Trail Ridge Road: Dizzying views truly breathtaking
Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved highway in the United States reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet.
The entire road traverses the park for 48 miles. It travels through the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, entering a world of rare alpine beauty and incredible scenic vistas. About 11 miles of the road is above treeline. Trail Ridge Road was completed in 1932 and connects the gateway communities of Estes Park and Grand Lake, Colorado. The road celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007.
Work on Trail Ridge Road began in 1929. All of the road’s construction was performed under the direction of U.S. Highway Engineer W. L. Lafferty who took great care to prevent the construction work from marring the area’s natural beauty. The building of the road was not only significant as an engineering marvel and scenic wonder, but it was important to the region’s economy since it provided numerous jobs during the Great Depression.
Plow operators normally begin clearing the snow in April. Crews from the west side of the park and crews from the eastside of the park move along the road and eventually meet at the Alpine Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is the highest in the National Park Service, sitting at 11,796 feet above sea level. Spring storms often impact plowing activities. Plow operators can encounter drifts from 18 to 22 feet.
The central portion of Trail Ridge Road historically opens on Memorial Day weekend, weather permitting. The average winter closure date has been October 23. The earliest date the road opened was on May 7, 2002. June 26, 1943 is the latest date the road has opened.
Traveling on Trail Ridge Road allows you to experience many incredible lifezones. From the montane ecosystem in the park’s lower elevations to the high alpine tundra ecosystem, there are marked differences in wildlife and vegetation. Ponderosa pine and juniper grow in montane areas east of the Continental Divide. West of the divide, lodgepole pine dominates the lower levels. Higher up, in the subalpine ecosystem, the dominant tree species are Douglas and subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce.
Throughout the park below the tundra are groves of aspen. Openings in the forest produce summer wildflower gardens, where the Colorado blue columbine reign.
Meadows and glades are dotted with wildflowers in season. At the edge of the tundra the trees are wind-sculpted. Many of the park’s tundra plants are those found in arctic regions. From its valleys to its mountaintops, Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses many worlds.
There are numerous overlooks along the road. If you leave your car, remember to move slowly. The thin air may leave you dizzy and the views at the highest points of Trail Ridge Road are truly breathtaking.
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