UPDATE Summer 2019 Expectations: Construction crews were unable to complete the paving project before the snow came in fall of 2018. From what I understand, the plan at this time is to open Cottonwood pass in the summer of 2019, but with alternating traffic while crews pave the road over the summer. Unfortunately, this means that Cottonwood Pass may not be a great choice in 2019 until paving is complete. Other information below:
Crested Butte visitors from Denver and points beyond will look forward to 2019, when Cottonwood pass connecting Buena Vista and the Taylor Park area should be completely paved. In my experience, driving Cottonwood pass, which is currently a graded dirt road, saves about 20-30 minutes between Crested Butte and Denver, and it’s one of the most scenic drives in the state.
The Chaffee county side of the pass has long been paved, but the 12 mile stretch between the top of the pass and Taylor Park in Gunnison county is unpaved and was a source of great debate when I moved to Crested Butte in 1996. Many of the residents of Gunnison were opposed to paving Cottonwood Pass since a shorter and more direct route to Crested Butte from Denver meant that Gunnison would be bypassed. In Crested Butte, the fear of paving the road stemmed from rampant growth, and “cows not condos” was a popular refrain. Crested Butte grew anyway, with the internet doing the job that a paved Cottonwood pass never could have. The county eventually said “no” to the feds when it came to paving the road in the late 90’s.
It was recently announced that Cottonwood Pass will be paved, widened, and straightened during the summers of 2017 and 2018. The pass, sitting at over 12,000′, will take two summers to complete due to the short work seasons (Cottonwood Pass is only open during the summer). The federal government will be picking up the majority of the 30 million dollar tab. Interestingly, there was little to no controversy this time around when it came to paving Cottonwood Pass. While I’m not looking forward to two summers of construction on the pass, I am looking forward to a shorter drive to Denver, without the washboard of the unpaved section of road.