Is Red Mountain Pass Dangerous?

Does it always put you on the edge of your seat wondering what’s around the curve? Well, Red Mountain Pass is full of curves, views…and scares!

Red Mountain Pass is a thrilling adventure across the peak of Red Mountain in Colorado. It is part of the Million Dollar Highway, a ride that people travel across the country to experience. Many claim that it’s the most beautiful section of highway in the country.

To traverse Red Mountain Pass, you have to be ready for anything. Chains on your tires? Check. Avalanches? Check. Guard rails? …No check!

So are you brave enough to face the pinhead turns in order to reach the ultimate views? Red Mountain Pass is out there waiting for you!

What is the Red Mountain Pass?

red mountain pass dangerous

The Red Mountain Pass is a stunning mountain pass in Colorado and is a favorite among the adventurous cross-country travelers who are always in search of the next best view.

It is named after the Red Mountain located on the northeast side of the pass.

There are plenty of ghost towns to check out around the pass, as well as National Forests, hot springs, waterfalls, and more!

Where is the Red Mountain Pass?

The Red Mountain Pass is in the San Juan Mountains in western Colorado. It separates San Juan and Ouray counties.

It also is the dividing point between the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests, and separates the Las Animas River and Uncompahgre watersheds.

It’s a section on the Million Dollar Highway, aka US Highway 550.

As you can see, there are a lot of ways to describe where the Red Mountain Pass is located!

Where does the Red Mountain Pass begin and end?

Red Mountain Pass falls between Ouray and Silverton.

How long is the Red Mountain Pass?

Red Mountain Pass is 25 miles long and takes about 40 minutes to drive the pass.

What is the elevation of the Red Mountain Pass?

Red Mountain Pass is 11,018 feet in elevation.

Is the Red Mountain Pass open? 

Red Mountain Pass is open year-round, but snow often closes it in the winter. Snowfall starts in October.

In the summer, the temperature can drop from 90 degrees F at the bottom of the highway to 50-70 degrees F in the mountain passes.

If there is snow on the road, you should use chains on your wheels.

Is the Red Mountain Pass affected by avalanches?

The Red Mountain Pass is affected by avalanches.

Natural avalanches are very common on the pass, and 2019 was a historic avalanche season.

But not all avalanches occur naturally. In February of 2021, a group of backcountry skiers set off an avalanche from a distance, otherwise known as a remotely triggered avalanche.

Is Red Mountain Pass dangerous? 

Red Mountain Pass can be dangerous, especially during the winter season because of the snow.

While the highway is open year-long except during the most serious of storms, weather conditions in the mountains change rapidly.

Red Mountain Pass should not be driven by new or nervous drivers and should certainly be avoided during rain, snow and ice.

We also recommend that you do not drive this road at night, as it is more dangerous.

How scary is the Red Mountain Pass?

The Red Mountain Pass is scary, especially if you are nervous around heights. The elevation gets over 11,000 ft with winding path and no guardrails. 

The pass is dotted with markers where people have died, which would certainly make anyone uneasy.

Even without snow, flash floods are common in the summer and large chunks of rocks can fall as a result.

The lower portion of the pass has nearly vertical cliffs hundreds of feet in height, while the road is narrow, winding, and has no shoulder.

The Red Mountain Pass is not for the faint of heart!

If you are an inexperienced driver or have problem with heights, we do not recommend that you drive on this road.

Have there been fatal accidents on Red Mountain Pass? 

There have been fatal accidents on Red Mountain Pass.

In 2015, an 18-year-old crashed his pickup into the canyon beneath Red Mountain Pass. He was reported missing for a week until his body was recovered in the canyon.

On December 12th, 2018, a car went plummeting off of Red Mountain Pass, resulting in the death of the driver. That same month, a car flew 130 feet off of the pass, seriously injuring a passenger who wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

In 2019, a 22-year-old was headed north around 11 pm and missed a turn near milepost 81, falling down the bank. Being the only passenger, he wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

How many people have died?

On the Million Dollar Highway, the highway on which Red Mountain Pass is located, there are around 40 accidents and seven deaths each year.

Does Red Mountain Pass have guardrails?

Red Mountain Pass does not have guardrails. The area gets significant amounts of snowfall and because the roads are so narrow, plows must push the snow off the cliffs to keep the road open.

Is Red Mountain Pass worth it?

Red Mountain Pass provides stunning mountain views and a thrilling adventure. 

There are lots of places to stop and look at the scenery to the north and south of the pass. You can even see old, abandoned mines in the snowy peaks of the San Juan Mountains.

Ouray, a town 13 miles north of Red Mountain Pass, is a beautifully historic Colorado mining town that has lots of hot springs and great breweries to enjoy.

The mountains are red because of the iron oxide deposits in the rock, creating a unique and stunning landscape.

Visit during the autumn to see stunning fall colors contrasting against the red oasis.

If you dare to venture on this mountain pass, you will be rewarded with some of the best views in Colorado- and the entire country!

Are RV’s allowed on Red Mountain Pass?

RV’s are allowed on Red Mountain Pass. 

It is a common route for cross-country travelers enjoying Colorado, Utah, and neighboring states.

However, you should be completely comfortable driving your RV before partaking on a road as treacherous as Red Mountain Pass. You should also have tip-top breaks and a strong, reliable engine.

Is there a vehicle length restriction on the Red Mountain Pass?

There is no obvious vehicle length restriction on the Red Mountain Pass. RV’s and semis regularly drive the pass.

A semi truck driver posted a video of him driving the road in 2019.

What is the speed limit on the Red Mountain Pass?

The speed limit is posted as 25 mph, with a lot of the hairpin curves dropping down to 10 mph. 

Many people drive slower than this to be careful. If it’s snowing, you should definitely be going below the speed limit. 

On the other hand, going above it is incredibly dangerous and is how most accidents happen.

Tips for driving on the Red Mountain Pass

Here are some important tips for driving the Red Mountain Pass:

  • Brings a camera! There are going to be stunning views (which are the whole reason you’re driving the pass to begin with, right?) You don’t want to miss out on capturing them.

  • The mountain will be colder on the top than on the bottom, so keep that in mind when deciding what to wear.

  • Always travel with chains to put on your tires, and know how to use them!

  • Make sure your tires have good traction and aren’t worn down.

  • Drive slowly around the turns. 

  • The road isn’t inherently dangerous if you watch the weather and drive safely. Don’t be reckless!

What do drivers say about Red Mountain Pass?

  • "There’s nothing preventing someone from driving off the edge. The dropoffs are hundreds of feet in some places."
  • "With good weather conditions it’s a safe road at the posted speeds. I wouldn’t drive this in the winter time."
  • "The road is just spectacular on a clear day. Driving the same road in the winter or during a storm is a different story."
  • "This is beautiful road to drive but bloody scary to in bad weather or at night."
  • "The scenery is breathtaking, just keep your eyes on the road. There are no guardrails!"

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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