Colorado Scenic Drive: Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road

View Enlarged Image This map of Colorado's Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road climbs through the stunning beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park.
View Enlarged Image This map of Colorado's Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road climbs through the stunning beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road is situated inside a national park, surrounded by national forests, and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful byways in Colorado. The overarching characteristic of the byway is its many overlooks, all of which bestow stirring vistas of 415 square miles of the towering (14,000-plus feet) southern Rockies.

The clear atmosphere of this alpine tundra makes seeing the night sky from one of the overlooks incomparable. Constellations, planets, meteor showers, and phases of the moon seem brighter than ever and just beyond arm's reach.

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Because this is such a protected area, elk, deer, mountain sheep, coyotes, moose, beavers, ptarmigans, marmots, pikas, eagles, and peregrine falcons can be seen more often than in other (unprotected) areas of Colorado and the nation. Also, the tender tundra wildflowers, which generally peak in July, are an exceptional treat.

Historical Qualities of Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road

The first Europeans to see this area were French fur traders. In 1859, Joel Estes and his son, Milton, rode into the valley that now bears their name. A few others had settled in this rugged county by 1909 when Enos Mills -- a naturalist, writer, and conservationist -- began to campaign for preservation of the pristine area, a portion of which became the Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915.

Natural Qualities of Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road

One-third of the park is above the treeline, and the harsh, fragile alpine tundra predominates. The uniqueness of this area is a major reason it has been set aside as a national park. Just below that, at the upper edges of the tree line, the trees are twisted and grotesque and hug the ground. Here, more than one-quarter of the plants are also found in the Arctic.

Just below that, forests of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir take over in a subalpine ecosystem. Openings in these cool, dark forests expose wildflower gardens of rare beauty and luxuriance in which the blue Colorado columbine reigns. And in the foothills, open stands of ponderosa pine and juniper grow on the slopes facing the sun; on cooler north slopes Douglas fir grow.

Qualities of Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road 

The recreational opportunities on the Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road are varied and excellent. For example, you can enjoy horseback riding, camping, fishing, rock climbing, and numerous winter activities.

Several campgrounds beckon, some of which are open year-round. The Rocky Mountain National Park maintains more than 260 miles of trails for private and commercial horse riders. Hire horses and guides at two locations on the east side of the park or from a number of liveries outside the park boundaries during the summer season.

Four species of trout live in the mountain streams and lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park: German brown, rainbow, brook, and cutthroat trout. These cold waters may not produce large fish, but you do get to enjoy the superb mountain scenery as you fish.

Rocky Mountain National Park also offers a variety of challenging ascents throughout the year for climbers. The Colorado Mountain School is the park's concessionaire, operating a climbing school and guide service.

Winter brings cross-country skiing in the lower valleys and winter mountaineering in the high country. Access roads from the east are kept open and provide you with a panorama of the high mountains.

See the next section for a self-guided tour that will ensure you don't miss any of this route's many highlights.

Find more useful information related to Colorado's Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road:

  • Colorado Scenic Drives: Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road is just one of the scenic byways in Colorado. Check out the others.
  • Estes Park: Find out about this city at one end of Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road.
  • Rocky Mountin National Park: Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road passes through this National Park. Learn about visiting it.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Colorado? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

Highlights of Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road

Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses nearly all of the Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road and gives a rare opportunity to see up-close alpine tundra.
Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses nearly all of the Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road and gives a rare opportunity to see up-close alpine tundra.

The Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road is the highest continous road in the United States.  As a result, affords an almost-too-rapid sequence of scenic overlooks as it skips along the roofs of some of the tallest Rockies (more than 12,000 feet). From these wind-scoured peaks, you can gaze out to the dark masses of other Rockies, posed like hands of cards in the distance.

The land adjacent to the route is otherworldly; the tundra's twisted, ground-creeping trees; crusted snow; and hard-faced boulders seem like they belong to a colder, more distant world.

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While visiting the Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road, you can take a self-guided tour of the route. If you enter the park from the east (either the Fall River or Beaver Meadows entrance), start at the beginning and move down the list.

Rainbow Curve Overlook: At 10,829 feet, this overlook is more than two vertical miles above sea level. At this elevation, every exposed tree is blasted by wind, ice, and grit into distinctive flag shapes. Tree branches here survive only on the downwind side of tree trunks. Higher still, trees survive only where the severely pruned shrubs are covered and protected by winter snowdrifts.

Forest Canyon Overlook: Here, the erosive force of glacial ice is unmistakable. Although the ice did not reach as high as the overlook, it still lay more than 1,500 feet thick in a V-shape stream valley. With the grinding of a giant rasp, the ice scoured the valley into the distinctive U-shape of today.

Rock Cut Overlook: Here on the roof of the Rockies, the climate is rigorous. Severe weather can come at any time. Periods of drought may occur in both summer and winter, and winter blizzards are frequent. Temperatures remain below freezing all winter, and they frequently drop below freezing in summer. Wind speeds here can exceed 150 miles per hour in either summer or winter, and ultraviolet radiation is twice what it is at sea level. Sunlight is 50 percent more intense.

: Beside the visitor center, there is a gift shop and a short trail to an overlook at 12,003 feet.

Milner Pass: Here, Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide. At this point, waters enter either the Atlantic or Pacific drainages. The Rockies divide these two great watersheds, but the Continental Divide may be a mountaintop, a ridge, or a pass. From this point, a short trail leads past Poudre Lake, headwaters of the Cache La Poudre River, and up to Old Fall River Road. This road was the original road over the Continental Divide. The trail then connects with another trail leading to Mount Ida, at 12,880 feet. This is a 41/2-mile hike.

Don't miss out on this amazing mountain-high route -- travel the Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road today.

Find more useful information related to Colorado's Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road:

  • Colorado Scenic Drives: Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road is just one of the scenic byways in Colorado. Check out the others.
  • Estes Park: Find out about this city at one end of Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road.
  • Rocky Mountin National Park: Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road passes through this National Park. Learn about visiting it.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Colorado? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.