Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road
- DesignationAll-American Road (1996)
- Intrinsic QualitiesNatural, Scenic
- Length48 miles
Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road is America's highest continuous paved road. Overlooks present peaks ranging from 12,000 to over 14,000 feet. Eleven miles of the route roam above tree line in the alpine tundra. Travelers may encounter forms of life and climatic conditions also found at the Arctic Circle.
Story of the Byway
Despite the brevity of this byway, Trail Ridge Road and Beaver Meadow Road exemplify the alpine beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. With peaks visible in all directions, the ground tundra exhibits wildflowers in summer and snowy caps in winter. At an elevation of 12,183 feet, this route is the highest than any other paved road in the country. It is also home to much wildlife—spy elk, bighorn sheep and other wildlife can be seen grazing meadows and traversing crags. This cliff-hugging highway offers endless peaks, valleys and lakes.
Starting in Estes Park, the drive travels over the Continental Divide to Colorado River’s headwaters and ends in the town of Grand Lake. Longs Peak Flat is a 14,259 foot summit—the tallest in Rocky Mountain National Park—that resides south of Estes Park. A short nature trail arrives at Enos Mills Cabin Museum, where visitors can learn about the influence of the naturalist who fathered the park. Also in the area is Stanley Museum, an exhibit devoted to steam cars and homage to F.O. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile. Continue past the Stanley Hotel into the park itself, and stop at the Fall River Visitor Center for information about the area. Deeper into the National Park will reveal West Horseshoe Park, known for its wildlife, and Old Fall River Road, the first road to cross the Continental Divide.
This route passes through Chasm Falls and and Fall River Pass. After the Horseshoe Park Overlook, the road begins to climb into a series of switchbacks and overlooks. Visitors will pass a boardwalk where beavers are busy building in their natural habitat. Greenback cutthroat trout have also been reintroduced in the lakes here, saving it from near extinction. As the drive continues above sea level, sub alpine forests start to appear, with aspen and ponderosa pine visible in every direction. Approaching the treeline, an alpine tundra of stunted trees clings to rock and turns to rolling hills of grass and flowers once there. Rainbow Curve Overlook offers views of a large canyon and the park’s most renowned peaks. Further north, Forest Canyon Overlook offers a U-shaped glacial valley known as Forest Canyon.
The air thins as this route reaches its highest point, 12,183 feet, where visitors can stop at the Alpine Visitor Center for information about hiking trails and wildlife. Thereafter the road quickly descends and returns to alpine forest and trout lakes. Two miles after the Continental Divide is the Fairview Curve Overlook, which looks onto the Kawuneeche Valley and Never Summer Mountains.
As the road descends, the route passes trailheads, picnic areas and old mining towns. Prior to exiting the park is the Holzwarth Historic Site, a 1920s-style dude ranch sometimes referred to as Never Summer Ranch. Climate shifts continue to be noticeable, especially on the west side of the divide. Stop by the Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor Center at Kawuneeche to explore some of the wildlife and plants in the area. The byway concludes after the park and onward to Grand Lake and the Colorado River Headwaters Byway.
From Estes Park, follow US-34W to W Portal Rd in Grand Lake.
Points of Interest
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado spans the Continental Divide and encompasses protected mountains, forests and alpine tundra.
Estes Park is a town in northern Colorado and known as a base for the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Grand Lake sits at an elevation of 8,369 feet and derives its name from the lake on whose shores it is situated: Grand Lake, the largest natural body of water in Colorado.
Shadow Mountain Lake
Shadow Mountain Lake is a reservoir in Grand County, Colorado, near the headwaters of the Colorado River.
From Park to Divide
Starting in Estes Park, book a stay or simply visit the Stanley Hotel, which provided inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining.” Stop for breakfast in the charming downtown before heading out for the day. Follow the byway into Rocky Mountain National Park from the easternmost entrance. As you meander the route, keep an eye out for wildlife, most notably the many elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer and moose that traverse the mountainous area. Take a break at the Alpine Visitor Center—the highest elevation visitor center in the park system. Continue for 20 miles until you reach the Continental Divide at Milner Pass. Take a hike at the nearby trailhead in Lulu City, an abandoned mining town, or head back to Estes Park to enjoy the Riverwalk.
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