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 vehicles—you’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.
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.
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.
Location: 40.385651, -105.663586
Location: 40.401993, -105.669766
As the ride approaches treeline, the views of surrounding Rocky Mountain peaks only get more astounding.
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.
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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