I-70: Through the Heartland to the Red Rocks

I-70: Through the Heartland to the Red Rocks

I-70 bisects the middle of the country, extending from suburban Baltimore to Utah, where it tees into I-15. It has the distinction of crossing the Great Plains into Colorado, two segments that couldn’t be more different. Many may argue that the Colorado/Utah section of I-70 is the most scenic to be found in the system. 

I-70 gets its start at an anonymous park and ride lot just west of Baltimore. Perhaps a hike along the Gwynns Falls Trail in Leakin Park is in order before you set your sights west. It’s accessible from the park and ride and at over 1000 acres, is Baltimore’s largest park. 

As it heads west, I-70 becomes a natural feeder, passing through many important population centers. Its fifteen-mile-long section through West Virginia to link Pennsylvania and Ohio is the shortest state segment along the entire 2,172-mile route. Pittsburgh, Columbus/Dayton, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Topeka define the route as I-70 crosses the Great Plains on approach to the Rockies. 

Denver was to be the western terminus until politicos and business interests in Colorado and Utah argued for a highway link between Denver and Salt Lake City. The military had other ideas, convincing Federal planners to use I-70 to better connect the northeast to southern California. Thus, the final route terminated at an interchange with I-15 at Cove Fort, Utah, about 176 miles south of Salt Lake City. I-70 across Colorado and Utah is considered to be an engineering marvel. The Eisenhower Tunnel, sixty miles west of Denver is the highest point in the Interstate system, at 11,158 feet. Further west, there were few paved roads into the interior of Utah. A 108-mile section from Salina, Utah to the east through a geologic formation called the San Rafael Swell was the first highway in the U.S. built over a completely new route since the Alaska Highway in 1942. 

Heading east from Baltimore, elevations remain below 1,000 feet, except for a 200-mile section in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. There, the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel covers the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a little over a mile. Completed in 1939, 11 million vehicles pass through it every year. 

Our first suggested byway along the I-70 corridor is to Fallingwater, a house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. Located in Mill Run, in the Laurel Highlands of southwest Pennsylvania, the house was completed in 1938 and consists of three concrete sections cantilevered over a waterfall on the Bear Run River. It was a private residence for twenty-six years before guided tours began in 1964. A visitors center was added in 1981 and today it attracts over 160,000 visitors a year. Fallingwater is considered to be one of Wright’s greatest masterpieces. 

About a hundred miles west near Wheeling, WV lays another curiosity. Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold is the keystone of a voluntary residential community of Hare Krishnas. Founded in 1968, the community built the palace as a home for the founder of ISKON (Krishna). After his death in 1977, the palace became a memorial shrine that attracts 50,000 tourists and pilgrims each year. 

The Alleghenies are now behind you; welcome to America’s heartland. It won’t be mountain passes that catch your attention for the next 1,500 miles. But there are dozens of amusements and roadside attractions to stir your curiosity. Take the John and Annie Glenn Historic Site in New Concord, OH. This was John Glenn’s boyhood home and it has been restored to look like it did when he enlisted in World War II. John Glenn, in case you’ve forgotten, was the third American in space and the first American to orbit the earth. He went on to serve 24 years as a U.S. Senator from Ohio and in 1998, he returned to space at the age of 77! 

Perhaps you have a penchant for old cars instead of old astronauts. You’re in luck! Just off of I-70 in Richmond, Indiana lies the Model T Museum. Built by Ford from 1908 to 1927, it was America’s first car for the masses. On display are over forty vehicles, early 20th century production displays, workshops, and seminars.

Not every stop is for enrichment or a meal. Sometimes you just spot something wacky by the side of the road. Such is the case in Vandalia, Illinois. Look to the south and you just might catch sight of the 16-foot-tall fire-breathing Kaskaskia Dragon! It’s been there since 2001 and a dollar buys a token for a personal fire-breathing experience. Bring your camera! 

For many, the real trip begins when one crosses the Mississippi. Along I-70, that happens in St. Louis. Before you reset the cruise control for the blast westward, I’ve got another stop for you to consider. The Historic Daniel Boone Home is about fifty miles west of the river and fifteen miles south of I-70 in Defiance, Missouri. Daniel’s son, Nathan, built the house in 1804. Daniel and wife, Rebecca, lived with Nathan and his family until his death in 1820. 

Continuing west, if you’re following along, I’m pleased to announce that we’re off to see the Wizard! Yes, that Wizard … the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Wamego, Kansas is home to the OZ Museum, ten miles north of I-70 Exit 328. Said to be the most widely viewed piece of entertainment in history, The Wizard of Oz and its sequels have been entertaining children and adults for over 120 years. If you know the story (who doesn’t?) this will be a must stop. 

