Car Rental Colorado
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Why rent a car in Colorado?
Colorado stretches from flat plains in the east to the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the west. With four national parks, multiple national monuments, and an almost infinite amount of national forest land, there is enough to see in Colorado for weeks, months, or years. Its capital, Denver, is the largest and most important city in the Rocky Mountain region and would be worthy of visiting in its own right.
Denver is a sprawling city, and although it has a passable public transportation system (for America), there are many places that are better reached with a car. Of course, not many would dare visit without also wanting to head to the mountains if for nothing more than a scenic drive. There is little transportation in the state outside of Denver and especially to the scenic parts of the state. For instance, there is no public transportation connecting either Denver or Granby with Rocky Mountain National Park. Nor are there any connections between Grand Junction and Colorado National Monument.
Therefore, you certainly should plan to rent a car when visiting the state, whether for a summer hiking trip or skiing in winter.
Top ways to enter Colorado
Denver International Airport (DEN) is the largest airport in the state and the main entry point for most visitors. The airport has non-stop service to more than 200 destinations including both domestic cities and cities in Canada, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia. It is one of the busiest airports in the world. The airport only has one terminal, but different concourses. Most major rental companies have locations at the airport which can be reached with a shuttle from Level 5 of Jeppesen Terminal.
Colorado Springs Municipal Airport (COS) is the second-largest airport in the state, though it has significantly fewer passengers. The airport is only connected to large domestic cities. It is, though, much easier to transit through and a great choice if planning to visit southern Colorado.
Grand Junction Regional Airport is located just outside of Grand Junction in western Colorado. It is the third-busiest airport in the state. Don’t let that fool you, though. It is minuscule compared to DEN. The airport has year-round connections to Denver and is a great destination for those planning to travel to western Colorado or the national parks of Utah. Rental cars from the major companies are available at the airport.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is a popular airport with significant traffic during winter months. It serves the town of Aspen, a major ski resort. It also has more flights from the major carriers than any other ski resort town. It is easy to reach via connections in Denver. There are, however, direct flights from other major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago. Many of the major car rental companies have desks inside the small airport. One-way rentals may not be as popular in Aspen, though.
Eagle County Regional Airport is located along I-70 near the town of Eagle. It is the primary air gateway to the ski resort of Vail. It, however, could be used to reach other nearby towns and resorts. Of course, the airport is much busier during ski season, with service between it and fourteen airports across the country provided by the major airlines. Daily flights to and from Denver operate year-round. Rental cars are available at the airport from companies such as National and Dollar.
Amtrak’s California Zephyr passes through Colorado on its way between Chicago and San Francisco. It stops in Fort Morgan, Denver, Winter Park, Granby (near Rocky Mountain National Park), Glenwood Springs (near Aspen) and Grand Junction. Of these, Denver is the most convenient station from which to pick up a rental car, with many rental companies having offices in the nearby downtown area.
It is possible to rent a car in one of Colorado’s neighboring states and bring it to Colorado. The state is well-connected to the other states of the midwest and southwest both by interstates and smaller roads. If Colorado is the last state on your planned road trip, it is possible to drop off a car rented in another state, in which case Denver International Airport would be the best location for this.
Top cities and places to visit
The state of Colorado has four national parks, eight national monuments, eleven national forests, and more national historic sites. If planning to visit Colorado for a week or more (or to travel to other western states), it is highly suggested that you purchase an Interagency Annual Pass. This is available at any national park and most national forest sites (so can be purchased at the first park you visit), is good for a year, and can be signed by two people (though only one vehicle can use it at a time).
- Denver - The capital of, and by far the largest city in, Colorado, Denver is likely to be where a traveler enters the state. Denver is known as the Mile-High City since it has an altitude between 5,130ft. (1,564m) to 5,690ft. (1,734m), or roughly a mile high. The city is often referred to as the Napa Valley of Microbreweries as it is a place full of craft beer breweries. It’s four sports teams are also very popular and you can experience a game almost any time of the year.
- Rocky Mountain National Park - The third-most visited national park in the country, Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-visit when in Colorado. The park can be reached in about an hour and a half from Denver. Almost every visitor will drive the Trail Ridge Road (see Top Driving Routes below) through the park. Aside from driving, hiking is the most popular activity. The park is open year-round, though, so cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are also popular.
