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Old 05-25-2014, 11:36 PM   #1
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Towing routes in Colorado

Hey guys,
We are taking our new airstream Homer out for a month to Colorado in June. Being from Missouri I just looked at a map and planned my route. When I showed it to some folks at the Midwest rally they had some concerns about the route I had chosen - hwy 550 from Durango up to Gunnison/Crested Butte. I've since learned that is the million dollar highway. The group was divided as to whether we should tow that way.

So I'd like feedback on possible alternate routes and in general best practices towing in the mountains. TV is a Toyota 4runner 8 cyl. (no diesel) for our 23ft airstream. I see this hwy 145 to the west - looks like through Dolores and then north - but it adds about an hour to my trip. Still if its safer we'll go that way or another you experienced folks suggest. Thanks in advance!

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Old 05-26-2014, 03:45 AM   #2
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We took the million dollar highway from Durango up to Silverton and Ouray last June. We have a 30 ft AS and Ford F350 diesel TV. I am not sure what your specific concerns are but we found the road to be absolutely fine and would not hesitate to take it again. By avoiding it you are missing what is probably amongst the most scenic roads in the country.

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Old 05-26-2014, 03:52 AM   #3
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As far as passes go, you don't have good options out of Durango to get to Crested Butte. It's way out of your way to go east on 160, but the good thing about Wolf Creek Pass on 160 is that it has a comparatively gentle slope on the east side.

550 is a primary highway, 145 is secondary. Plus, Silverton on 550 is an attraction.

You might PM these active members in Durango for their opinion:
Ken J
Driving tips in the mountains
  1. If you get a few cars behind you, find the next spot to pull over and let them by you.
  2. Watch you engine temperature going uphill and turn off your A/C if you have a problem. If you still have a problem, turn on your heater full blast (that adds additional cooling for the engine).
  3. Go slow downhill, slow enough that you can manually downshift and let the engine do some of the braking.
  4. DO NOT RIDE THE BRAKES. You can burn them out in just a few minutes of light pressure. When you use the brakes, apply them moderately, or maybe a bit more than moderately, to slow down 10 mph, then get off them to let them cool as you speed up, then apply them again.
  5. If you smell your brakes, stop as soon as possible, put the vehicle in park, and get off the brakes (release brake pressure). An alternative to stopping is to get very slow and downshift to first gear, then keep rolling at a slow speed to let the airflow cool your brakes.
  6. Make sure you have reasonably balanced braking between the tow vehicle and the Airstream, eg, make sure the trailer brakes are doing their part, but not more than their share. If you are unsure about this, one good guideline is to go to a dirt road and apply medium hard brakes at 25 mph--your trailer tires should just start to skid while your tow vehicle wheels don't quite skid. Adjust your brake controller to get this balance. There are definitely better guidelines, but this is a start.
It will be a great ride if you take it slow.

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Old 05-26-2014, 04:25 AM   #4
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Very good advice Zep ! Mountain towing is a challenge for the inexperienced. Our sons live in Denver and we are gaining experience on mountain roads with our LONG 34 footer. Make sure you know the route first. If it is a truck route, then you are okay. Down hill is dicer than up hill. Use all engine braking you have available. I even get a bit nervous on I-70 going down hill. These are five mile long down hill steep grades with curves. You will see the trucks in the right lane going very slow. You should do the same.

I did make it up to Estes Park and back without any problems.

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Old 05-26-2014, 04:36 AM   #5
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Last time I was on 550, there was a lot of construction and lots of trucks hauling the material. It was in June. Gorgeous route going that way. Lots of turns as you wind you way up and down. Up past Red Mountain Pass there are some tight hairpin turns so plan accordingly so you stay in your lane and not go off the inside of the turn. Last but not least. Keep your eyes on the road and not the scenery.
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Old 05-26-2014, 06:25 AM   #6
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Towing 550 is not bad, it just requires your undivided attention on the mountain passes and the canyon going into Ouray. There are few guard rails. However the speed is 25 on some of the more winding areas so going slow is the norm. However Red Mountain pass has been faced with some frequent closures do to stabilization of a rock slide this past winter. You will need to check with CDOT for route information and construction.
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Old 05-26-2014, 08:40 AM   #7
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If you do take 550, definitely check with CDOT on closures. Red Mountain pass does have rockfall mitigation going at this time and travel times are restricted. The Million Dollar Highway does have Million Dollar views, well worth planning a trip through that way. However, if the thought of narrower roads with no shoulder or guard rails in many spots and major dropoffs scare you, it might not be for you. Hwy 140 through Delores is wider, less steep, and has faster speed limits . Hwy 140 would take you close to Mesa Verde and through Telluride, both great places to visit. We regularly tow both ways without any problems, and so do 18 wheelers.
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Old 05-26-2014, 08:41 AM   #8
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You should have no problem using 550. Be aware there is always some rockslide clean up along the way, but the Highway Dept. quickly clears a single lane so it might slow thing down a bit. Gorgeous scenery.
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Old 05-26-2014, 08:50 AM   #9
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Just a little tip I learned from the road signs about towing in the mountains.....if you need low gear to go up the mountain, you need low gear to go down the other side (in most cases) to hold the speed down and save the brakes.

Basically, you want to use the engine first to keep your speed down on the down hill. It works.
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Old 05-26-2014, 09:07 AM   #10
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I prefer 145 through Mancos, Dolores and Telluride to 550. While scenery is subjective, 145 has plenty to see. This adds an hour plus to the ride. The only other Colorado route is to take off on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass at South Fork through Creede and Lake City to Gunnison and on to Crested Butte. Slumgullian pass going into Lake City is hard on brakes!
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Old 05-26-2014, 09:20 AM   #11
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Course if you want to be completely safe and no passes and no winding roads - you could go west to Cortez North through Moab east to Grand Junction south to Montrose and on east from there
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Old 05-26-2014, 09:28 AM   #12
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Another route to Gunnison and Crested Butte, and probably the easiest (depending on where you are coming from) is from Monte Vista, go North on 15 to Saguache, then take 114 West to US 50, and go West to Gunnison.

I've been this way and it is a walk in the park.
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Old 05-26-2014, 09:52 AM   #13
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I agree with Steve. The route over North Pass between Saguache ("sa-watch") and Gunnison (aka "Frigid Ridge" to folks who went to school there) is absolutely beautiful and an easy drive. We used to drive that route all the time when going up to stay at my parents' ranch over on the west slope.

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Old 05-26-2014, 10:22 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by SteveH View Post
Just a little tip I learned from the road signs about towing in the mountains.....if you need low gear to go up the mountain, you need low gear to go down the other side (in most cases) to hold the speed down and save the brakes.

Basically, you want to use the engine first to keep your speed down on the down hill. It works.

I second this! I keep the 4.7 engine rpms in the 3+k range all day without problems. Use all your gears, but overdrive. Hwy 550 is really nice. Just don't get in too big of a hurry. You should be just fine. My only hick up was that going up monarch's pass heading west on hwy 50 after pulling over to let people at the very base of the pass. My 2002 didn't have a low first gear like my 2005 sequoia does, so it was hard to gain speed. I had the petal floored, but I made it up.I suspect that in my 2005 will fare better. Going back over the pass I heading east, I had momentum and kept up with the posted speed limits. I'm pulling an almost 6000 lbs. 28' streamline. I have taken 145 too, and it is also nice. But I prefer 550.

Btw, I'll be in crested butte for the 4th.

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