If you're looking for an inspiring drive through the mountains of Colorado, then a drive along Trail Ridge Road should be top of your list. Known as the Highway to the Sky, this scenic road through the Rocky Mountain National Park reaches 12,183 feet at its highest point and is famous for its awe-inspiring views.
The 48-mile drive along Trail Ridge Road takes you from Grand Lake heading northeast through the stunning Rocky Mountain National Park to Estes Park. The short route takes only 1 hour and 30 minutes, but it's not to be rushed with unforgettable views.
With its many overlooks, forests, and towering rock formations, Trail Ridge Road is a unique road trip through the heart of the Colorado mountain wilderness. Continue reading to discover much more about the route and some of our top tips to make the drive even more enjoyable.
How long does it take to drive Trail Ridge Road?
Designated as a National All-American Road, the excitement begins from the starting point of Trail Ridge Road as you climb 4,000 feet almost immediately and its high elevation makes it the highest continuous paved road in the US.
The Trail Ridge Road is only 48 miles long, so can easily be completed in under 2 hours. But a trip through the breathtaking Rocky Mountain scenery should be savored and there are many stops and overlooks where you'll want to stop and admire the incredible views that catch the eye in every direction.
Stopping off at just a few of the perfectly placed overlooks can easily double the journey time and we recommend allowing a day to make the trip as you wouldn't want to miss anything along the way.
Driving from Grand Lake to Estes Park
Driving through the Rocky Mountain National Park along Trail Ridge Road can be completed in either direction but the more popular option is traveling west to east. Approaching the route this way allows you to ascend more gradually, starting with the lush forests and lakes on the western side of the Park.
As the road ascends, the views open up before your eyes with incredible vistas giving the most amazing photo opportunities.
As you depart Grand Lake, take Highway 34 heading north past Green Mountain before hitting a series of switchbacks leading to Farview Curve Viewpoint. At 10,000 feet it offers sweeping views across the mountain wilderness and makes an excellent first stop. Continue past Continental Divide with views over Poudre Lake before climbing to Medicine Bow Curve.
The road continues its winding ascent to the Alpine Visitor Center, the highest point on the Trail Ridge Road at 12,183 feet, and a great place to stop and take in the stunning scenery and explore the information center and gift shop.
Continue onwards past Trail Ridge to the Trail Ridge Road Summit, with Sundance Mountain in your sights as you head towards Forest Canyon Overlook.
As the road descends, there are more excellent photo opportunities at Rainbow Curve Overlook and Many Parks Curve Overlook before heading down towards Deer Mountain and the end of the route at Estes Park.
Where is Trail Ridge Road located?
Trail Ridge Road is situated in northern Colorado, in the Rocky Mountain National Park lying to the east of the popular cities of Denver and Boulder. There are links to major highways in every direction making it an extremely popular attraction.
Visiting Trail Ridge Road from Denver takes a little over 100 miles to reach the start of the route in Grand Lake. The route begins by heading west on the I-70 towards Idaho Springs before switching to Highway 40 at Empire to Berthoud Falls.
After a quick stop for a view of Berthoud Falls Cascades, the road twists and turns as it meanders northwards past Colorado Mines Peak towards Fraser.
Continue onwards past Tabernash before arriving at Granby where a right turn leads you onto the US-34. With mountain views all around, the route follows the shores of Lake Granby with Table Mountain towering over the water, and you'll soon reach Shadow Mountain Lake where the road runs parallel to the shoreline all the way to Grand Lake.
|Colorado Springs, CO
|8 hours 10 minutes
|Salt Lake City, UT
|7 hours 15 minutes
|Las Vegas. NV
Things to know that can impact your driving time
As you head through the Rocky Mountain National Park, the expansive views mean it's only natural that cars will slow down to admire the scenery. Be mindful of other drivers pulling over at short notice to park up and catch the vistas.