- Fourteeners - 14ers are mountains in the United States whose summits are above 14,000 ft. (4267m) in elevation (and generally with at least 300ft of topographic prominence). Though the highest peaks are located in Alaska, Colorado has more 14ers than any other state. It is also the only state where the Rocky Mountains rise above 14,000ft. Mount Elbert is the highest of them and therefore the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains.
It is very popular to climb one, a few, or all of the 14ers. This is not only for experienced mountain climbers though. For instance, Mount Elbert and most of the other 14 14ers in the Sawatch Range are relatively easy climbs in that no technical equipment or skills are necessary. They do require long, strenuous hikes, though, so you should be in good physical shape. The Denver Post has a good map of all of the fourteeners.
- The Great Sand Dunes National Park - Protecting the tallest sand dunes in North America which are surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, the park is a very interesting destination. In the beginning, it only consisted of the dunes, but it has since been expanding to include the surrounding watershed. From the parking lot, you can walk right to the dunes (there are no trails) passing over the Medano Creek. Sandboarding and san sledding are popular activities. The park is also one of the best areas to enjoy viewing the night sky. Just head into the sand from the Dunes Parking Area to see all the stars.
- Durango - Located in the southwestern part of the state, Durango may be the first stop for those coming from New Mexico. The town is just outside of San Juan National Forest. It has a historic downtown that is very popular. However, the town’s most popular attraction is the narrow gauge railroad that goes between it and Silverton to the north. Originally built to haul ore from the mines, it quickly became popular with passengers due to the scenery it passes through. It has been continuously running for almost 140 years. Various rides on the train are available, from a short ride with a shuttle bring you back to the town to a full round trip. If wanting to travel by car, take the San Juan Skyway.
- Skiing - Colorado is the most popular ski destination in the United States, and by quite a large margin. Though known for its backcountry, adrenaline-pumping white powder, there are also a plethora of bunny hills and schools for learning. Aspen is probably the most famous of Colorado’s ski resorts, being a destination for celebrities and many wealthy individuals. Vail and Breckenridge are also well known. The only resort to offer night skiing is Keystone. In the southern part of the state, Telluride is a popular location for skiing.
- Colorado Springs - The second-largest city in Colorado, Colorado Springs is the main center of the south-central region of the state. Colorado Springs is perhaps best known for being the home of the Air Force Academy, which can be visited by tourists. Like other places in Colorado, the city itself is not the biggest attraction; the nearby nature is. In fact, you don’t even have to actually leave the city for stunning nature. The Garden of the Gods, a huge area of sandstone formations with multiple hiking trails, is in the city as is the Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Head just outside to the stunning mountains, such as Pikes Peak, the only 14er in the area. You can reach the peak by driving, taking the cog railway or hiking up.
- Fort Collins - Roughly 60 miles north of Denver, Fort Collins home to Colorado State University. The primary attraction for tourists is the Historic Old Town which is full of shops and restaurants. The city is also home to one of the first microbreweries in the country, New Belgium Brewing Company whose Fat Tire beer is now sold across the country. There are six daily 90-minute tours that are free, though they should be booked in advance. Three other breweries or brewpubs are located nearby and many others can be found in the city.
- Boulder - Just 20 minutes northwest of Denver, Boulder is a college town known for its liberal atmosphere. As it sits in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, outdoor activities are the primary attraction. Like Fort Collins, the city is full of craft beer breweries almost all of which offer both a taproom that also serves food.
- Pawnee National Grassland - In the far northeast corner of the state bordering Wyoming and Nebraska, Pawnee is flat grassland with a couple of impress buttes. The grassland being popular for birds, there is a bird trail and associated campground. Of course, the most popular hike is the hike to reach the buttes.
- Mesa Verde National Park - Located in the southwestern part of the state, Mesa Verde National Park, unlike the other national parks of Colorado, is centered upon historical landmarks rather than just nature. It is famous for the cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people contained within it, of which Cliff Palace is the most famous. These people inhabited the are from 600 to 1300 CE. While you can explore various traits, the Visitor Center, and Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum on your own, tickets are required for guided tours of the buildings. You will have to be ready to walk some, climb ladders, and fit into tight spaces to go on these tours. They are also all located some distance away from the Visitor Center, so plan ahead when booking a tour time.
