Bicycling Magazine

Rocky Mountain National Park: Trail Ridge Road 

This 50-miler in Rocky Mountain National Park tours Colorado's signature (and highest) paved pass, revealing epic views up to treeline and beyond.

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Author: Bicycling Magazine
Date: 2 Sep 2008 9:05:51 PM
Activity: Bicycling
State: Colorado (CO)
Distance: 50.7 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 6628 ft
Total Loss: 6631 ft
Net Change: -3 ft
Difficulty: 9 / 10
Tags: Boulder, Colorado, Denver, Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
Rating:   1 rating(s) Rate it

The high-altitude trails of Rocky Mountain National Park may be off-limits to cyclists, but riding up Trail Ridge Road is a quintessential, two-wheel experience.

Start at the Stanley Village Shopping Center and turn right onto US 34. Ride past the Stanley Hotel and head toward Fall River Road (the lesser-traveled approach to Trail Ridge) and the park entrance (cyclists pay a modest entrance fee: $10 in 2008). Continuing through Horseshoe Park past the Old Fall River Road turnoff (a doable dirt-road summit route), the road ticks up to a steady climbing grade that sustains through the bulk of the ride.

Magnificent views of the snow-capped peaks extend in every direction as the road winds its way up to (and beyond) treeline. After a false summit at Iceberg Pass, the road roller-coasters back up to 12,000 feet before plummeting down to the Fall River Pass Visitor Center (facilities available). Soak in the views and layer up for a once-in-a-lifetime descent: 25 miles of sweeping turns on lush, grippy tarmac. Keep vigilant to tourist vehiclesyou’ll likely be going faster than the cars, but many will be distracted by the views.  

As with any high-altitude ride, planning and packing are essential. Get started early to beat the crowds and the thunderstorms, and pack plenty of warm gear for the way down (and/or inclement weather).
-Mapped by Mark Harrison

TO TRAILHEAD: From Boulder, take US 36 W to Lyons. Continue 20.3 miles and turning right onto US 34. Make your first left into the shopping center.

Position Format: Datum:

Trail Ridge Road

Distance: 50.70 mi Points: 1019
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest

Top of the World

Location: 40.433033, -105.768428
Riding back up to Iceberg Pass on the return trip. © Mark Harrison

The Stanley

Location: 40.380674, -105.518349
Just after turning right onto US 34, the ride rolls by the famous Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining." © Mark Harrison


Location: 40.383363, -105.541320
The cue-sheet for this ride is pretty simple, but the roads are well-signed, all the same. © Mark Harrison


Location: 40.388953, -105.560203
Layers come in handy on this ride, both at the beginning when the early morning sun hasn't crept above the canyon walls, and at the top where a chilly descent and/or inclement weather make a wind vest an extremely useful item. © Heath Kneller

Fall River Vistor's Center

Location: 40.402304, -105.586102
One last chance to top off your bottles en route to the top. Those new to altitude would do well to drink 2-3 bottles on the way up to the summit. © Mark Harrison

Park Entrance

Location: 40.404330, -105.591939
Cyclists don't get off easy when it comes to paying the park entrance fee ($10 in 2008).

Horseshoe Park

Location: 40.405980, -105.596895
Past the park entrance, the road opens up into Horseshoe Park, a broad sub-alpine meadow bisected by the snaking stream of Fall River-'breathtaking' is an understatement. © Mark Harrison

Old Fall River Road

Location: 40.405458, -105.624919
As the road winds south across the valley, Old Fall River Road shoots off to the northwest. This approach to Fall River Pass is on mostly hardpack dirt road, which is certainly rideable in dry conditions (a good way to go up, but a sketchy way to go down). This route opts for the paved summit approach.

Soaking it in

Location: 40.404935, -105.625606
© Mark Harrison

Deer Ridge Junction

Location: 40.387122, -105.610714
Turning right at Deer Ridge Junction, the ride up Trail Ridge Road officially begins. © Mark Harrison

Horseshoe Park Overlook

Location: 40.391927, -105.634832
If you thought the view from the valley floor was something, then check out this overlook of Horseshoe Park and the Fall River from just under 10,000 feet.

The Long and Winding Road

Location: 40.387089, -105.654316
Trail Ridge Road is often painfully visible from Trail Ridge Road.

Long Shadow

Location: 40.385651, -105.663586

Big Views

Location: 40.401993, -105.669766
As the ride approaches treeline, the views of surrounding Rocky Mountain peaks only get more astounding.

Wheel's-eye view

Location: 40.411078, -105.728130

A high-altitude respite

Location: 40.413071, -105.735555
Just over 12,000 feet, the road levels off before a descent down to Iceberg Pass. Soak in the views and catch your breath, but keep the legs spinning: the climbing soon amps back up before topping out at just over 12,000 feet (again) and descending down to Fall River Pass.

Fall River Pass

Location: 40.440970, -105.755596
The Fall River Pass Visitor Center is the turn-around point for this ride. Take a break and soak in the views (if you haven't already), use the facilities, and layer up for the descent). Trail Ridge isn't a highly technical road on the way down, but gawking motorists can make for some sketchy moments. Skilled descenders will easily be going faster than the cars. Whether drivers are even aware of skilled descenders is another story. © Mark Harrison

US 36 Descent

Location: 40.365806, -105.585136
The descent on US 36 offers more of the same: spectacular vistas and rubber-necking drivers. Use caution passing on Bear Lake Road-this is a popular thoroughfare for many hiking trails (and it's not a bad ride in itself).


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