Alternative Routes to Vail When I-70 is Closed

How to Get to Vail when I-70 is Closed?

Alternative Routes from Denver to Vail | Alternative Routes to Vail When I-70 is Closed

Winter storms often disrupt travel between Denver and Vail in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, leading to road closures along the I-70 mountain corridor. The primary route to Vail/Beaver Creek is via I-70 over Vail Pass, which has an elevation of 10,660 feet and is prone to hazardous weather conditions and frequent road closures due to safety concerns or accidents. Another challenging section is the Eisenhower Tunnel. which is frequently congested with stalled vehicles or closed entirely due to avalanche danger.

When I-70 is closed at the Vail Pass or Eisenhower Tunnel, reaching Vail or Beaver Creek can be frustrating, especially after a long day of traveling. However, there are several alternative routes to consider. In this guide, we will review all your other options for reaching Vail to help you make the best travel decisions. With our guide, you can confidently navigate winter conditions and closures on the I-70 mountain corridor between Denver and Vail.

With proper preparation and knowledge of all the alternate routes between Denver and Vail, you can quickly adapt to I-70 closures to reach your destination while experiencing breathtaking scenery on less traveled roads. This complete reference outlines scenic detours, localized bypasses, rugged high-altitude routes, remote contingencies, and sightseeing adventures for navigating closures along the Denver to Vail corridor. Explore this guide to find the best alternative routes to Vail because unexpected I-70 closures no longer have to disrupt your travel plans.

Alternative Routes to Reach Vail from Denver

Route NameDistanceTravel TimeBypassesAdditional Travel Time
Southern Scenic Route194 miles~3h 43minsVail Pass, Eisenhower Tunnel2 hours
Central Mountain Route138 miles~2h 39minsVail Pass1 hour
Northern Wilderness Route175 miles~3h 39minsVail Pass, Eisenhower Tunnel2 hours
Summit County Bypass142 miles~2h 53minsEisenhower Tunnel1hour 15mins
Comparison of Alternative Routes to Vail when I-70 is Closed

The Southern Scenic Route

The stunning Southern Scenic Route utilizes Highway 285 to provide a picturesque alternative when closures affect Vail Pass or the Eisenhower Tunnel areas along I-70. This route winds through classic Colorado high-country landscapes, alpine valleys, and historic mountain towns. Highway 285 provides a picturesque detour through the heart of Colorado’s central mountains when closures affect Vail Pass or the Eisenhower Tunnel areas. From Denver, Highway 285 winds southwest through the grassy plains of the Platte River Valley before climbing to the summit of Kenosha Pass, reaching 10,000 feet. At the top, panoramic views open up over the high-altitude grasslands and surrounding peaks of South Park. Descending into the South Park basin, the route passes through the historic mining town of Fairplay, then heads west to Buena Vista, a lively hub for outdoor activities nestled by the Arkansas River and under the shadow of the Collegiate Peaks. The journey continues to Leadville (which is the highest-elevation incorporated town in the US), surrounded by rugged peaks and a rich mining history. From Leadville, the route takes a scenic turn on Highway 24, passing through Red Cliff and Minturn, known for their breathtaking alpine scenery, before reconnecting with I-70 near Eagle-Vail and leading to Vail.

Distance from Denver: 194 miles
Time to Travel: Approximately 3 hours and 43 minutes
Bypasses: Vail Pass and Eisenhower Tunnel closures

Southern Scenic Alternative Route from Denver to Vail
The Southern Scenic Route: Denver to Fairplay to Buena Vista to Leadville to Minturn to Vail Route


  1. – From Denver, drive southwest on Highway 285 through the grassy plains of the Platte River Valley
  2. – Ascend to the 10,000 ft summit of Kenosha Pass; panoramic views of high-altitude grasslands and surrounding peaks
  3. – Descend through South Park basin to the historic mining settlement of Fairplay
  4. – Continue west through Buena Vista, a lively outdoor recreation hub on the banks of the Arkansas River in the shadow of Colorado’s famous Collegiate Peaks
  5. – Pass through the highest incorporated town in the US, Leadville
  6. – Drive highway-24 over through Red Cliff and Minturn while taking in the breathtaking high-altitude alpine scenery before reconnecting with I-70 near Eagle-Vail
  7. – Turn East on I-70 and arrive at Vail

Impact of Taking this Alternative Route: Adds roughly 2 hours of extra drive time compared to the direct I-70 route, depending on seasonal road conditions and traffic. This detour from Denver to Vail offers diverse landscapes, from mountain passes to historic towns, and provides a quieter, less congested route than I-70. Travelers traveling south along Highway 285 should be prepared for varying road conditions, especially during winter. The route traverses several high-elevation areas, where weather can change rapidly and snow can accumulate quickly. It is essential to check road conditions before departure, ensure the vehicle is equipped with snow tires or chains, and carry emergency supplies. Despite these precautions, the journey along Highway 285 remains a favorite for those who seek the beauty and tranquility of Colorado’s mountains and valleys.

