Old Fall River Road is a spectacular climb, starting at the Endovalley picnic area and climbing up 11,796 foot Fall River Pass. Built in 1920, this was the first automobile route to offer access to the high country in Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors today can still take this motor nature trail for incredible views and a slower pace than they’ll find on better known Trail Ridge Road.
This relatively quiet road, which is gravel and one-way uphill, is an 11 mile journey from Horseshoe Park to Fall River Pass. The switchback laden route winds through the park’s wilderness to the alpine world at almost 12,000 feet above sea level. In places, the trees are so close that motorists can touch them.
Old Fall River Road begins in Endovalley. After passing Willow Park, where elk are open seen feeding on the foliage, the road enters the alpine tundra. Climbing through the Fall River Cirque, birthplace of glaciers that once formed the mountain valley, it eventually travels over the headwall of the amphitheater-like rock formation before joining Trail Ridge Road.
The road follows a route traveled long ago by Indian hunters. The State of Colorado followed their original route when it constructed the road between 1913 and 1920 to encourage tourism. It proved extremely difficult for early automobiles. Some had to climb in reverse in order to make the 16% grade, and it was not uncommon for vehicles to turn back and forth repeatedly in order to make their way up the sixteen switchbacks.
Soon after it was completed, the park began planning a replacement. And Trail Ridge Road was born.