for child seats ($5–$13 a day), drivers under age 25 (at least $25 a day), and usually for additional drivers (about $10 per day). When returning your car to Denver International Airport, allow 15 minutes (30 minutes during busy weekends and around the holidays) to return the vehicle and to ride the shuttle bus to the terminal.
Major Rental Agencies
Alamo (888/233–8749. www.alamo.com.)
Avis (800/633–3469. www.avis.com.)
Budget (800/218–7992. www.budget.com.)
Hertz (800/654–3131. www.hertz.com.)
National Car Rental (877/222–9058. www.nationalcar.com.)
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