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Trail Ridge Drive

Estes Park to Granby, Colorado

In Montana, mountain valleys are called "holes". Here in Colorado, they're called "parks". Estes Park is one of these enclosed mountain meadows, named for Joel Estes who "discovered" the area, long after the Ute and Arapaho Indians used the area as a hunting route. Because it is so accessible from the east, with no high passes to cross, the valley and the town have been a favorite resort area for many years.

The main attraction here is Rocky Mountain National Park. The park attracts more than three million visitors each year and they come to see the impressive array of craggy peaks, the highest of which is Long's Peak, at 14,255 feet.

From Estes Park, the route leads first through Rocky Mountain National Park, quickly ascending the mountains past the treeline to mountain tundra. The alpine valleys were glaciated and there are several of these "parks" along the route of Trail Ridge Road.

Estes Park to Granby CO, mapHidden Valley

A downhill skiing area at the 9,200 foot level.

Many Parks Curve

At 9,600 feet, panoramic views of several alpine valleys with glacial moraines standing out as ridges. This is a favorite area for bird watching and the species include ravens, jays (including Steller's and gray), and Clark's nutcracker, with the distinctive white and black coloring.

Rainbow Curve

The road approaches the treeline and only small shrubs are seen at 10,830 feet.

Forest Canyon

A viewpoint provides a fine view of this canyon plus Hayden Gorge and Gorge Lakes. A short walk (10 minutes return) leads to this overlook where on sunny days you can hear the squeal and maybe see the little pikas which inhabit the area.

The Rock Cut

At over 12,100 feet, the road crosses the top of the Rockies through alpine tundra. Here, the growing season is less than ten weeks each year but regardless of the harsh environment, many flowering plants survive.

Tundra World Trail

Near the Rock Cut, this trail leads across the frozen ground. The return trip takes about 45 minutes.

Lava Cliffs

At a parking area, dark cliffs display volcanic rock, a reminder that the area was dominated by volcanoes between 26 and 28 million years ago. The cliffs were exposed by passing glaciers.

Alpine Visitor Center

At Fall River Pass, this is the site of a summer visitor center which includes a park information desk, restaurant and gift shop. A short trail leads to a panoramic view.

Milner Pass

Past Medicine Bow Curve the highway crosses the Continental Divide. The Crater Trail leads for one mile to a bighorn sheep viewing location.

Fairview Curve

Views of the Colorado River near its source and the Kawuneeche Valley.

Neversummer Ranch

As the highway descends to cross the Colorado River at the 8,884 foot level, a half-mile trail leads to the ranch. It was the homestead of John Holzwarth who settled here in 1917. It is now part of the national park and has been preserved as a unique historic site.

Colorado River Trail

Hikers will enjoy this walk, with the trailhead in the park, eight miles north of the town of Grand Lake. There is a parking lot (at the Timber Lake Trailhead), and the Colorado River Trail begins across the highway. The trail leads two miles to Shipler Park and another two miles to the site of a former ghost town, Lulu City. All of the buildings were removed when the park was created. The Timber Lake Trail leads 5.5 miles through the forest, to a small picturesque lake.

Just before reaching the park boundary, there is another visitor center, and more park trails may be reached by taking a sideroad just south of the boundary (Road #278).

Middle Park Lakes

Now we're inlake country, as the highway passes near Shadow Mountain Lake, Grand Lake, and Lake Granby. The town of Grand Lake is a popular recreation town, with excellent fishing prospects. This is a small alpine village with 400 residents, and a quaint main street with log buildings and boardwalks. It is situated on the largest natural lake in Colorado, with two national forests (Arapaho & Routt), and the national park nearby. During the summer month visitors come from both directions. During the winter -- when Trail Ridge Road is closed -- Grand Lake is the end of the line for travelers driving up Highway 34 from Granby. Then, snowmobiles take over the streets and the town has a relaxed ambience. Contrast this to any summer day when more than 3,000 visitors invade this little rustic town.

More about fishing: Grand Lake is famous for kokanee, rainbow trout and especially the mackinaw which weigh up to and over 20 pounds. Lake Granby, the large reservoir near the town, also hosts brown trout. Shadow Mountain Lake, another reservoir, has rainbow, kokanee and mackinaw.

Arapaho National Recreation Area

South of Grand Lake lies this fine natural area, containing several small lakes and excellent camping opportunities. County Road 66 leads from Hwy. 34 to Green Ridge Campground (one mile off the highway). The campsites are on Shadow Mountain Lake. Stillwater Campground is another, three miles south on the shore of Lake Granby. County Road 66 also comes out to the highway a mile below Stillwater Lake Campground. Drive 10 miles to Arapaho Bay Campground. This is a large campground, suitable for tents and RVs. Another recreation area campground is found by taking County Road 40, eight miles south of Grand Lake. The Willow Creek campsites are located three miles from the highway on a reservoir.

14 miles south of Grand Lake, Hwy. 34 meets Highway 40, and the town of Granby lies one mile south of the junction.

Fraser Bridges

More Online Information:

Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park

 


 

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