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - Another one of Colorado’s national parks, Black Canyon is located about 15 east of Montrose or about 80 miles southeast of Grand Junction. The south rim of the canyon can be reached from US 50 from either direction. The north rim can, unfortunately, only be reached by a gravel road that is closed in winters. As there is no bridge, the drive from one rim to the other can take two or three hours. East Portal Road will take you down to the Gunnison River, however, it is unpaved and has a steep grade and is therefore not recommended for those in a rental car. Enjoy the views of the canyon, including the Painted Wall, from the many overlooks along the South Rim Road.
- Dinosaur National Monument - Located in western Colorado and eastern Utah in the Uinta Mountains, Dinosaur National Monument is so named because it is a place where many dinosaur fossils have been found, some still visible embedded in rocks. If you want to see dinosaur fossils, you must visit the Quarry Exhibit Hall on the Utah side of the park. The other areas of the park do not have visible fossils. They do have rivers flowing through deep canyons, wonderful wildlife, and petroglyphs. There is also the possibility to raft on your choice of rivers either joining a commercial outfitter or own your own if you have enough experience and your own equipment. The park is very remote; allow four and a half hours to drive from Denver.
Most popular rental car
As road trips through the state are popular with renters in Colorado, it is no surprise that larger cars are generally preferred. The most popular class of rental car is the intermediate of which the Kia Forte is a good example. Economy cars like the Toyota Yaris and Full-Size cars like the Toyota Camry are also extremely popular amongst renters.
Driver licence requirements
The minimum age for renting a car in Arizona, as in most other states is 21. An underage driver surcharge is charged by almost all car rental companies for those between 21 and 24. Drivers in this age category are also often restricted from renting luxury cars and larger vans.
If you are traveling from abroad and your driving license from your country of residence is in the Latin script, it is recommended, but not required, to have an International Driver’s Permit. If your driving license is not in the Latin script (for example, Russian, Japanese, or Arabic) then you must have an International Driving Permit or another certified translation of your license. Keep in mind that you must present your actual driving license in addition to the IDP and have it with you at all times.
As long as you are not a local renter (usually meaning you are either an international visitor or have a round-trip plane ticket) you are generally allowed to take a car rented in Colorado to any other state or Canada. You are generally not allowed to take a rental car to Mexico, though.
One-way rentals are often available with a one-time fee and are quite popular. Colorado can be the beginning or end of a road trip through the American West. Denver International Airport is the best location in the state from which to pick-up or drop-off a one-way rental.
Colorado has many unpaved roads in the mountains. There is a large debate over whether driving a rental car on these roads is allowed by the rental contracts or if it voids the Loss Damage Waiver or other insurance provided by credit cards or personal car insurance. In addition, these roads can wash out easily with rain. Even though many gorgeous places can be reached via these roads, it is most prudent to avoid them both in case they void your rental contract or insurance or they become dangerous.
The one substantial toll road in Colorado is the E-470 which traverses the eastern portion of the Denver area as a ring road. At I-25 south of Denver, it becomes C-470 heading west which is not a toll road. At I-25 in the north, it continues as the Northeast Parkway, also a toll road. The toll on E-470 can only be paid with an ExpressToll transponder or by LicensePlateToll which takes a picture of your license plate. This requires the rental companies toll package for which the company will charge a daily fee either for every day of the rental period or every day in which a toll is incurred (depending on the company). If you fail to opt into the rental company’s toll program but pass through a toll barrier anyway, you will be charged a hefty fee.
A big caveat to this is if you happen to already have an ExpressToll account. In this case, you can add a rental car to your account BEFORE traveling on a toll road and have it billed to your account.
While the E-470 is convenient if you are traveling from Denver International Airport either south to Colorado Springs or north to Boulder of Fort Collins, it is not necessary to use the road. You must decide rather the convenience is worth the rental company’s fees or not. Be sure to avoid the road if you opt-out of the rental company’s toll program, though.
In addition to the E-470, I-25 in through Denver has express lanes whose direction changes depending on the time of day to relieve traffic congestion during peak times. While the lanes are free to use if there are three people in the car (the driver and at least two more), a transponder is required. Rental companies will likely off this, but it will come with a fee. Others can use the lanes by paying a variable toll via the ExpressToll transponder or LicensePlateToll as described above.
There is one other road that requires an admission fee to drive that is not in a national park. That is the road the Pike Peak Highway. It ascends Pikes Peak from Cascade, Colorado. It currently costs $15 per adult in summer and $10 per adult in winter and $5 for children over 6 years of age all year long. This is a winding, steep mountain road which takes about two hours to make the round trip to the summit. Be prepared with at least half a tank of gas and do not ride your brakes on the way down. A mandatory brake check is required before making the descent.
