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 Trail Ridge Road a tourist destination and has nicknamed it an All-American Road. Whether it is for its wildlife or scenic views, driving on this road is arguably a must for anyone visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.
On Trail Ridge Road, you will 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.
In many ways, the climat in the alpine zone resembles that found in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic areas. Given the differences that exist in vegetation and temperature depending on the altitude at which you are located when driving on Trail Ridge Road, you will obviously notice some differences in the wildlife as well, that is, if you spend enough time in each area that can be accessed by the road.
Of course, the season of travel will also have a major influence on what you will be able to see, especially when it comes to vegetation. For instance, wildflowers are to be seen for a few weeks each summer.
It is worth mentioning that it is located in an area where the sun has plenty of access and, consequently, this scenic road doesn’t have as much snow accumulation compared to other roads that provide access to similar wild areas. More sun means the park service can generally open in May and only close in October. This is somewhat interesting (not to exaggerate the interesting thing) in that it shows the central role that the road plays in the park and how different things would be without it. It is even more interesting (again, not to exaggerate) for travelers who are anxious to visit one of the famous parks in the Rockies during the months when access is difficult or impossible.
Things To See While Driving On the Trail Ridge Road
It is said that the best views are to be found above the tree line, as trees mask some of the views that you would otherwise have (but don’t use this as an excuse to stop carrying about deforestation). The tundra area, known by the fancy name Trail to the Sky, gives you views of several valleys and peaks, a reason for which you would most likely regret if you don’t take the camera (or at least the 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 feet (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 on Trail Ridge Road without all-weather tires, as the road will often have rain, snow, or sleet.
The road is often crowded, for which you might want to start the ride before 7 am. More so, thunderstorms may be more common in the afternoon.
Hopefully, this brief review of Trail Ridge Road has been helpful in giving you an insight into what you might see there and may even convince you to schedule a trip or at least continue your investigation about the place before actually choosing a road trip destination.
Even if you want to visit the park only to drive this road, you should not forget you are in a place where help is not readily available and are surrounded by an environment which you might find spectacular but in specific instances also quite hostile. For this reason, it is highly recommended to drive the road well equipped with everything you might need in case there is a problem, even if you are not planning to leave your car for a long period of time.