Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

In my post about Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), I mentioned Trail Ridge Road. It’s the road that goes all the way through the park from Estes Park on the east end to Grand Lake on the west end. It’s the highest contiguous highway in the USA, which means one that connects to other roads. The highest paved road in North America, for your info, is Mount Evans Scenic Byway, also in Colorado, which goes to the top of Mount Evans (elev. 14,130 feet) where you must turn around to get back down.

BTW, RMNP has been closed since March 20. The mayor of Estes Park requested it to protect their little town from coronavirus spread. They closed their lodging businesses before the park was closed; they were getting cases of COVID-19 and didn’t have the facilities for many more. As far as I can determine, this may be the first time RMNP has been closed since it opened in 1915.

For that matter, all Colorado’s ski resorts were ordered closed on March 14 amid the biggest ski season they’d had in a few years. What a shame–we’ve had record snows this year, too. But COVID-19 rates were much higher in the ski resort areas than elsewhere in the state, so they shut them down on what was supposed to be the busiest arrival day of the season. Wow.

Here’s a shot of Trail Ridge Road in October, the same weekend my husband and I drove the Boreas Pass Road, described in my previous post. Note the beautiful, golden aspens on the left and ponderosa pines on the right. This was fairly low in elevation, just after we started out on Trail Ridge. Note how well paved it is!

These trees grow in the so-called montane forests. As elevation increases, the montane forest eventually becomes subalpine forest, with fir and spruce trees. Here you can see the golden aspens way down at the bottom of the valley:

Highest of all, of course, is the alpine tundra region above the treeline. Here’s a shot of Trail Ridge Road right at the treeline.

There are some white-knuckle areas–oh, who am I kidding? It’s mostly white-knuckle for me for long stretches such as this:

Those tall poles at the side of the road are snow poles. They tell the snowplow drivers how not to fall off the side of the mountain when he or she can’t see the road. Check out this local news site for pix of the poles doing their job last May on Trail Ridge Road.

Most of my shots here are of the tundra. The subtle colors are amazing and it’s always windy and pretty cold, even on a warm day.

The road has several pull-offs, with informational signs and restrooms for visitors. The views from the pull-offs are fantastic!

The main pull-off is the Alpine Visitor Center. There they have a gift shop and snack bar as well as restrooms. FYI, the toilets in RMNP and most high-altitude parks are vault toilets, which mean the waste is contained in a vault in the ground that is emptied regularly by those honeydipper trucks. It saves the environment from the damage that would occur from laying water and sewer pipes in these relatively untouched places. Think porta-potty only in the ground. They aren’t my favorite, but I’m glad they’re there!

These shots are from the back deck of the Alpine Visitor Center. Now I know where “purple mountain majesty” came from.

You can really see how the Ice Age glaciers carved out the sides of these peaks:

And if you’re still not high enough, you can walk up to the high point from the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot (I was high enough):

After our exploration of the gift shop (ok, MY exploration of the gift shop!) and taking in the wonderful views, we started back down:

and were presently back in the forests:

Here’s some info for your next bar trivia night about Trail Ridge Road:

  • opened in 1932, about 16 years after President Woodrow Wilson signed RMNP into existence
  • 48 miles total distance
  • highest point is 12,183 feet above sea level
  • 11 miles of the road are above the treeline (about 11,500′ elevation)
  • official designation: US34
  • cars climb around 4,000 feet within a few minutes from either end of the road
  • the road is closed from October to May because of winter weather

Although you have to pay $25 per car to get into RMNP to travel Trail Ridge Road, it’s worth it. Nowhere have I ever seen such unique vistas! Also for that price you can go anywhere else in the park you want. There are different prices if you’re riding a motorcycle or camping for multiple days in the park. Except for the current situation, RMNP is open 24/7/365.

Photo for No Apparent Reason: