The highest continual highway in the United States, Trail Ridge Road reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet. And from all 48 miles the road stretches, you'll have spectacular views of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Whether you embark upon your Trail Ridge Road adventure from Grand Lake or Estes Park, there are some must-see stops you should make along the way.
Throughout Rocky Mountain National Park, there are several visitor centers (link to RMNP Visitor Info visitor center page) that offer a variety of educational opportunities. Some centers offer topographical maps of the park, park rangers to answer any questions visitors might have, hands-on exhibits, educational films, and more. Be sure to stop at one or more while you're driving through the park.
On the park's Western side, just inside the Grand Lake entrance, be sure to stop at Farview Curve, where you'll see Kawuneeche Valley, a favorite marshy hang-out spot for elk. This is a beautiful and interesting place to stop, especially in the fall when it's elk bugling season—you're in for the natural show of a lifetime! With beautiful views of the Never Summer Mountain Range, you'll want to stop to stay a while.
At 10,759 feet in elevation, Milner Pass offers incredible views of the Rocky Mountains. The most notable view you'll have is of the Continental Divide. Not only does the Continental Divide mark the place of the Atlantic and Pacific plates converging, but it also divides the headwaters of the Cache la Poudre River to the east from the headwaters of the Colorado River to the west. It is truly a natural sight to behold.
Take the trailhead to follow the Old Fall River Road to Fall River Pass to walk through the spruce forest up past the tree line to discover the beautiful tundra that makes up about 1/3 of Rocky Mountain National park.
Located at 11,660 feet in elevation, Medicine Bow Curve is a hairpin curve on Trail Ridge Road that descends from the Alpine Visitor Center. A great place to stop for a picnic, the Medicine Bow Curve Overlook is a beautiful place to take in panoramic views of the Medicine Bow Mountains, now known as the Never summer Mountains.
Rainbow Curve offers an incredible look at Horseshoe Park, a valley flooded by a broken dam in 1982, and several mountain peaks, the highest of which is Mount Chapin (12,454 ft). In the valley, beaver, greenback trout, and other wildlife thrive.
Located on the eastern side of Trail Ridge Road, Deer Ridge Junction is a great place to get out and stretch your legs. Take the Deer Ridge Junction trailhead for beautiful views. Don't forget your camera!
When you make the stop at May Parks Curve, you can see many towering peaks, including Longs Peak, the park's only peak that rises above 14,000 feet. But what you might not notice right off the bat is that much of the scenery that you see from this outlook was created by glacial ice thousands of years ago.
The Ute Trail turnout offers history and beautiful views of nearby mountains. Ute Trail used to be a pass for Ute and Arapahoe Indians to travel between their summer and winter hunting grounds. Later, the route became more established by the frontier settlers, and it is now part of Trail Ridge Road.
A beautiful rock formation rising to 12.110 feet in elevation, Rock Cut was not easy to get around for early travelers. Crews completing the Trail Ridge Road we know today had to cut through the rock to continue building the road. Stop at the turnout near Rock Cut, then hike over to an overlook on the west side of the road for the perfect picture.
The Gore Range Overlook provides a new perspective on the beautiful Never Summer Mountains. Located at 12,048 feet in elevation, the Gore Range Overlook provides a unique perspective of life above the tree line.
Another great place to get out and stretch your legs, Alpine Ridge Trail is a short 1/4-mile hike. However, since the trailhead is located at 11,796 feet in elevation, and the trail goes up about 300 feet in elevation during the 1/4 mile stretch, the hike is pretty strenuous for the average visitor. Take it slow—the unique views are worth it.
Make sure to always check road conditions before heading out on Trail Ridge Road. Learn more about Trail Ridge Road on the National Park website.
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