Driving between the Front Range and the Rocky Mountains along I-70 this weekend? Check out this guide to avoid Memorial Day travel spikes. 

Interstate 70 traffic seen on Thursday, April 21, 2022, near Denver.
Hugh Carey/Colorado Sun

Memorial Day is expected to be the third-busiest weekend for travel since 2000, according to AAA reports. 

The organization predicts more than 42.3 million people will travel more than 50 miles to enjoy the holiday weekend, a 7% increase compared to last year, which is about 2.7 million more travelers. Road trips are expected to be up 6% compared to last year, according to AAA. 

“More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier, despite inflation,” AAA Travel Senior Vice President Paula Twidale said in a news release. “This summer travel season could be one for the record books.”

Mountain town destinations are coming off a high note following a strong winter skiing and snowboarding season. The National Ski Areas Association reported a record 64.7 million visits to ski areas and resorts over the winter, and mountain towns reported a 6.1% increase in revenue, according to DestiMetrics. April ended the season on a high note with occupancy at lodging properties up 5.3% over last year. 

Though Summit County businesses and lodging companies reported a slight lull during spring break due to inflation, with bookings at short-term rentals dropping by 29% in March, according to Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers reports, Summit County’s proximity to the Front Range is expected to bring many day-trip visitors despite current economic anxieties. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation issued a statement ahead of the holiday weekend that warns of increased traffic forecasts through Tuesday, especially on Interstate 70 through the mountain corridor. 

“Heavy traffic is anticipated along the Front Range and mountain highways, especially on westbound I-70 on Friday, May 26, and Saturday, May 27, and eastbound I-70 from Eagle County to the Denver area on Memorial Day,” Colorado Department of Transportation stated. 

Best times to drive

Anyone driving I-70 from Denver and through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels likely knows Fridays see the most traffic westbound on the interstate heading into a holiday weekend. But what time you leave can make a huge difference, and 2022 data from the CDOT shows a clear pattern. 

Throughout the whole holiday weekend, anyone driving between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. will be among one of about 100 drivers making their way through the tunnels. 

If you’re traveling westbound on Friday, you will be one of more than 26,000 people making their way through the tunnel. Traffic to the mountains is the heaviest from 1-5 p.m., with counts exceeding 2,000 vehicles per hour. Moderately heavy traffic, counts that exceed 1,000 vehicles per hour, often occur between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. 

Eastbound traffic on I-70 never exceeded 2,000 vehicles per hour on Friday, but traffic counts reached above 1,000 vehicles per hour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On Saturdays and Sundays of the holiday weekend are often the least congested, but more than 36,000 vehicles drove through the tunnels each of those days in 2022. Traffic remained below 1,000 vehicles per hour during the hours of midnight to 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. to midnight. Reaching the tunnels around 11 a.m. resulted in peak congestion on both days. 

Though more than 26,000 drove eastbound through the tunnel on the Monday of Memorial Day weekend in 2022, people who left before 8 a.m. saw the least amount of traffic. Between 8-10 a.m., traffic more than doubled, from about 700 vehicles to 1,700 vehicles. The traffic volume then exceeds 2,000 vehicles per hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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