Updated September 2021
Is Trail Ridge Road open today? YES!
The Trail Ridge Road is open only from late May or early June to late October due to heavy snowfall; it is not accessible because of safety concerns at any other period. Although during those closed months, some road areas closest to Estes Park and Grand Lake are open for visitors.
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Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is located between the town of Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the west. To experience the elegance of the mountains, the beauty of the alpine lakes, and flawless nature, there is a need for access. Roads, trails, paths, whatever name we choose, to call it, access is needed. Many of these access paved artificial roads and nature’s pathways, routes, and track in the Park. Of the many, Trail Ridge Road is one of the most popular. And to understand why its popularity is not a charade, Highway 34 connects Estes Park to Rocky Mountain National Park, some 26.6km; it continues southwest through the Park to the Grand Lake. Highway 34 is popularly known as Trail Ridge Road; whether you are hiking or driving, it is still one of the best ways to see the Continental Divide as it passes through Colorado. The length of the Trail Ridge Road is not its only attractive feature; the fact that it is a scenic road at an elevation of 12,183ft is what gives it prominence, yes, a route that you can walk on and drive your vehicle on at over 12,000ft, mindboggling I know.
The History of Trail Ridge Road
Fall River Road had initially been constructed to achieve better tourism, but there were many issues, and planning began constructing the new and better road. A paved road, having a larger width, with a wider radius, whose grade was easier for vehicles, also had a broader pullout for viewers. The tourism business had always had a considerable market. However, it only continued to progress, so there was an increase in the number of vehicles plying the single lane of previously constructed. Of course, the Trail Ridge had been in use long before anyone imagined paved road; the Arapahoe Indians resident in the area had named the trail due to its original steepness,’’taienbaa’’. Since Fall River Road was not up to the task, work started on Trail Ridge Road in 1929 and was completed in July 1932. The road was constructed through the Kawuneeche Valley right up to Grand Lake in the year 1938, so one will not be wrong to say it took nine years for the entire scenic route we behold today to be created.
Know The Way.
Trail Ridge Road is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known as Highway 34, and over 70km long. Driving or hiking on the road would bring you to a peak of 12,183ft. Other roads are higher than this; what makes Trail Ridge Road unique is that it is continuous even after attaining that height, it continues to the Grand Lake. In contrast, other roads on reaching maximum height are dead ends. You would spend about 17.7km of the road at an altitude above which no trees grow. Another 32km would impress you with peak summits, crystalline lakes that far away, and glacier-carved valleys. In minutes while driving, you would have reached over 4,000ft; strong wind and cold are the norms of this scenic route. And not just that you are closer to the sun, so be prepared for scorching heat when the sun is high up. The Continental Divide crosses the Road at Milner Pass, located at a 10,758 feet elevation.
Fall River Road:
Single-lane road constructed before the Trail Ridge Road connects with the Trail Ridge Road as you leave Estes Park and approach the Rock Mountain National Park.
Deer Ridge Junction:
located at 10,013ft, you can catch a view of Horseshoe Park to the north and beaver meadows to the south; the trail enjoys proper maintenance. You might encounter some wildlife here, including aspen stands and subalpine forests.
Many Parks Curve Overlook:
as you make the bend, you can see mountain peaks, aspen, and pines (ponderosa) with panoramic visions of both Moraine and Horseshoe Parks and glacier-carved valleys.
Rainbow Curve Overlook:
as you pass the 2 miles above sea level sign, the elevation changes becomes very obvious as you begin to enjoy a clear view of the tree line, which includes subalpine forests of spruce and fir, montane forests containing aspen and ponderosa pine, and opinions of a large canyon and famous peaks.
Forest Canyon Overlook:
here, you are provided the opportunity to see a U-shaped glacial valley known as Forest Canyon, peaks, and the stunted trees (caused by the weather).
At Rock Cut, the road continues at 12,000ft with remarkable views of snow-capped mountain peaks. Remember, you are very high up; the air is thinner up here; take necessary measures to protect yourself.
at over 11,827ft, the pass offers you a mountain peak view with blue skies as backdrops.
