Climbing Pikes Peak in an RV: Is it safe? [PHOTOS and VIDEO]

 Climbing Pikes Peak in an RV: Is it safe? [PHOTOS and VIDEO]

Spectacular views abound

Ever wondered about climbing Pikes Peak in an RV? It can be done! But it's not for the faint-hearted. 

Yup. You can do mountain climbing in your RV!

We drove our RV to the top of Pikes Peak, some 14,114 feet high. And then we drove down.

In this article, we'll take you with us and tell you what the experience is like.

Before you try this though, understand that you wouldn't want to try this in a Class A. Or a big fifth wheel. Or even a travel trailer towed behind a vehicle.

Climbing Pikes Peak in an RV should be done only with small motorhomes like a Class B RV or maybe a B+. 

I would not recommend trying it with anything bigger than 25 feet in length.

Is it Safe to be climbing Pikes Peak in an RV?

Yes. As long as you don't try driving to the top in a large RV, you will be fine.

We would not hesitate to do it again. It was one of the most favorite things we have ever done in our RV. 

That said, there are some things you need to know about driving to the top of Pikes Peak in an RV, or even a regular passenger vehicle for that matter.

If you are afraid of heights, stay down below. If sheer drop-offs just a couple feet off to the side of your vehicle as you navigate hairpin turns with other vehicles going the other direction freaks you out… don't even try.

But if you are confident driving your RV in all conditions and it is in good mechanical condition, go for it!

How to Drive to the Top of Pikes Peak in an RV

It's a long haul up and when we entered the road that would take us to the top off Highway 24 west of Colorado Springs, we had to have the ranger help us drive around a barrier meant to keep larger vehicles from attempting the climb. At first, they tried to wave us off. Then they saw that our Class B RV was on the Mercedes Sprinter chassis.

“No problem,” the ranger said, motioning us around. “You can handle it in this. Just watch the brakes on the way down. They will heat up.”

pikespeak
The summit of Pikes Peak, 14,114 feet. Yes, we climbed Pikes Peak in our RV!

Climbing Pikes Peak in an RV is very weather dependent

The Pikes Peak Highway is 19 miles long, a 38-mile round trip. The trip up works the engine hard. It burns fuel like crazy. Coming down, not so much. But if you decide to go, make sure you have enough fuel.

On previous visits, I twice tried to get to the summit. It is not always accessible because of weather

The first time was during a business trip a few years ago in a rented Kia. On a cold January day, we made it to 11 and a half miles up.  But a sudden snowstorm shut down the rest of the drive.

We white-knuckled the way back down behind a snowplow. By the time we reached the bottom the entire road was closed.

On another visit, we boarded the cog railroad that runs to the summit. It, too, had to turn back because of blowing snow and heavy winds.

Our successful climb with the RV was during August a few years back. We showed up in our Class B Roadtrek eTrek (our RV at the time) and were very optimistic about good weather.

At least it wasn't snowing. But it could have. Snow falls at the higher elevations at all times of the year.

Spectacular views abounf
The view out the RV window as we began our drive to the top of Pikes Peak

It was 87 degrees when we set off at the base of the mountain. By the time we reached the summit, it was 46 degrees.

Climbing Pikes Peak in an RV takes a long time!

It took about an hour and a half to drive to the summit.

There are lots of twists and turns and we frequently stopped at some of the pull-offs for photos as we climbed through the various regions, from the rock-strewn glacial moraines at the bottom on through the alpine and sub-alpine areas.

We found nothing particularly scary about the drive up. But we were too busy oohing and ahhing at the incredible scenery. The Class B Sprinter RV handled the constant climbing with plenty of power.

At Glen Cove, between miles 11 and 12, there is a place that sells souvenirs and has a limited-service restaurant.

But after that, it's almost straight up as you pass the tree line where conditions make it impossible for any upright plant to grow.

At Mile Marker 16 you'll pass Devil's Playground, so named because of the way lightning jumps from rock to rock up there during storms.

pikespeakbest
You actually look down on other mountains as you drive to the top of Pikes Peak

The summit itself is basically a parking lot. There's a small weather station up there, an observation deck, and, of course, a souvenir shop.

We were the only RV up there at the time, though I've had other RVing friends say they drove their Class Bs up there, too. I suppose a C might also make it. But, again I think it would be a tough haul for anything bigger.

What's at the top at Pikes Peak?

Jennifer and I brought our son, Jeff, and his wife, Aimee, up to the summit in our RV, as well as our dog at the time, Tai, and their dog, Sequoia.

Up top, we wandered around for a bit, a little dizzy at times from the altitude.

The dogs seemed refreshed in the thin, cool air.

We shivered in the wind and, took the obligatory “we were here”  photos, and started back down.

It was in the upper 80's down at the start of the climb but in the 40's up top. Our Rpadtrek hauled four adults and two big dogs with ease.

The drive down Pikes Peak in an RV is white knuckles!

I could describe it. But before I explain more, I think a 30-second snippet of the video we took out the window shows just how breathtaking that drive down Pikes Peak can be. 