It is important to keep an eye out for wildlife crossing the road and this can cause other vehicles to stop suddenly. Elk and moose are commonly spotted along the route, as are bighorn sheep, with their impressive horns and they can be spotted on the high slopes and cliffs of the park.
The weather can greatly impact your driving time, and the road is closed during the winter months, usually from late October until May. The adverse weather conditions make the road dangerous and, it is not uncommon for the road to be closed in bad weather throughout the year.
Colorado is susceptible to snow, and given the high altitude encountered on the route, snow, and ice are common. If possible the road will be plowed, but you can expect delays as it takes time to clear a safe passage.
Always check the park's website before setting off for up-to-the-minute travel information.
Delays at the entrance station can have an impact on driving time throughout the year. In the peak summer season, due to the route's popularity, heavy traffic can cause delays. In wintry weather conditions the road will remain closed whilst it is being plowed, so this will also cause tailbacks at the entrance station prior to the road opening.
Tips to drive Trail Ridge Road in the shortest possible time
Driving at high altitude is always an exhilarating experience, although safety is paramount and enjoying the drive safely, but here are some of our top tips for completing the route in the shortest time.
- Always check the road conditions before setting off. The weather at high altitudes can be erratic and road closures do happen.
- Try to avoid driving the route at peak times if possible. Consider arriving before 9am or late afternoon, around 3pm to avoid heavy traffic. Driving the route on Sundays will encounter less traffic.
- Fill up on gas before starting the drive. There are no gas stations along the route and there are no hotels or motels along Trail Ridge Road
- Have two drivers available so you can alternate and stay fresh. Although not a long drive, there are twists and turns throughout and the high elevation can make some drivers nervous.
- Be conscious of altitude sickness. Stay hydrated and take breaks at the viewpoints and pullouts.
- Bring layers and appropriate clothing for the environment. Even on a sunny day, the temperature at altitude can drop sharply.
- Stock up on snacks and in-car entertainment, to reduce the need for stops and detours.
- Consider driving the route from east to west if you are nervous about driving at altitude, as you'll be on the inside lane away from the steep drops.
Things to see on Trail Ridge Road
With so many viewpoints and stop-offs to soak in the views, you can easily spend a whole day making your way through the Rocky Mountain National Park. Here are some of the best places to stop along the way and simply stand back and admire what lies before you:
- Farview Curve Viewpoint - Offering a panoramic vista of the Never Summer Mountains and the Kawuneeche Valley, the Farview Curve Viewpoint is renowned for its unparalleled views and the chance to spot wildlife in their natural habitat.
- Alpine Visitor Center - The highest visitor center in the US National Park System, the Alpine Visitor Center provides educational exhibits, stunning tundra views, and a glimpse of bighorn sheep and marmots amid a rich variety of wildflowers.
- Gore Range Overlook - Offering an expansive view of the eponymous mountain range, the Gore Range Overlook is cherished for its awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets that bathe the peaks in dramatic colors.
- Trail Ridge Road Summit - As the highest point on Trail Ridge Road, the summit provides a 360-degree view of the Rocky Mountain National Park, offering a unique perspective on the diverse ecosystems contained within its boundaries.
- Forest Canyon Overlook - The Forest Canyon Overlook provides an exquisite view into the deep, glacially-carved Forest Canyon and across the Continental Divide, offering a glimpse into the park's geological history.
- Rainbow Curve Overlook - Renowned for the broad sweep of mountains painted with colorful alpine wildflowers, the Rainbow Curve Overlook offers stunning views of the Alluvial Fan and Horseshoe Park.
- Many Parks Curve Overlook - This overlook offers a unique view of several park valleys simultaneously, displaying the distinctive topography and diverse ecosystems of Rocky Mountain National Park.
If you are a fan of alpine driving at altitude, with spectacular views at every turn, then Trail Ridge Road is a journey you simply have to make. It is a brilliant way to explore the area's rugged beauty and experience a truly memorable Rocky Mountain high.