Tundra World Nature Trail:
from Rock Cut to here is a 1.60km trail paved to protect the delicate plants that grow here. Be very careful here; any damage of a wayward footstep may take years to put together again. There are interpretive displays along the trail that explain how the tundra and how plants adapt to this harsh atmosphere.
Gore Range Overlook:
The Trail Ridge Road at its highest point, a whopping 12,183 ft. take in the view until you are fully satisfied because you would descend as you continue.
joins the Rock Cut and Gore Range Overlook, at over 12,000ft. It overlooks the cliffs of lava that were formed millions of years ago.
Alpine Visitor Center:
At over 12,000ft, the view is awe-inspiring here. The center displays life within the tundra. There is information on hiking, driving, biking, and wildlife here.
Medicine Bow Curve:
As you leave the Alpine Visitor Center, the descent begins, and you are faced with this hairpin curve. You are still over 11,500ft, mind you.
As you continue your descent, the alpine forest welcomes you and brings to a place serene and excellent for fishing. After the Lake, you are nearer to the Continental divide as you approach Milner Pass.
the Continental Divide is crossed by Trail Ridge Road at Milner Pass with an elevation of 10,000ft.
Fairview Curve Overlook:
a short while after you pass the Continental Divide, at above 10,000ft, you are provided which a view of the glacier-carved Kawuneeche Valley and Never Summer Mountains. You would most often hear coyotes, but they are rarely seen; other wildlife is probably due to the Colorado River.
Colorado River Trailhead:
the Colorado River begins in the Rocky Mountains goes west to the Gulf of California. The road descends through the forest prepare for some wild curves as you proceed. An 11.42km trip to and fro would follow the Colorado River to an old mining town in Lulu City.
Timber Lake Trailhead:
after the Colorado River Trailhead, you have descended to 9,000ft as at this point, there is a 7.72km rigorous hike that goes through the forest on your way to Timber Lake; you are sure to come across vast wildflower meadow.
Beaver Ponds Picnic Area:
you would come across Never Summer Ranch on your right you may have to undertake a short trek to get there. It is a Holzwarth Historic Site area surrounded by a ranch.
Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor Center at Kawuneeche:
as you are about to exit the park at below 9,000ft, the visitor center allows visitors to explore the wildlife in this area. Also, you can examine the differences between both sides of the Continental Divide. Which you could say is a fitting end to a glorious trip.
The Trail Ridge Road continues even though you might have exited as it departs the Park; the road continues to Grand Lake and Colorado River Headwaters Byway.
As you observed from the points above, there are places on the Road that would afford you opportunities to explore your heart content the wildlife here.
The flora is abundant for the area, and it is colorful when the green summer tundra is fully adorned even though the growing period is just a short 40 days. The availability of mixed-grass prairies such as sand reeds, Galleta, buffalo grass, cottonwoods, gramas, and many others, make it easy to spot fauna such as elk, moose white-tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, many other herbivores, and very shy carnivores. Unfortunately, due to the permanent residences springing up here and there, some of the wildlife is disappearing, although efforts are being made to reintroduce them. Other faunas such as pikas, marmots, and ptarmigans are commonly seen.
Note worth repeating here:
The Trail Ridge Road is open only from late May or early June to late October due to heavy snowfall; it is not accessible because of safety concerns at any other period. Although during those closed months, some road areas closest to Estes Park and Grand Lake are open for visitors.Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with almost unending scenery. Some are at many elevations above sea level; the Trail Ridge Road is one of the significant innovations of this beautiful park. Allowing visitors to have such a wonderful experience will surely last them a lifetime and is a game-changer in the tourism industry. Trail Ridge Road has several exciting spots to view and explore; ensure you are well prepared for the trip, whether driving, cycling, or hiking. Up there, you are dealing with the elements in their most tangible form; read the rules and guidelines provided by the park before you set out. Above all else, enjoy yourself.