Finally… we’re not in Kansas any more. Denver and the Front Range are the gateway to the Rocky Mountains — and probably the best riding on the trip. Rather than stay on I-70 we recommend heading south on CO 93 towards Red Rocks Amphitheatre (check to see who’s playing) and on to Mount Blue Sky. The Mount Blue Sky Scenic Byway (formerly Mount Evans) follows CO 103 nearly to the summit. At 14,140 feet, the Byway is the highest paved road in North America and the fifth highest in the world. Cross your fingers on the weather! 

Back on I-70, you have a choice: pass through the Eisenhower Tunnel or detour over Loveland Pass. The tunnel carries I-70 under the Continental Divide. Loveland Pass crests the Divide at 11,990 feet and regularly stays open in the winter season! Choosing the Mount Blue Sky/Loveland Pass bypass adds 80 miles (and probably at least half a day or more) to your trip over staying on I-70. But it is some of the finest mountain terrain you will ever ride. 

At Glenwood Springs, you will ride through spectacular Glenwood Canyon. Twelve miles of canyon accommodate a train track, forty bridges and viaducts, and two 4,000-foot-long tunnels between canyon walls that stand 1,300-feet high. In 1992, it was the last segment of the Interstate Highway System to be completed, a magnificent achievement begun in 1956. 

It’s easy to miss Colorado National Monument as you zip through the Grand Junction metro area. Don’t. The park’s Rim Rock Drive is one of the most spectacular in the country. Green juniper amidst the contrasting red rock can tantalize. The steep grades along sheer drop offs can terrorize. The Park Service suggests allowing about an hour to complete the 23-mile drive. Allow at least twice that to accommodate the inevitable overlooks, photos, or maybe even a hike. 

Crossing another state line, the granite of the Rockies has given way to the reddish palate of sandstone that is uniquely Utah. And nowhere are these colors more vividly displayed than around Moab and its adjacent National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands. Moab and the parks easily deserve a week of their own, especially if you’re an adventure rider. 

This wonderful detour begins when you take Exit 214 on to UT 128, which follows the Colorado River into the Moab Valley. Accommodations are plentiful and excellent in Moab. Arches National Park is only six miles north of town. You owe yourself at least a day of hiking to visit Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, and the Devil’s Garden. Your visit isn’t complete until you visit Canyonlands National Park and maybe even Dead Horse Point State Park nearby. The best in and out view of Canyonlands is the Grand View Point Overlook at the edge of the Island in the Sky. If you’re really ambitious, the White Rim Road is an excellent GS trek that runs for over seventy miles along the canyon floor. 

We’re near the end … I-15 is fast approaching. But a great last stop might be a soak in the tubs at Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe, Utah. Soaking pools and cast iron bathtubs commingle with the red rocks as the 165 degree water cascades downhill. Soaking temperatures are perfect and the water is sulfur-free, so you can be out of the tub and back in your gear without a shower.

Our journey along I-70 ends with a whimper in a final cloverleaf merge with I-15. It’s been a magical journey — and you still have 850 miles to ride to Redmond. The fastest route is probably north along the I-15/I-84/US 26 corridor. The most interesting and certainly the more desolate route is angling through Nevada through Winnemucca to Burns and on to Redmond. We’ll finish this stretch elsewhere in another guide. But for now, hope you enjoyed your ride across America. On I-70, the Heartland-to-Red-Rock Road!


You can find a GPS file for this route in the BMW MOA's Ride with GPS organization account here: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/46252524


Ride with GPS is a great way for the MOA to share and distribute maps, GPS routes and turn-by-turn instructions. As with any great service, some best practices in the form of tips and tricks are in order.

  • Each route in Ride with GPS is equivalent to a track in the world of Garmin GPS units and BaseCamp software. So for all the routes, make sure you get the entire collection of routes in Ride with GPS.
    • Ride with GPS allows you to download many different GPS files types, including GPX, for the BMW Navigator series and other Garmin productsWhen downloading GPX files, only download the "GPX Track" version.
    • The "GPX Route" version will leave you at the mercy of the settings on your Garmin GPS, and will take you off the planned route and maybe to unexpected places and road conditions.
  • Once you have the "GPX Track" version loaded on your device and want turn-by-turn navigation, convert the "track" on your Garmin GPS to a "trip."
  • If you don’t have a dedicated GPS device and use your phone for navigation, Ride with GPS also has a number of file formats to work with various navigation apps for phones.
  • Ride with GPS also has its own phone app that will also help guide you! Download now for Apple iOS or Android.