During the holiday season, I set off a new adventure with the dogs and boyfriend. We were headed to Los Angeles, California to celebrate the holidays with family from our new(ish) home near Denver, Colorado. This was a particularly exciting trip because it was a lot of first for all of us. To get to our destination, we headed up into the mountains, stopped in Grand Junction, drove through Utah, stayed in a swanky Las Vegas strip hotel, and ate some pretty tasty donuts. The best part? All of this was dog friendly… well except maybe the donuts.
If you’re looking for a pet friendly road trip idea and happen to live in the Denver or LA areas, then you’re in luck. I’m so excited to be able to share our experience along with what I would do differently the next time we drive this route. There’s a big possibility that we’ll be making this drive fairly often in the future to see family and keep exploring the Western US, so keep an eye on this post for even more ideas of places to stop along the route with your pets!
Sleepypod helps keep our dogs safe during car travel and has sponsored this post. I am being compensated to help share information about Sleepypod, but Beagles & Bargains only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. This post is absolutely based on our real life experiences.
Pet Friendly Road Trip: Denver to LA
Prepare for Traffic
To get from Denver to LA (or vice versa), you’ll have to cross over the Continental Divide. There are two ways to go about it – through or over. If you want to go through the mountains that make up the Continental Divide, then the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel is your poison of choice. While the tunnel itself is pretty interesting and stretches over 1.6 miles long, I-70 can back up causing delays and slow (boring) traffic. You’ll find it to be the busiest on holidays and weekends (Friday evenings going West, Sunday evenings going East). According to CDOT, approximately 28,000 vehicles travel through the tunnel per day or 10.7 million vehicles per year (based on 2012 data). On the busiest days, the number may sky rocket to as many as 50,000 cars!
Fun fact: The Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel is the highest vehicular tunnel in the world at 11,158 feet above sea level. When it was completed in 1973, it was actually the highest mountain tunnel in the world, but it has since been passed by a few Asian railroad tunnels. This tunnel is also the highest point in the US Interstate Highway System.
The Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel shaves off about 10 miles on a trip to or from Denver as compared with your other option – the Loveland Pass. If you happen to transporting hazardous materials, over 13″ 11′ in height, or traveling by bike or foot, you won’t be able to take the Eisenhower Tunnel unless the Loveland Pass is closed.
If you choose this method, then you’ll be going up over the Continental Divide on US 6 and hit an elevation of 11,990 feet above sea level (800 feet above the tunnel). The road is twisty with several hairpin turns and steep at a steady 6.7% grade. During winter months, it can be especially treacherous as it is hard to snowplow regularly. While it does generally stay open during a winter season full of snow, it may close during blizzards forcing ALL traffic to take the Eisenhower Tunnel. For less severe weather, chain restrictions may be imposed (see below).
The traffic over the Loveland Pass will likely be slow. When we last took it (East on a Sunday evening in February), we experienced bumper to bumper traffic. In all honesty, you won’t want to take this route fast. First, it is TWISTY with a lot of sharp cliffs and sudden drops off the side of the road. You may also encounter a few piles of snow that may look like they could avalanche at any given time. HOWEVER, the views are gorgeous any time of year. You are going up above everything, so you have some of the best views around. If you really want to enjoy them, there are at least two pull off points. Otherwise, you should convince someone else to drive, so you can take it all in.
Research Chain Laws
Did you know there are actually laws over stretches of I-70 requiring your car to be equipped in certain ways during extreme weather? I definitely didn’t! Coming from Virginia, I was more used to staying off the road when the weather made road conditions a bit treacherous. It’s a lot harder to avoid that went you have to drive through snowy mountains to get to where you want to go. If you are planning to travel during winter, you’ll want to brush up on these to make sure you and your pets are not only safe, but also not breaking any laws!
Check out CDOT for a full explanation of the laws. When we first traveled from Denver to LA, it was Code 15 (Traction Law) from the Eisenhower Tunnel to Vail. When this is in effect, all motorists must either have snow tires, mud/snow tires, four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Tires must have a minimum of 1/8″ tread or you can install chains if your tires do not qualify.
In Code 16 (Passenger Vehicle Chain Law), every vehicle on the roads must have chains installed. This would be for more severe weather than Code 15. If you fail to comply, you could be fined over $130 and if you block a roadway, even more – over $650!
Take the Right Car
Based on the laws that could go into effect (see above) during inclimate weather, I highly recommend planning to take a car with 4WD or AWD for your trip, especially if you’ll be traveling during winter months. If you’ll be renting a car, splurge on the 4WD vehicle so you are prepared. You might be able to upgrade closer to your reservation or even the day of, but keep in mind everyone else heading up into the mountains will want a 4WD vehicle too!
