Trail Ridge Road, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, is the highest continuous highway in the United States. Reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet at Trail Ridge summit, eight miles of the road are above 11,000 feet in elevation. You will pass the Continental Divide at a little over 10,000 feet.
Even if you have limited time in the park, Trail Ridge is a must. Despite incredible heights and awesome roadside views, this is a relatively easy road to drive. The maximum grade is less than 7%, and its wide lanes and frequent turnouts make it a great road even for inexperienced mountain drivers. However it is a shelf road, so there are a few steep drop-offs.
Trail Ridge is a beautiful 48 mile trip from Estes Park on the east to the aspen-filled village of Grand Lake on the west. No matter where your trip starts, the climb of 4000 feet occurs in a matter of minutes. Tree line is at 11,500 feet, so the heart of the road passes through alpine tundra, an increasingly endangered ecosystem.
Many overlooks along the route offer a variety of views in every direction. Drivers pass beaver ponds, have views of 14,255 foot Longs Peak, and see countless bright blue mountain lakes nestled among the peaks of the Continental Divide and the Never Summer Mountains. In places, views go north to Wyoming and east to the cities of Colorado’s Front Range.
Several trails are available, including the handicapped accessible half-mile Tundra Trail near the Alpine Visitor Center. At the right time of year more than 200 species of tiny alpine plants (or belly flowers) turn the tundra into a maze of color. Their growing season is a short forty days long.
Plan on a minimum of one half day to take Trail Ridge Road. If you are going round trip from Estes Park to Grand Lake or vice versa, a whole day is best to give enough time to take walks and stop for photos.Windbreakers are always needed at the top, even on the hottest day in Grand Lake or Estes Park.