Trail Ridge Road is a portion of Highway 34 that covers an area of 48 miles (77.2 km) between Estes Park and Grand Lake (Colorado). This is the only road that crosses Rocky Mountain National Park . If you are looking for road trip ideas, Trail Ridge Road should be on your list.
Many people have come to regard Trail Ridge Road as one of the best roads in the known world. The U.S. Department of Transportation considers this road a tourist destination and has nicknamed it an All-American Road. Whether it is for its wildlife or scenic views, driving Trail Ridge Road is arguably a must for anyone visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.
On Trail Ridge Road, you can reach altitudes of several thousand feet in a matter of minutes. As such, you will notice rapid and drastic changes in vegetation and temperature. Trail Ridge Road reaches an elevation of 12,183 ft (3,713 km), something that cannot be said about many highways. What you will see will also depend on the season, especially when it comes to vegetation. For instance, wildflowers can only be seen for a few weeks each summer.
In many ways, the climate in the alpine zone resembles the ones from the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic areas. Don’t expect a lot of snow though; Trail Ridge Road is located in an area where the sun has plenty of access and, as a consequence, this scenic road doesn’t have much snow accumulation. More sun means the park service can generally open in May and only closes in October. This is somewhat interesting in that it shows the central role that the road plays in the park and how different things would be if, for some reason, it would be closed for a longer period.
Things To See While Driving Trail Ridge Road
It is said that the best views are to be found above the tree line, as the trees do some masking. In the tundra area, known by the fancy name Trail to the Sky, you can see several valleys and peaks. For this reason, you will most likely regret if you don’t take a camera (or, at least, a smartphone). Some of the viewpoints that virtually everyone notices are Hidden Valley (good for seeing chipmunks), Mummy Range, Many Parks Curve, Grand Lake, and Rainbow Curve (good for seeing the Great Plains). Continuing west, the road crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass.
Trail Ridge Road gives access to the Alpine Visitor Center, which is located at an altitude of 11,796 ft (3,595 m) and is open between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm daily between late May and middle October. The center is worth visiting for the information it provides about the tundra, as well as for asking for help if necessary (let’s hope it won’t be), and even for buying souvenirs.
A Few Tips Before You Go
Some say that it’s best not to drive Trail Ridge Road without all-weather tires, as the road will often have rain, snow, or sleet. Trail Ridge Road is often crowded, for which you might want to start driving before 7 am. More so, thunderstorms may be more common in the afternoon. Also, keep in mind that there are no gas stations and you can only fill your fuel tank in Grand Lake or Estes Park.
Hopefully, this brief review of Trail Ridge Road has given you an insight into what you might see there and may even convince you to schedule a trip there or at least continue your investigation about the place before actually choosing a road trip destination.