Round the last curve on Pole Hill and the Estes valley opens up before you like a postcard. Park next to the granite Estes Park sign, breathe in the exhilarating mountain air and take a picture. Whether you’re road tripping to Estes Park or planning a scenic drive through nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, you won’t be disappointed with the stunning views on display.
Road Tripping to Estes Park
Four scenic routes lead to Estes Park through picturesque mountain valleys and sheer granite walls:
- US Highway 36 brings you through Lyons and the Roosevelt National Forest on an open road with spectacular views of mountains and meadows. Work crews have repaired the highway seriously damaged from the 2013 flood so the road’s in great shape. Once you crest the hill that overlooks the valley you have an impressive view of the Mummy Range and Estes Park.
- Colorado Highway 7 is the longer way to Estes Park from Lyons, but as part of the Peak to Peak Scenic Highway it is beautiful. After it passes the small mountain village of Allenspark, Longs Peak looks down on the highway as it encounters St. Malo Chapel where Pope John Paul II stopped during his visit.
- US Highway 34 winds through the Big Thompson Canyon, through the stunning Narrows, to the small town of Drake and finally Estes Park. On your drive you will see damage from the 2013 flood. Road work will begin in 2016, so expect delays.
- Larimer County Road 43 to Glen Haven and Drake is currently under reconstruction after the devastating 2013 flood. Workers are shifting the road away from the river and onto bedrock. Traffic is limited.
Estes Park Scenic Drives
Last year more than four million people visited Rocky Mountain National Park, most of them by car. When visiting during the summer, be sure to explore the park early in the morning to see the wildlife and avoid crowds. For fewer crowds and a more leisurely pace, explore the park in winter and enjoy the area’s stunning, white peaks, but be mindful that some routes will be closed.
First time visitors should drive the 12-mile Bear Lake Road that passes the expansive Moraine Park before it winds toward Sprague Lake and ends at the Bear Lake parking lot. Many of the trailheads to the most popular lakes, peaks and waterfalls are along Bear Lake Road.
Rocky Mountain National Park offers two amazing summer drives:
- Open from late-May through mid-October, Trail Ridge Road reaches 48 miles from Estes Park on the east side of the Continental Divide to Grand Lake on the west side. Eleven miles are above treeline, crossing the vibrant tundra and offering spectacular views of the high peaks. At its highest point the highway is 12,183 feet above sea level.
- Opened in 1920, Old Fall River Road is a one-way, gravel road that winds nine miles past babbling streams through thick forest to the Alpine Visitors Center above treeline. Make sure to stop at Chasm Falls. The road is open from July 4 until the snow flies.
Scenic Driving Tours
Driving mountain roads is not for everyone. Why not take a tour and leave the driving to a professional? Consider these driving tours when planning your trip:
- Rocky Mountain Conservancy Field Institute offers guided bus tours to Trail Ridge Road, Bear Lake Road and Grand Lake. It also has tours of the elk rut in the fall.
- Green Jeep Tours of Estes Park gives custom tours of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Park area.
- Wildside 4×4 Tours offers off-road tours in Roosevelt National Forest and on-road tours in Rocky Mountain National Park. It even tours the Park in the winter.
Visitors have toured the Estes valley and Rocky Mountain National Park in cars for more than a century. It is an excellent way to explore this magnificent landscape.Tags: What to Do