image of trail ridge road

Scenic Drives in Rocky Mountain National Park

07/23/2019 | by Lyles Armour | Estes Park

With over three million visitors a year, Rocky Mountain National Park offers plenty of ways to explore its natural beauty. Choose from its many hiking trails, parks, and of course its several notable scenic drives.

Carefully designed and thought-out, the roads through Rocky Mountain National Park are meant to blend in with the environment and offer a less-impactful experience for the area’s flora and fauna. Scenic drives in Rocky Mountain National Park highlight its natural features and provide scenic vistas and overlooks to allow visitors to take in the beautiful landscape from almost anywhere along the drive.

Hop in your car and discover these three scenic drives in Rocky Mountain National Park that are sure to make you pull over and snap a picture.

  1. Trail Ridge Road

As one of the most popular scenic drives, in not only Rocky Mountain National Park but in all of Colorado, Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuously paved road in the United States. Topping out at 12,183 feet, visitors will encounter an array of wildflowers, wildlife, and of course unobstructed mountain views.

image of trail ridge road

The road spans the entire park, connecting Estes Park and Grand Lake. As visitors wind their way through beautiful mountain scenery, which includes lush forests and alpine tundra, they will cross the Continental Divide at Millner Pass before reaching the road’s highest point; near Fall River Pass. Travelers will typically encounter various forms of wildlife such as elk, pikas, marmots, bighorn sheep, and the ptarmigan.

Take the entire day and stop off at one of the many overlooks and hiking trails along the way. Weather permitting, the road opens Memorial Day weekend and closes in October. Be sure to check Rocky Mountain National Park’s website for updated road openings and closings.

Total distance: 48 miles

Estimated drive time: two hours

Seasonal closure: Trail Ridge Road closes temporarily for the winter season; from mid-October/mid-November through Memorial Day. Be sure to check closures by calling 970-586-1222.

Beginning/Endpoint: The road can either be picked up at the west end of the park near Granby or by the east end of the park near Estes Park.

For more scenic drives in the area, visit our blog on Scenic Drives Near Estes Park.

  1. Bear Lake Road

Connecting Upper Beaver Meadows and Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake Road offers plenty to do and see. From hiking trails to picnic areas and campgrounds, Bear Lake Road offers many options to get out and explore the park.

The road ends at Bear Lake, where visitors enjoy a quick stretch with a walk around the lake. This is a popular destination for park visitors, so plan to encounter traffic and not having the lake to yourself. Bear Lake provides access to several other area lakes such as Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake.

Notable scenic viewpoints include Sprague Lake, Glacier Gorge trailhead, and of course Bear Lake.

Total distance: 23 miles

Estimated drive time: one hour

Seasonal closure: Bear Lake Road is open year-round.

Beginning/Endpoint: The road can either be picked up near Moraine Park; off of HWY 36 just after the main entrance near Estes Park.

  1. Old Fall River Road

Old Fall River Road is a one-way, dirt road that spans 11 miles through mountainous terrain and several points of interest. Despite its many narrow switchbacks, this is a beautiful and safe drive that can be enjoyed as a perfect afternoon outing. There are several side-trails to explore, like Chasm Falls. Equipped with a convenient parking lot, you can park your car and make the short hike to the end of the falls for the perfect stopover point along the drive.

Mainly gravel, this one-way uphill road winds drivers up to Fall River Pass at 11,796 feet. An extra bit of caution should be taken as there are plenty of switchbacks along a steep climb with no guardrails. The road is safe but narrow.

image of old fall river road

Because of the rushing river that follows the road; lush scenery provides ample opportunities for wildflower and wildlife viewing.

Total distance: 11 miles

Estimated drive time: one to two hours

Seasonal closure: The road is not regularly plowed, except the bottom portion, so the road typically opens around July 4th. Check website for the most accurate opening date.

Beginning/Endpoint: The road begins at Horseshoe Park up to Fall River Pass.

Stay at Rocky Mountain Resorts

image of Triple R Cottages

We hope you take the time to explore these scenic drives in Rocky Mountain National Park during your Estes Park vacation. And to make your vacation even more enjoyable, be sure to book a stay at Rocky Mountain Resorts. Offering a variety of accommodations; from cabins and cottages to larger vacation homes, we are the top choice for Estes Park lodging. Combined with our affordable prices and our proximity to the town of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, we are a great choice for exploring in town and the Rocky Mountains!

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