Trail Ridge Road, a designated All-American Byway in Rocky Mountain National Park, is one of Colorado’s most spectacular highways. The 45-mile route, following U.S. Highway 34, runs through a swathe of wild mountains between Estes Park and Grand Lake. Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in the United States, crosses Trail Ridge, following an ancient path used by Indians for the last 12,000 years. The road climbs almost 5,000 vertical feet from Estes Park to its high point and traverses through three life zones, including the fragile grass tundra above timberline. The scenic highway switchbacks up forested slopes, follows the Colorado River, and passes herds of bighorn sheep, elk, and deer. Besides sightseeing, Trail Ridge Road offers camping, hiking, scenic views, overlooks, fishing, photo ops, and wildflowers.
Pro TipsTrail Ridge Road usually opens in May and closes in late October. The opening and closing dates vary every year, depending on when snow is removed from the road and the first big snowfall in late autumn.The highway offers many scenic overlooks. The best ones are Many Parks Curve, Rainbow Curve, Forest Canyon Overlook, Rock Cut Overlook, and Farview Curve Overlook. Also be sure to stop at the Alpine Visitor Center for exhibits about tundra ecology and park geology, pick up park info, buy books and maps, and buy gifts and lunch at the nearby store.Trail Ridge Road is a great place to see wildlife. Stop in pullovers at Horseshoe Park to spot bighorn sheep, elk, and mule deer grazing in the meadows. The best viewing is early morning or evening. The big mammals are also seen along the road above 11,000 feet in July and August. The Kawuneeche Valley on the west side of Trail Ridge Road is the best place to see moose munching willows along the Colorado River bottomlands.Tundra Communities Trail at the top of the road is a great hike that explores the land above the trees. The out-and-back, one-mile hike crosses alpine tundra meadows. Summer offers an explosion of wildflowers, including Indian paintbrush, alpine sunflowers, alpine avens, bistort, and forget-me-nots. The wheelchair-accessible trail begins at 12,110 feet and climbs to 12,304 feet. Trail points of interest are the Mushroom Rocks, viewpoints of Longs Peak, wildlife including elk and marmots, and the Toll Memorial at the end.
Recommended season(s): May through October. Snow closes the road through winter and spring.
—Stewart M. Green
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