Avoid Mudslides On I-70 Through Glenwood Canyon By Using These Alternate Routes

Courtesy of Colorado Department of Transportation
I-70 through Glenwood Canyon has been closed multiple times this year due to mudslides. As of July 31, it will continue to be closed due to “extreme damage” from the latest round of heavy rain and flooding.

Editor's note: As of Aug. 2, I-70 through Glenwood Canyon is closed indefinitely for days, or possibly weeks, as transportation officials asses "extreme damage" caused by recent mudslides.

Updated Aug. 2, 2021 at 4:56 p.m

Mudslides have closed Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon multiple times this year, and currently, the route will remain closed for days — if not weeks — as damage from a recent mudslide caused "extreme damage." Slides are more likely in the canyon after the Grizzly Creek Fire tore through it last summer. 

If you need to travel in that direction, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Elise Thatcher has these suggestions for you (and prepare to add a few hours onto your journey):

Check the forecast

Chances of showers and thunderstorms in Glenwood Springs doesn’t necessarily mean the highway will close, Thatcher said. 

Rather, motorists should keep an eye on whether CDOT has closed the rest areas and bike path (It does that so evacuating the canyon is quicker and easier). If it has, flash floods and road closures are more likely. 

"We need the moisture,” said CDOT's Michael Goolsby earlier this week. “But we just don't need it concentrated in Glenwood Canyon.”

Any disruptions to the highway will be noted at cotrip.org.

Plan your detour, but don’t get too fancy

CDOT’s recommended detour will take you north of I-70 through Kremmling, Steamboat Springs and Craig, adding about two and a half hours to your journey. 

“We understand that if we send folks in that direction, it's a commitment,” Thatcher said. “But we know that decades of managing these more rural highways, that that's really the best route." 

Courtesy Colorado Department of Transportation

Google or Apple Maps might suggest an alternative like Cottonwood Pass (the Gypsum-to-Carbondale one, not the Almont-to-Buena Vista one). Still, Thatcher said taking any of those back roads (as many people did last summer) is almost certainly a bad idea.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, they are over roadways that are not designed for much traffic at all,” she said. “And often, they require four-wheel drive capability. They really don't have cell service. All it takes is one vehicle breaking an axle, breaking down in the roadway, and then everyone on either side of them is in for a really bad day." 

Colorado Highway 82 over Independence Pass between Leadville and Aspen is a more heavily traveled alternative (and I made it up and over it twice last summer in a Toyota Corolla). However, it can be beset by delays of its own, Thatcher said. Oversized vehicles and trailers aren’t allowed on that road because the turns are quite tight.

Construction on U.S. 50 between Montrose and Gunnison has been suspended until further notice, so that southern route is an alternative as well.

If you’re out of state, use I-80 through Wyoming

CDOT is working with the departments of transportation in Kansas, Utah and Wyoming to encourage out-of-state motorists to use Interstate 80 through Wyoming as an alternative to I-70. 

That’s a more reliable route right now, Thatcher said.