The Central Mountain Route

The Central Mountain Route utilizes Highways 91 and 24 to create an epic alpine journey through the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains when closures affect the Vail Pass only. Note: you will still have to drive through the Eisenhower Tunnel to make it to Silverthorne; if the Eisenhower Tunnel is closed – you’ll want to use the Southern Scenic Route we discussed earlier. The Central Mountain Route starts like the direct route from Denver to Vail but swings south at Copper Mountain along Highway 91 before turning north again at Leadville, allowing access to Vail via Minturn. This route also provides incredible views of rugged mountain peaks, high valleys, and historic mountain settlements, bringing a sense of adventure for your journey from Denver to Vail – while avoiding closures on the Vail Pass.

Distance from Denver: 138 miles
Time to Travel: Approximately 2 hours and 39 minutes
Bypasses: Vail Pass

Map of The Central Mountain Route: Denver to Copper Mountain to Leadville to Minturn to Vail
The Central Mountain Route: Denver to Copper Mountain to Leadville to Minturn to Vail


  1. – Start on I-70: From Denver, take Interstate 70 west towards the mountains. This interstate is the main artery through the Colorado Rockies and is well-traveled.
  2. – Through the Eisenhower Tunnel: Continue on I-70 to pass through the Eisenhower Tunnel. This is one of the longest mountain tunnels and the highest point on the Interstate Highway System.
  3. – Exit at Copper Mountain: After exiting the tunnel, take the exit for Copper Mountain and then head south on CO-91 toward Leadville. This stretch will offer views of the ski slopes and the Tenmile Range.
  4. Leadville and Turquoise Lake: Drive through the historic town of Leadville, North America’s highest incorporated city. Optionally, take a scenic detour around Turquoise Lake for stunning high-alpine views.
  5. – Rejoin Highway 24: Continue on US-24 E, which will take you through the Arkansas River Valley and past the Collegiate Peaks, some of Colorado’s highest mountains.
  6. – Return to I-70: Follow US-24 E until it meets I-70 again, where you can proceed to Vail.

Impact of Taking this Alternative Route: Avoiding the Vail Pass by taking the Central Mountain Route will add an hour or so of total travel time for your trip from Denver to Vail. This alternative route is longer than the straight shot on I-70 but can be similar in time if I-70 is experiencing heavy traffic or closures. This route is subject to weather and can be affected by snow and ice, particularly on the passes. It’s less traveled than the direct I-70 Denver to Vail route, so drivers should be prepared for changing conditions and fewer fellow travelers. Leadville offers amenities such as gas, food, and lodging if needed. However, the stretch from Copper Mountain to Leadville has limited services, so please plan accordingly. Also, please remember that this route includes some significant elevation changes, which can affect vehicles differently. Ensure your vehicle is in good condition to handle steep grades and potential altitude effects.

The Northern Wilderness Route

If the mountain passes and tunnels along I-70 are closed, there is another option you can consider to get to Vail from Denver. It’s called the Northern Wilderness Route. This route takes you through the western edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park, where you can explore remote wilderness areas and enjoy stunning views. Along this route, you’ll see Colorado’s rugged beauty, from the dense forests and alpine lakes near Winter Park to the expansive landscapes of the high country around Kremmling. Then, you’ll turn south onto Highway 131, which will take you through Wolcott before finally connecting back to I-70 East at Edwards. From there, it’s a straight shot to Vail. However, be warned that this route is not for the faint-hearted. It’s serious backcountry driving, and you’ll need a reliable vehicle with 4WD and studded snow tires to drive it safely. But if the Vail Pass and Eisenhower tunnels are closed off due to inclement weather, and the Southern Scenic Route is inaccessible, this route might be your only option for getting to Vail from Denver.

Distance from Denver: 175 miles
Time to Travel: Approximately 3 hours and 39 minutes
Bypasses: Vail Pass and Eisenhower Tunnel closures

Map of the Northern Wilderness Alternative route from Denver to Vail
The Northern Wilderness Route: Denver to Winter Park to Kremmling to Wolcott to Vail


  1. – From Denver, head northwest on CO-470 to US-40 at Empire
  2. – Follow US-40 over the Berthoud Pass
  3. – Keep on US-40 through the ski haven of Winter Park, surrounded by forests and peaks
  4. – Take CO-131 west from Kremmling through quiet mountain valleys and ranches to ultimately reconnect with I-70 near Wolcott
  5. – Take I-70 East through Edwards, Beaver Creek, and Eagle-Vail to finally reach your destination at Vail

Impact of Taking this Alternative Route: Opting for the Northern Wilderness Route to Vail adds roughly 2 hours of drive time compared to the direct interstate route. However, this detour rewards adventurous travelers with a glimpse of Colorado’s most stunning and untouched wilderness. This path winds through national forests and high mountain passes. It offers an escape from crowded roads into tranquil solitude. Wildlife sightings like elk, deer, and even bears are possible along the way. Prepare for variable road conditions, especially when crossing mountain passes where winter storms can lead to closures. Services are limited beyond Winter Park, so stock up on necessities beforehand. The natural splendor and seclusion of this route come with responsibility. Ensure your vehicle is adequately equipped for extreme mountain driving before embarking. Check for the latest weather and road advisories. While longer, embracing the challenges of this wilderness route offers a more authentic and rewarding Colorado adventure.

