|People and cars look as small as ants when on top of the world.|
One of the most scenic drives in all of Colorado is definitely Trail Ridge Road, driving between Estes Park and Grand Lake.
I usually find myself singing along to the Dixie Chicks' song 'Top of the World' (toward the end where it starts to build and crescendo...more of an overcast day song) or any of James Taylor's tracks... as I traverse this high mountain road full of beauty and mountain views. Every which way you look as you approach the top, are myriads of mountain peaks, sky, and craggy open space.
This is probably my favorite drive in all of Colorado.
Just the facts, Ma'am:
- Generally takes about 1.5 to 2 hours (depending on how often you stop for photo-ops) to drive from one end to the other.
- 11 miles of road are above treeline in the alpine tundra.
- 200 species of alpine plants. Very fragile ecosystem. Please stay on trails as these plants especially take much longer to grow back if trampled.
- Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (elevation 10,120 feet).
- The highest point on the road is 12,183 feet (east of the Alpine Visitor Center).
- Look for wildlife such as marmots, pika, and ptarmigan who live in the arid, wintry alpine tundra environment.
- You can often see other wildlife such as deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and moose along the way.
- It is only open all the way through from late Spring to early Fall.
- To check road status call: 970-586-1222.
Other Highlights Along the Way:
- The Alpine Visitor Center is a nice destination once you get to the top. There is a café and snack counter if you want some refreshments, as well as, the main gift shop/souvenir center inside the park. There is a short trail just beside the parking lot if you want to stretch your legs. However, due to the altitude and wind you may prefer to chill and sip hot cocoa inside.
- Old Fall River Road is a one-way (up only) road on the east side that will take you to the Alpine Visitor Center. It generally opens around July 4th. It is a narrow, gravel road with a 15 mph speed limit. Be advised. Check road conditions to be sure road is open.
- Hike along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail or
- Take a tour of Holzwarth Historic Site, near Grand Lake. Hike about half a mile to the old cabin.
- On the east side, just after the treeline stops, walk in the footsteps of the Ute Amerindians along the Ute Trail.
- The Bear Lake Road trailheads can fill up fast in the summertime. If you don't want the hassle of trying to find a parking spot there are free park shuttle buses. Highly recommended.
Due to the high elevation be sure to stay hydrated and be aware of altitude sickness symptoms.
Even if the temperature is 80 degrees in Grand Lake or Estes it is always cool (if not cold) and generally windy up above treeline.
Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road are narrow, high mountain roads. Use Caution.
Be prepared for the possibility of fast moving weather systems.
Enjoy the views.