Over Hill, Over Dale: Driving an E.V. on Colorado’s Scenic Byways

Over Hill, Over Dale: Driving an E.V. on Colorado’s Scenic Byways

Unless you are one of the estimated seven percent of Americans who own an electric vehicle, it’s pretty hard to take a scenic, emissions-free road trip. But for those owners and other eco-conscious travelers who can rent an electric vehicle — and it’s not always easy to find one — Colorado is inviting you to meander far from the charging stations clustered in big cities.

This summer, the state has “electrified” seven of its 26 Scenic & Historic Byways, routes designated for their natural, educational or historic features that often traverse wild areas where jaw-dropping sights make you appreciate the pavement that got you there.

Charging stations can be found roughly every 100 miles on these routes, which range from the namesake plateau and lakes around Grand Mesa to the seasonal Trail Ridge Road reaching over 12,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park. More than 140 fast-charging stations, plus 34 planned or available on Colorado’s “corridor” interstates and highways, help E.V. drivers get to them.

The first hurdle in traveling Colorado’s electric byways is finding an electric vehicle. They are scarce among major car rental companies, though by year-end, the Dollar and Thrifty rental car outlets at the Eagle County Regional Airport near Vail plan to add them.

To rent an E.V., I turned to Turo. The Airbnb of cars, Turo allows car owners, also called “hosts,” to rent their vehicles via the platform. Even there, E.V.s were not common, and I ruled out Teslas, which tended to start above $150 a day.

For best results, I quickly learned, start in a city. When I moved my search from Aspen to Denver, I found Nathan’s 2020 Nissan Leaf for $59 a day for my four-day adventure.

After learning my plans, Nathan lived up to his “All-Star Host” status by messaging me with an online map he had created of my longest drive, showing the route mileage from Denver west to Vail, then south to Salida and back on a website called A Better Routeplanner, which included suggested charging stops.

It was an early indication that I would trade spontaneity for certainty. While gas stations are ubiquitous, allowing road-trippers to improvise, the scarcity of E.V. charging stations dictates where you can go and how far between recharges, often resulting in what E.V. owners call “range anxiety,” a condition Colorado’s byway electrification plan aims to combat on the rural roads.

I picked up Nathan’s Nissan Leaf from his home near Denver International Airport. The car was charged to 100 percent with an estimated 230 miles on the battery. But the mileage calculation frequently shifts, as I learned over the course of the trip, affected by inclines and cold weather, both of which eat more battery charge, and replenished by hooking up to a charger and braking or driving downhill when the battery regenerates. One fellow E.V. driver I met in Golden even recommended turning off the air conditioning — done, rather uncomfortably on an 80-degree day — to stretch battery life.

Electrify America, a charging network owned by Volkswagen and established as part of its 2016 settlement for its diesel emissions scandal, has mapped cross-country driving routes with stations on or close to interstate highways. For leisurely drives that veer away from heavily trafficked corridors, consider the following states.

California leads the nation in E.V. registrations, and has nearly 13,000 public charging stations, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The state’s tourism office recommends driving Highway 99, which has regular charging stations, through the agricultural Central Valley, including the wine district of Lodi. The route Drive the Arc offers charging stations in Northern California from coastal Monterey to Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada range.

Oregon has more than 2,200 miles of scenic byways ready for E.V.s with charging stations spaced every 25 to 50 miles. The tourism office offers suggested itineraries on some of these, from the 383-mile-long Pacific coastal route beginning in Portland to a day trip from Eugene to some of the state’s 50 remaining covered bridges.

Among its electrified roads, the state of Washington has chargers posted along its 440-mile Cascade Loop, a route that circles the state and passes through various regions, including the North Cascades mountains, Lake Chelan Valley and Bavarian-themed Leavenworth.

The gas and electricity company National Grid has identified scenic E.V. road trips in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. In New York, it recommends a trip around Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains, with a map to 10 chargers around town.

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Posted by Krin Rodriquez

Passionate for technology and social media, ex Silicon Valley insider.