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Trail Ridge Road Timeline

Windsor, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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122 reviews
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Trail Ridge Road Timeline

How long does it take to drive Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park to Grand Lake is a very frequent question. Driving time is about 2 hours due to traffic, elk jams, people afraid of mountain driving, etc. But, it takes longer to truly experience the road. On Wednesday, May 16, 2012, I and my spouse drove TRR as we always do shortly after it opens for the season each year. Here is a detailed timeline for this trip. Note, we took photos only once and there was very little traffic.

9:45 a.m. – Entered RMNP at Fall River Entrance

Drove directly to Trail Ridge Road at Deer Junction

Beaver Boardwalk – first stop for a very short walk

Hidden Valley – took the brief nature trail

Many Parks Curve – parked in upper parking and walked down and back to overlook

10:50 a.m. – left Many Parks

Rainbow Curve – parked and got out for overlook

Forest Canyon Overlook – short walk to overlook

11:30 a.m. – left Forest Canyon

Tundra Communities Trail – walked entire trail, stopping for interpretative signs

12:20 p.m. – left Tundra Communities Trail

Lava Cliffs – parked and got out for overlook

Gore Range – parked and got out for overlook

12:45 p.m. – reached Alpine Visitor Center which was not yet open

Medicine Bow Curve – pulled into overlook

Lake Irene Picnic Area – drove through

Farview Curve – parked and got out for overlook

Colorado River Trailhead – took a very short walk down to river to look for moose

Timber Creek Campground – spotted moose behind campground, pulled in, parked and took some photos

Kawuneeche Visitor Center – brief stop

2:15 p.m. – arrived in town of Grand Lake

At this point, we are 4 ½ hours into the trip. This is with minimal time at most stops. We did not do all the stops or trails. Most importantly, we did not spend any time at the Alpine Visitor Center or the very popular Trail Ridge Store. This alone could add at least 45 more minutes.

Late Lunch in Grand Lake

Drive and walk to Adams Falls

Back to Grand Lake for ice cream

4:20 p.m. – left Kawuneeche Visitor Center after brief stop

From here, it would have taken us about 90 minutes to travel back over Trail Ridge Road to Estes Park putting us in Estes Park close to 6:00 p.m. Our trip would have been roughly 8 hours.

4:40 p.m. – Ranger informs us Trail Ridge Road has been closed due to inclement weather

We have to take one of the alternate routes to Estes Park. We decide on 34/40/Peak to Peak Scenic Byway and drive straight through to Estes Park without stopping. The times given are as we passed by or through these areas.

4:55 p.m. – Grand Lake

5:35 p.m. – Winter Park

7:00 p.m. – Nederland city limits

8:07 p.m. – Estes Park downtown, almost 10 ½ hours from the start of the day

I did not mention all the highlights of this trip as it would have made the post even longer.

Edited: 8:29 pm, May 18, 2012
Chicago
Destination Expert
for Pompano Beach
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82 reviews
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21. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

I prefer to stay on the Grand Lake side, personally. Take some time to enjoy the west side of the park.

Austin, Texas
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120 posts
10 reviews
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22. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

FV, the Fall River Road you mention, that's the paved one right, not Old Fall River Road? Just want to make sure. We are staying in Estes PArk for 5 days. We will be there mid July for the 1st time and plan to take a day to do TRR although I'm hoping it doesn't get cut off by impatient teenagers who may not appreicate the scenery at their age. Here's my question FV. If we plan to do all of TRR from Estes to GRand Lake and back, should we start at Old Fall River Road and take that to Alpine Visitor Center and continue on TRR to Grand Lake or should we just just go ahead and start TRR at the Fall River Entrance? Which would be the best for a 1st timer doing this road? Also, we were planning on just renting a regular 4 door sedan but my husband said to go ahead and try to get a 4 wheel drive or all drive. Do you think a 4 wheel or all drive would be overall better to have?

Thanks!

Austin, Texas
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120 posts
10 reviews
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23. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

I was referring your mention of FallRiver Rd from your Post #8.....

Temple, Texas
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506 posts
28 reviews
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24. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

I had a ford fusion last July without any problem. I took 36 out of Estes which turns into 34 and TRR. Old Falls River Road is the unpaved version of TRR. Falls River Road is Hwy 34 and is paved and leads out of estes One afternoon I took the loop going out on 36 then taking 34 back into Estes. Some wonderful views and did alluvial fan. Also off of 34 there is a spot where the Big Horn sheep are kind enough to make an appearance. You will love estes but the traffic is horrible.

Temple, Texas
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506 posts
28 reviews
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25. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

You know, I just re-read your post. The Falls River entrance is on 34 (the paved Falls River Road). It loops around and connects with 36. Google Rocky Mountain National Park on Google Maps. I think that if you see a map it will all make sense.

BTW, is it as cold down in Austin today as it is here in Temple? LOL

Austin, Texas
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120 posts
10 reviews
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26. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

It is a sunny, windy, 56 degrees in Austin. Not too bad but the wind makes it feel colder. Thanks for feedback!

Windsor, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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122 reviews
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27. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

Texasgirl, my reply #18 to your question back in January answers your question about Old Fall River Road. It is dirt, very driveable without 4 wheel drive but will violate your rental car contract. Fall River Road (also known as highway 34 bypass) is paved.

I am not a huge fan of Old Fall River Road. In my opinion, it is in no way a dirt version of Trail Ridge Road. If you read the history of Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road, you will see the park service realized how woefully inadequate OFRR was and began planning Trail Ridge Road almost immediately. Old Fall River Road is like an old country road through the woods and up a mountain. As trees and rock walls are often very close to your car, views are limited until the last couple of miles. There are few places to pull over. It is a very different and more intimate experience than the vast and expansive views of Trail Ridge Road. Your teenagers will probably not enjoy OFRR as much as TRR.

I rarely drive OFRR, although I did this past September. When you live in CO, you have lots of friends and family visit--free room and knowledgeable tour guides. I do not take my guests up OFRR. The most scenic parts of Trail Ridge Road are between Estes Park and the Alpine Visitor Center. I like to do these best parts first -- 1) everyone is fresh, 2 )get an early start to avoid the crowds and see more wildlife, 3) see the views and get to the Alpine VC before clouds and afternoon thunderstorms blow through with the potential to obscure the views.

As for impatient teenagers, I have driven people of all ages over Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake and back. I have never had a dissatisfied passenger. The key is to take advantage of all those overlooks and trails.

Edited: 7:13 pm, March 24, 2013
Austin, Texas
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120 posts
10 reviews
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28. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

Sold! Thank you FV! So we will do TRR from Estes to Grand Lake and back and we won't have to worry about violating rental car contract! Thanks again for your help!

Birmingham, Alabama
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70 posts
4 reviews
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29. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

Thanks for your very informative post!

Mason, Ohio
2 posts
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30. Re: Trail Ridge Road Timeline

Really good information.

We will stay at Estes Park to visit RMNP for 2 days. We are planning to take Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake. we are also planning to visit Mt. Evans by staying at Idaho Spring. We are trying to figure out what is the best way to do.

1) should we go back to Estes Park from TRR and go to Idaho Spring

or 2) from TRR go to Idaho Spring. Which way takes shorter time?