When we think of visiting a national park, we normally envision setting up hikes and routes to walk through the main areas of interest. Unfortunately for this trip, we were super limited on time so this was kind of out of the question. Fortunately for us, we found out you could drive through a good section of the Rocky Mountain National Park!
Just to the west of Estes Park starts Trail Ridge Road, which runs straight through the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park. Once outside town limits, we hit the entrance to the park (heads up – it’s an entrance fee of $20/vehicle) and grabbed a map. All along the road there are several stopping points to see the fantastic views from all angles.
The first few miles wandered through the valley space, but after that it’s all elevation climb. As you can see in the pictures below, there were lots of switchbacks as you slowly climbed to the top of the different mountains. We noticed the higher we got, the colder it got outside (makes sense). We ended up going from the mid 80s in Estes Park to the low 60s and windy when we reached over 12,000 ft. The really really neat part is that the road reaches a max elevation of 12,183 ft, which is higher than anything in all of Illinois. You can see soo much from up above – and they conveniently placed a visitor’s center at the top to let you soak it in.
Back at normal elevation, we headed down to the little town of Grand Lake which is the official end of the Trail Ridge Road. It was such a cute little old school town lined with antique stores and local restaurants, all located right on a lake. We grabbed a scoop of ice cream and wandered up and down the lake shore and down the main city blocks.
After several hours in the car and exploring the Rocky Mountain National Park, we headed back in to Denver. We absolutely were amazing by the scenery and though driving along the Trail Ridge Road was the perfect compromise to getting to see a national park on a short timeline. If we had more time, we would taken a break to hike one of the many trails that heads out along through the national park. So whether you have little or lots of time, make sure to drive along part of the Trail Ridge Road and see the sights of RMNP.
What has been your favorite National Park?