If you’ll be driving your own vehicle, prepare by purchasing a set of chains to have on hand just in case! There are numerous places to pull off and install your chains along I-70. You just might want to practice putting them on a time or two before your stuck in the middle of a snow storm.
Also, keep in mind that you will experience LOTS of elevation changes along the way and you will want a car with some power to easily handle the uphill climbs. We actually ended up buying a whole new car because neither of our old ones could handle it well enough (and a few other reasons of course!) and we anticipated making this journey several times a year.
Prepare for the Weather
You may have already picked up on this, but traveling through the mountains of Colorado can be cold and snowy during winter months. However, you should keep in mind that just because it might be October or April with seasonally appropriate weather on one side of the Continental Divide or the other, it may still be “winter” at higher elevation. The ski season at many resorts runs November through Mid April, so keep that in mind! I’ve also heard of (but not yet experienced) a fluke snowfall in late May. All in all be sure to check the weather at all points along the way and not just at your starting point and final destination.
Get Up Early
Take advantage of all the natural sunlight during the day and get up early. Not only will it make driving easier and more visible, but you’ll be able to take in all the beautiful scenery. I had never been to Utah or western Colorado before our first road trip and I was blown away by the spectacular views. You will see pretty much everything on this drive from mountains to desert to everything in between. Get your nose out of a book and eyes off your phone and enjoy all the natural beauty surrounding you. The most boring part of the drive is actually between LA and Las Vegas, but luckily that is one of the shortest stretches.
Plus, getting up early will also help you avoid some traffic and get you into your hotel earlier in the evening, so you can rest up for the remaining part of your road trip!
Pull Off for Scenic Views
In Utah, there are numerous pull off points where you can take in the beautiful views that surround you without traveling over 60 mph. It also gives you the chance to grab a picnic lunch, stretch your legs, snap a few photos, and give your pup a quick bathroom break. Some of these pull off points also have some historical information about the area. You don’t have to stop at every one, but if you want a better look at the focal point you could also pull off and slowly drive by rather than full on parking and getting out.
Bring Enough Water and Food
Though the route from Denver to LA (and back again) is extremely scenic, you also drive through stretches of road where there isn’t much around. Bring along an emergency roadside kit, first aid kit, and plenty of water and food for both you and your dogs. We usually pack a snack bag and a cooler for all our road trips. That way we can snack on the go or pull off for a picnic. For the dogs, we like to use our Sleepypod Yummy Travel Bowls to carry their water without spilling it all over the car.
Expect the Unexpected
As with any road trip, travel prepared. Keep your phone charged and your car stocked. Have a plan in case you need to pull off when you don’t have cell phone service. On our first trip from Denver to LA, I ended up getting food poisoning. Luckily it wasn’t a big issue while we were driving, but it was quite the unpleasant experience at the hotel. Because we were prepared, it made the less than fun sickness at least a bit more bearable.
Don’t forget: Keep your pets protected on road trips and every car ride with crash tested gear. We highly recommend the Sleepypod Clickit Sport car harness for medium to large dogs and Sleepypod carriers for small dogs and cats!
Guess what lies in between LA and Denver? Las Vegas! There are several hotels that let you stay right on the strip with your dog. You’ll likely pay an extra fee, but hey, YOU DESERVE IT!
We decided to stay a night at The Venetian. Unfortunately, it was the same night I had food poisoning (not from The Venetian – likely from a McDonald’s or other fast food restaurant we ate at along the way), so I didn’t get to fully enjoy it or the four course room service meal we had ordered. BUT, the dogs loved it. The large suite gave them plenty of room to run around and stretch their legs. Plus, it had several comfy surfaces in which they could snuggle up and relax! We paid a $75 pet fee for the night, but the pups did get some new water bowls and a BarkBox!
Pack for Multiple Climates
You likely are already aware, but Los Angeles and Denver have pretty different climates especially during winter months. You may have to bring along a bit more, but pack for both the warm weather in LA and the cold weather in the mountains. Throw in a coat and maybe some booties for your dog and bring layers for yourself. You’ll love the flexibility and be able to adapt to either climate. I also recommend throwing in a pair of boots – snow or hiking – in your car. You never know when you might have to or want to pull off to enjoy a stroll or the amazing scenery. I didn’t have mine accessible and so I wasn’t able to go frolic in the snow at the Visitor Center in Utah with the dogs. Next time, I will definitely be prepared!
No matter where your next road trip takes you, we hope it’s full of adventure and fun. I believe that pet friendly road trips are perfect for making memories and bonding with your dog, so be sure to bring them along for the ride!
Where did you go on your last pet friendly road trip?
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Disclaimer: I am being compensated to help spread the word about the Sleepypod. I received no other compensation or additional benefits for mentioning the brands or products in this post. The opinions and ideas in this post are my own and are uninfluenced by any other person or business.
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