Last Updated on 04/05/2024 by Glynn Willard

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What’s it like to tow a travel trailer over Wolf Creek Pass?

This article will cover what it’s like to tow a bumper pull of 5th wheel over Wolf Creek Pass.

Ours was a 28 ft travel trailer that weighed approximately 9,000 lbs.

We were ignorant of its existence and had no experience towing over dangerous mountain passes.

We entered the west side of Wolf Creek Pass bearing east on US Highway 160 after leaving Pagosa Springs toward South Fork and noticed signs and the chain-up stations.

Fortunately, ignorance is bliss, so there was zero anxiety (at first).

This was early in our full-time travels before we knew to look out for more than just low-clearance overpasses.

Regardless, I wasn’t worried. Isn’t that why I bought a 6.7 Liter Diesel?

Besides, it was a beautiful drive and the best route between Pagosa Springs and South Fork!


Does Wolf Creek Pass Have A Dangerous Hairpin Curve?


Wolf Creek Pass

A Google map image of the tightest hairpin turn.

Yes, there were several hairpin turns (very low mph curves).

The one that’s talked about the most is the switchback near Wolf Creek scenic overlook on the west side of the pass.

We didn’t know about it until we encountered the switchback.

Wolf Creek Pass

A Google street view of a dangerous hairpin turn.

We were heading up the mountain when we approached this turn and it’s definitely a bit of a shocker and requires a very low speed.

Fortunately, I drive slowly and under control, so it wasn’t a “nail-biter.”

As you already know, speed is your enemy and a controlled slow pace is your best friend on any high mountain pass.

Use your brakes as sparingly as possible to prevent overheating. Use your low gear and engine brake instead on the downhill grade.

What’s the rush anyway? The scenery and summit of Wolf Creek Pass is beautiful!

Wolf Creek Pass Elevation

High elevation.
Wolf Creek Pass has a peak altitude of 10,856 MSL.

Are we ever going to finish climbing this mountain?

I admit, that thought crossed my mind several times.

Those 7% grades will not let you forget that you’re climbing a great distance.

Neither will your “screaming” engine!

On the flip side, it’s a really cool experience and the clean air at the top feels fantastic!

What a great location for Wolf Creek Ski Area!

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Wolf Creek Pass Grade

Steep grades on Wolf Creek Pass.
Both the eastbound descent and westbound descent of Wolf Creek Pass have close to 7% grades.

I mentioned the dangerous hairpin turn on the west side earlier.

The switchback curve just adds to the nail-biting of the steep grades.

I’ll cover what these steep grades did to our tow vehicle later in the article.

Total Time To Cross Wolf Creek Pass

An experienced driver can likely cross it under good conditions in a little over an hour.

Yeah, in a car!

It’s about 42 miles long, so if you’re towing something, budget two hours. Why?

I suggest stopping to rest the tow vehicle’s engine and brakes (and trailer brakes).

But it’s just as important to take in the views and breathe the fresh elevation air.

It’s worth the time!

Be Aware Of The Weather On Wolf Creek Pass


Towing over Wolf Creek Pass.

This was in July and it was cool at the top.

If there are cold temperatures and precipitation predicted and the time of year is close to winter, skip it and find another way around.

That suggestion is based on less experienced towers.

Colorado Department of Transportation requires all vehicles to use chains or auto socks in snow.

Again, if you have no experience with these conditions, skip it. This is not the place to learn.

Ice on mountain passes can be deadly to any vehicle. Especially heavy trucks towing a camper.

So, again, before you embark on the journey over Wolf Creek Pass, know the weather on all parts of the pass.

Although, locals mentioned the road is really well maintained in the winter due to the ski resort.

That’s not good enough for me when I’m towing. Just throwing that out there.

Is Your Camper And Tow Vehicle Equipped To Cross Wolf Creek Pass?


The most useful braking mechanism is an engine brake and it can make all the difference.

I was thrown to the wolves (pun intended).

I learned to use our engine brake on our 2017 F250 diesel on Wolf Creek Pass.

And I didn’t do a great job at first until Rose broke out the manual and figured it out.

It took a few tries before I trusted it to “do its thing.”

Make sure your tow vehicle and trailer have quality brakes as well and that the gain is properly adjusted.

As you ascend either side of Wolf Creek Pass, keep an eye on your oil temp.

If it gets too high, pull off on the shoulder of the road when you have clearance. Keep your engine running to circulate more air.

Oh and make sure you don’t approach the pass with your low fuel light on.

That should be a no-brainer, but it’s worth saying.


Test Your Brakes Before Going Over Wolf Creek Pass

Test your tow vehicle and trailer’s brakes before ascending the mountain.

If you have a brake control, test your trailer’s brakes on their own.

They should stop your tow vehicle from an un-accelerated coast.

I know it sounds like the obvious, but I forgot to test my brakes on several occasions.

It wasn’t until I had a lot of experience towing and doing preventative maintenance that I established so many safety checks.

This is a situation where it’s really good to know your trailer and tow vehicle’s systems inside and out.

Just as important, use your brakes sparingly, relying partially on a lower gear. The last thing you need is them overheating leading to a possible loss of the brake system.

If that happens, use the runaway truck ramps.

But let’s prevent that in the first place since runaway ramps are difficult to get out of.

Check Engine Light (CEL) On Wolf Creek Pass


Wolf Creek Pass

We had to let the engine cool after climbing Wolf Creek Pass.

Yep, the dreaded check engine light (CEL) came on at the peak. This was my first experience with a CEL.

I didn’t have a code reader yet. But it did inspire the purchase of the Inova 5160RS, OBD2 Bidirectional Scan Tool.

Yes, that’s an affiliate link. I think it helps the reader more than it helps us.

So, we’re sitting at the top of the mountain with a CEL, hood up and scratching our heads.

At the time, all I could do was let the engine cool, use the facilities in our rig (bathroom and kitchen), and enjoy the fresh air.

Once the diesel engine cooled, we started off and the CEL was still on. But the truck drove fine.

And everything worked as it should.

I had the truck scanned and it was an O2 sensor discrepancy. Oddly, from that point forward, the CEL would come on whenever we pushed the truck to elevation.

But the truck always drove just fine without the need for repair. Once we returned to sea level, it stopped coming on.

RV Etiquette: Let Them Pass


This applies to all RV drivers as well as commercial vehicle drivers because it’s just the right thing to do.

If you’re holding up traffic because of your slow pace, pull off at the first opportunity and let cars pass.

We’ve all been stuck behind a slow vehicle and we all genuinely appreciate the few that pull off to allow passing.

Several states have made it a law that if you’re backing traffic up, you have to pull off and let them pass.

Colorado is one of those states.

Kindness on the roadway goes a long way.

Wrapping Up Crossing Wolf Creek Pass With A Camper

In my opinion, Vail Pass is easier than Wolf Creek Pass.

If Wolf Creek Pass is on your itinerary and your next RV trip, keep the following in mind:

  • Know the weather and plan accordingly to avoid dangerous conditions.

  • Speed is not your friend. Take your time, follow the posted speed limit (or slower), and budget approximately 2 hours.

  • Is your tow vehicle and camper equipped with good quality, robust brakes?

  • Check your brakes before the ascent and use them sparingly. Your lower gears and engine brake should be your go-to when going downhill.

  • It’s all about taking your time and remaining under control.

  • If you’re the slow camper (and you should be), let the traffic pass that’s built up behind you.

Take in the beautiful views and fresh air that Wolf Creek Pass has to offer.

What’s the most difficult mountain pass you’ve towed a camper over?
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