When I lived in Colorado, a favorite bike route is the stunning ride up Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. This highest continuous paved road in the United States goes up to 12,183 feet (3,713 m) above sea level before dropping down to 11,796 feet (3595 m) at the Alpine Visitor Center, which is still well above timberline.
Before last week’s trip I hadn’t been to Colorado for several years. I never noticed the bike racks at the Alpine Visitor Center before. Have they always been there?
The trip from Estes Park to Grand Lake is a long haul at 48 miles with 6700 feet of elevation gain. Add another 40 miles if you start your ride in Boulder. Cyclists pay $10 to enter the National Park; compare against $20 for cars. If you’re driving up to Estes anyway and plan to ride with a couple of friends, it’s cheaper for you to drive into Rocky Mountain National Park and park inside the park.
During the summer, you share a very narrow highway with lumbering RVs and other vehicles. Most people aren’t in a hurry and I’ve never had a problem with overly aggressive drivers, but your mileage may vary. Be prepared for drastic changes in temperature and weather — including snow, hail, and thunderstorms — during any month of the year. You want to be below tree line at 11,400 feet before the inevitable afternoon lightning storms hit.
Trail Ridge Road is closed during the winter, when heavy snow at elevation makes access impossible. National Park Service crews generally begin plowing the road in mid-April to get the road open for Memorial Day Weekend, but here’s a fun tip: cyclists and hikers are allowed beyond the road closure before the official opening day. I’ve biked beyond the road closure before Memorial Day for enjoyable biking on an empty highway.