Trail Ridge Road, which lies within the Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, must be added to your bucket list if it isn’t there already. At an elevation of over 12,000 feet above sea level it is the highest continuous paved road in the United States and is known around the world as a road to travel.
My first venture on this sky-high roadway was May 31, 2016 and it was something that made quite an impression! The views of Rocky Mountain National Park from this road are breathtaking, as is the sharp wind at such an elevation. You drive through a variety of habitat, from mountain meadows and ponderosa pine woodlands to well above tree line into the alpine tundra.
The day we drove this magnificent road was only the 2nd day that it was open for the season. There were still walls of snow on each side of the roadway that towered over our Jeep and the weather was drastically different than what we had left back in Estes Park. In fact, when we left our home, an hour away, it was blue skies, sunshine and 60 degrees. On Trail Ridge Road, it was 30 degrees, windy and snowing. There were people up there that were joyfully playing in the snow and then there were those who only watched, with smiles on their faces, from their warm cars because they were unprepared for such a temperature difference and did not have warm clothing. So be prepared when you travel Trail Ridge Road and have jackets and hats with you.
Due to the roads extreme elevation, and location, it is impossible to keep it clear of snow, and ice, much of the year. Therefore, it is only open, on average, 4 months out of the year, from Memorial Day to late September. Along the drive, you go from 7,800 feet to more than 12,000 feet at its highest point. The snow up there is known to reach 25 feet deep and there are places where the walls of snow still tower over you in early summer. It is something else to see.
I do highly recommend this drive although there are places along the way that will give you butterflies in your stomach. There are spots where the drop is tremendous and there are no guard rails.
If you choose, make a day of it and follow Trail Ridge Road all the way to Grand Lake, which in itself is a wonderful place to visit. Or stop at the Alpine Visitor Center, have a snack and travel back the way you came to Estes Park. If you travel the road later in the summer, when the snow has had time to melt, there are great trails that you can hike. Simply ask for a trail map at the Estes Park visitor center before you enter The Rocky Mountain National Park.
Make sure you have a full tank of gas as you will find NO gas anywhere along this road or in the park.