The Summit County Bypass

If the Eisenhower Tunnel is closed due to winter storms, accidents, or avalanche danger, but the Vail Pass remains open, the best way to get from Denver to Vail is via the “Summit County Bypass.” To take this route, take Highway 285 south to Fairplay, Colorado, then turn north at Fairplay and take CO-9 North past Blue River into Breckenridge and onto Frisco. From there, the road connects to I-70 West, going through Copper Mountain and over the Vail Pass, leading directly to Vail. Note: This route will not work if the Vail Pass is closed. However, if the Vail Pass is open, this alternative route from Denver to Vail is less logistically challenging than other suggestions in this guide. Fairplay, Breckenridge, and Frisco offer plenty of amenities, such as gas and a place to stop for a bite, making this detour an attractive option if you need to bypass just the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Distance from Denver: 142 miles
Time to Travel: Approximately 2 hours and 53 minutes
Bypasses: Eisenhower Tunnel closures

Map of The Summit County alternative bypass for going from Denver to Vail
The Summit County Bypass: Denver to Fairplay to Breckenridge to Frisco to Vail


  1. From Denver, head southwest on Highway 285 towards the town of Fairplay.
  2. At Fairplay, veer north onto CO-9, tracing the path of the Blue River as it meanders toward Breckenridge.
  3. Continue on CO-9 as it leads you through the Tenmile Range towards Frisco.
  4. Join I-70 West from Frisco, which will take you through Copper Mountain.
  5. Ascend the Vail Pass on I-70 and descend into the valley to finally arrive at Vail.

Impact of Taking this Alternative Route: Traveling via the Summit County Bypass is a solid choice when the Eisenhower Tunnel is closed, but the Vail Pass is still operational. Sidestepping the Eisenhower tunnel via the Summit County Bypass will add 1 hour and 15 minutes to your journey. Though going from Denver to Vail via this route is a bit longer, it’s a scenic drive lined with charming mountain towns offering warm respite and all the necessary conveniences. Please keep in mind that though this route is well-traveled and frequently maintained during the winter months, it’s still a good idea to always check weather and road conditions before setting out to ensure your vehicle is prepared for winter travel.

Choosing the Right Alternative Route to Vail

choosing the best alternative route to Vail flow chart diagram

Getting to Vail from Denver during winter storms may require adjusting your route, but several good alternatives exist for driving to Vail. If the Vail Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel are closed, take the Southern Scenic Route along Highway 285. The Northern Wilderness Route is also worth considering, but this detour is the most challenging. With just Vail Pass closed, use the Central Mountain Route through Leadville. And if only the tunnel is closed, the Summit County Bypass is your best bet. Whichever way you go, check road conditions and other closures before heading out. Give yourself extra time, fuel up, and pack emergency supplies. Colorado winter mountain driving requires lots of caution and careful preparation. You can still reach Vail from Denver despite I-70 disruptions by taking one of these alternative routes, and the adventure will make the reward of arriving in Vail even sweeter.

From Denver to Vail in Style
with Blue Sky Limo!

Blue Sky Limo - Denver to Vail Airport Car Service
Private Airport Car Service from Denver to Vail, CO

By booking Blue Sky Limo’s premium Denver/Vail car service, you can avoid all the hassles of I70 closures. Our experienced chauffeurs are experts in navigating all the alternate routes to Vail from Denver. We closely track I-70 closures and road conditions to ensure timely arrival and promptly rebook if needed. Our luxury fleet features 4WD vehicles outfitted for mountain winter driving so you can travel safely and comfortably even through the worst weather. Our drivers will take care of everything. You can relax and enjoy the journey with our heated, reclining leather seats and complimentary WiFi or admire the Rocky Mountain views. Arrive in Vail refreshed and ready to enjoy your activities without the stress of driving yourself. So, leave the driving to our expert drivers. Contact Blue Sky Limo to book your private airport car service.

Blue Sky Limo’s premium shuttle service from Denver International Airport to Vail is the perfect solution for hassle-free transportation during I-70 closures. Our skilled chauffeurs are experts at navigating alternate routes, including US 285, CO 9, and other mountain roads. We monitor road conditions and closures and will promptly rebook your reservation if I-70 is impacted. Our shuttle fleet is equipped with advanced winter driving technology, so you can relax in our spacious and comfortable seats while taking in the stunning Rocky Mountain scenery. Complimentary refreshments and WiFi make the journey fly by. By booking with Blue Sky Limo, you can be confident that you’ll arrive safely, comfortably, and stress-free. Avoid the headaches of winter mountain driving and long detours, and let us take care of everything. Contact us today to reserve your airport shuttle to Vail.

Arport Shuttle Services from Denver to Vail with Blue Sky Limo
Blue Sky Limo’s Denver to Vail Airport Shuttle Service