Top driving routes
The state of Colorado has a Scenic a Historic Byway Commission that has designated 26 highway and backroad routes as Scenic and Historic Byways. Eleven of these are designated American Byways by the federal government, which is more than in any other state. While only some are detailed below, the Colorado Department of Transportation has a list of all of them.
- Santa Fe Trail - An important overland trail for the Spanish before being used by Americans, the Santa Fe Trail can still be followed today. It was used by those heading west to the important town of Santa Fe until the 1880s when a railroad almost following the route supplanted it. The route stretched from Missouri to Santa Fe, splitting into two in western Kansas. One part went south avoiding Colorado, while the other part went through the southeastern part of Colorado. You can drive roughly the same path now as the Sante Fe Trail Scenic Byway. With many stops to be made along the way, the two main stops in Colorado along the way are Bent’s Old Fort and Trinidad History Museum.
- San Juan Skyway - Known as the Road to the Sky, the San Juan Skyway is a 233-mile long loop in the San Juan Mountains. Though the road can be driven in about five hours, travelers should plan at least a day, but perhaps more, but take in the scenery and enjoy all the road has to offer.
- Gold Belt Scenic Byway - This byway runs through the former gold mining part of Colorado. It begins between Woodland Park and Lake George in Florissant (which are all near Colorado Springs). From there it heads south to Florence. Unfortunately, two of the more scenic roads that could be taken from Cripple Creek or Victor are unpaved and quite rugged. It is nevertheless worth making a detour through these towns for their mining history.
- Trail Ridge Road - The highest continuously-paved road in the United States is a must-drive when in Colorado. The road is the main route passing through Rocky Mountain National Park. It reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183ft (3,713m) near Fall River Pass. The latter half of the road provides views of the Never Summer Range. While the road is curvy due to its mountains nature, it is not steep
- Top of the Rockies - Beginning at Exit 171 of I-70, the Top of the Rockies, another National Scenic Byway, is one of the more convenient scenic roads to reach. From there, US Highway 24 leads south to Leadville, which is a destination itself. The town was once a silver mining town and now has a well preserved Historic District. The road traverses Tennessee Pass at an evaluation of 10,424ft (3,177 ). After Leadville, you can follow the scenic road detailed below or return to I-70 via State Road 91. This route passes through the Valley of the Ghosts, three former mining towns turned ghost towns.
- Independence Pass - An extension of the Top of the Rockies, Colorado State Highway 82 leads from Twin Lakes to Aspen. Starting at 9,200 feet, It passes over Independence Pass at 12,095ft. (3,687m), which aside from being the Continental Divide, provides amazing views of the surrounding mountains. The road is closed during winter due to the massive amounts of snow it receives.
- Mt. Evans Scenic Byway - This road, just outside of Denver, takes visitors close to the peak of Mt. Evans, one Colorado’s fourteeners. If you want to stand on the peak, you’ll have to hike a quarter of a mile from the parking lot at the top. The road, generally open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, has an interesting status. It is technically owned and maintained by the city of Denver. The land surrounding it is part of the Arapaho National Forest. The National Forest Service requires a user fee. The crux of this is that you can drive to the top without stopping and back down without paying a fee. But if you would like to use the Visitor’s Center, have a rest break at the restrooms, or climb to the top of the peak, you need to pay the fee (or have a National Park Annual Pass, which is highly recommended when visiting Colorado).
- Palisade to Grand Junction Wine Trail - There are a surprising amount of wineries in Colorado. Many of them are clustered around the town of Palisade just east of Grand Junction. Vineyards are located both north and south of the Colorado River. So taking either US Highway 6 or smaller roads south of the river will lead you past many wineries. Just outside of Palisade on Highway 6, there is also a Meadery where you can taste different meads.
Top 6 Most Popular Cities in Colorado
Top 7 Most Popular Locations in Colorado
Car Rental at Denver Airport from $51.81 per day
Car Rental at Colorado Springs Airport from $74.88 per day
Car Rental at Durango La Plata County Airport from $74.88 per day
Car Rental at Broomfield, Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport from $73.59 per day
Car Rental at Grand Junction Regional Airport from $70.47 per day
Car Rental at Aspen Airport from $70.74 per day
Car Rental at Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport from $73.59 per day
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