(I couldn't resist adding the dramatic music)

Here's a very short video.

The drive down Pikes Peak with our RV was much more challenging.

The hard part was not letting the momentum build up too much speed.

I downshifted pretty much the whole way down to use the engine to help me slow, but when we stopped for the mandatory brake check at Glen Cove, we had to pull over and wait a half-hour or so for the brakes to cool down.

Safety inspectors measure how hot your brakes are and won't let you keep going down until they cool down. There is a real danger your brakes would burb up and, trust me, driving down Pikes Peak with no breaks would not be a good thing.

We weren't alone in having to stop. About every other automobile and every truck had to pull over, too, many of them so hot their brakes were smoking.

There's no way to avoid using the brakes as you head down.

The secret to keeping them from burning up, we found, is to apply sharp and firm pressure to reduce speed and then release the brakes, instead of riding them with steady pressure.

Engine downshifting is the best way to go, just watch the RPMs to keep it from redlining.

I used the time we had to wait as the brakes cooled to take the dog for a walk.

Just down a service road off the Glen Cove parking lot, we jumped a couple of big mule deer. Tai felt pretty smug as he watched them runoff.

Finally, as we were heading down the mountain and rounding those hairpin turns with the awesome scenery, I stuck the GoPro out the window and shot a few seconds of video the drive down. 

Pretty awesome, huh?

Climbing Pikes Peak in an RV is a great adventure

Pikes Peak. Been there done that.

In our RV.

Total time from start to finish and our exploration at the summit was about three and a half hours.

It's one of our favorite memories.

Next time, I'm going to stop and explore more on both the ascent and the descent. I'll make an entire day of it.

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Climbing Pikes Peak in an RV: Is it safe? [PHOTOS and VIDEO]

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

12 Comments

  • Thanks for another delightful (but scary) trip vicariously through the Wendlands.

  • We so enjoy the Wendlands travelogues in their Roadtrek. We’ve been wondering where the “How We Roll” segments with Jennifer have gone? Figure you two are resting up. Please note, that is not allowed! We check every day to see your latest adventures. Don’t let up. You are not permitted down time. 🙂

  • If a Roadtrek with four fullsized adults and two gigantic dogs like those shown in your pictures can climb Pike’s Peak as easily as you say it apparently was, Roadtrek should feature you in their corporate marketing! That is very impressive. Reason alone to buy a Roadtrek. Great photos and the video at the end was a fun surprise. I agree with the above comments. Keep traveling. We love the way you take us along with you in your writing style.

  • No rest for you two Wendlands. That was a real great story. Not sure I would drive that mountain. Up would be okay but your video of the descent would have me white-knuckles all the way. Love the way your readers don’t want you to take a break but keep on the road. That’s good. Really. That means they like you.

  • That is a great place to visit. Definitely on my Bucket List.

    But, I am not sure I would drive a RoadTrek to the top. The Cog Railroad (at $35 per person) seems like a better deal to me and my wife.

    Why?
    1.) I could focus on the view all the time, instead of the road and other cars. And I could relax on the way down – no worries about overheating the brakes or wear & tear on the engine. A drawback with the Cog Railroad is if you are on the right side of the train, you see the right side view, but not the left side views. And from what I have read, the 2-seat side of the train does not have the magnificent views.

    2.) The wear and tear on the RV and the brakes could turn out to be more expensive than the cost of the Cog Railroad trip.

    3.) The guide/conductor offers information about the different views. The first train trip of the day provides the longest stay on top because there are no trains to meet at the sidings. The last train is the favorite of the engineers. The lighting is superb and there is more chance to see wildlife.

    Another drawback to the train? The seats face each other so you will face a total stranger for the long trip. Reservations strongly recommended.

  • Pshaw. You;re a worry wart. The RT handles it just fine. We’ve ridden the cog railway. Driving up is much better.

  • Was it paved all the way up there? I drove a rental car up there years ago and the top half was all gravel, and it seemed like the edge was crumbling on the turns when a car was coming the other way and you had to go close to the outside edge.

  • Paved all the way

  • Great drive up there. Did that 30+ years ago in a rented Firebird. Drifted around switchbacks and lived. At the peak a storm went over and the lightning electrified the peak so my hair stood on end! I ducked and ran down to the parking lot. LOL

  • I do not do this thing at all. I have deeper love for my life and I do not drive on such high places.

  • Our recent trip to Alaska included some of that downhill driving. Uphill for our Chev 210 was no problem, lots of power to spare. On the first 7% down hill grade in Glacier National Park, I learned that riding the brake is a no-no. Your advice about a strong short pressure on the brake to slow the vehicle then let up on the brake to let it cool is spot-on. I learned a ton that trip! As the sole driver of our twosome, I do appreciate the opportunity to do some rubber-necking and see more than just the asphalt. Great Story, thanks for retelling it.

  • How much of your brake life was used up on that drive down? If you down shift, how much stress is that on the transmission? This may be an expensive thrill. I’d love to see you do this in your AWD Wonder, then report back. The Ford tow-haul mode on the gas engine should, in theory, make the downhill easier.

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