Monday, July 22, 2013

Staycation - Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park


A week ago we were on top of the world -- literally. Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. The hour and a half drive traverses Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado from Estes Park to Grand Lake and covers some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery you'll ever see. The drive up to Estes Park and over Trail Ridge Road takes two hours from our home, but we double that time by taking advantage of the many scenic overlooks along Trail Ridge Road. We started our day-trip with a photo taken a few blocks from our home. Do you see the tallest two side-by-side peaks in that photo? The one on the right is Longs Peak which is over 14,000 feet above sea level. That's close to where we're going along Trail Ridge Road, and I'll reference that peak several more times.


Trail Ridge Road is closed during the winter and usually reopens Memorial Day Weekend depending on the snow pack and closes again when snows start accumulating in October. Here's the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park -- just outside of Estes Park (elevation 7,500 ft.).


Our first stop was the turnout at Rainbow Curve. This vantage point gives a beautiful view of the distance you've traveled from Estes Park in the valley below...


I turned around 180 degrees and took this next shot. This is an example of why these mountains are called the Rocky Mountains...


Our next stop was at the Forest Canyon lookout. It's a beautiful spot. At this point in the drive you are at 12,000 feet above sea level, above treeline and in the tundra. Nearly one third of the park is above treeline which is 11, 400 feet of elevation in the park -- the limit above which conditions are too harsh for trees to grow. Do you see the flat-top mountain in the distance? That's Longs Peak. We're on the other side of it now...


More from the Forest Canyon lookout...



Trail Ridge Road is not for the faint at heart. If you have a fear of heights, it'll give you a little trouble the first time. The road itself is well paved and plenty wide, but most of the way up and down there is a sheer drop-off on one side of the road. During one stretch you literally traverse a ridge where the drop-off is on both sides. My advise: close your eyes. That only works if you are not in the driver's seat, however.

Shortly after passing the highest spot on the road {12,183 feet} you come upon the Alpine Visitor Center. This center is complete with exhibits, gift shop, snack bar and one of the best views on the trip -- especially if you climb this trail to a lookout point at the top of the steps.


Ordinarily that wouldn't be much of a hike, but at 11,800 feet it becomes more of a challenge because the air is so thin. Many who are not from Colorado have a tough time of it. Those of us from the Front Range in Colorado have an easier go, but it's still almost 7000 feet higher than what we are used to! It's worth the pain though, because this is what you see when you get to the top...


It's all downhill from the Alpine Visitor Center until you get to Grand Lake...


It's not unusual to see wildlife and herds of elk, sheep or deer as you travel along the road. It's a little more unusual to see a mother moose and her baby. We were lucky...


We spent a few hours in Grand Lake and then made our way back home. Clouds often build during the afternoon hours, and true to form we got in a little rain on the way back home. Here's one last look at Longs Peak shrouded in clouds...


If you ever find yourself planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Forest, here's a little advice.
  1. Dress in layers and bring a jacket. It was 68 degrees in Estes Park when we started and 53 degrees at the Alpine Visitors Center at noon. We've seen snow at the visitors center in July. 
  2. Bring ibuprofen or Tylenol. You might get a headache because of the altitude. I've learned to do a preemptive strike and take two ibuprofen before we leave the house!
  3. Start the drive early in the morning for your best chance at good weather. The weather usually deteriorates as the day progresses.
  4. Bring plenty of water to keep hydrated. Dehydration = headache.
  5. Don't forget to bring your iPhone so you can take awesome photos like we did! ;o)

{Sorry for the loooong post. It's kind of hard to be succinct when you really love a place.}

3 comments:

Gail Wilson said...

I've been there! My trip of a lifetime, with my daughter Jamie. She went for work, and I got to tag along. I love that the weather changes... as we drove back, we took pics at the SAME place with a totally different look. ahhhhhhh I want to go back! I thought once would be enough... but seeing your pics makes me want to do it all over again.
thanks for sharing Suzanne.... :)
gail

Salmagundi said...

Oh, our beautiful state -- those that don't live in Colorado are missing out, aren't they? Sally

Abby / Linda said...

Gorgeous! I have been to the Rockies a couple of times, but mostly spent time in the Sierras and Cascades. Love these type of photos but love being there better!!!!