Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

The Ultimate Local's Guide to TRR

alpenglow on the mountains seen from the Gore Range Overlook on Trail Ridge Road Colorado

Trail Ridge Road in Colorado - Everything You Need to Know To See The Best Spots

The Complete Guide to Trail Ridge Road in Colorado (From Local Experts)

It honestly goes without saying: Trail Ridge Road (TRR), famously known as the highest continuously paved road in the entire US, is a total stunner. As Colorado locals who live within an hour of Rocky Mountain National Park, we’ve driven and explored Trail Ridge Road more times than we can count. When it comes to mountain roads in the state, it’s probably the one we drive the most.

Over the course of many years, we’ve driven it in every single month it’s open to travel. We’ve even hiked portions of the road in the winter when it’s closed to car traffic. Needless to say, we’ve seen it all.

And our guide to all things Trail Ridge Road in Colorado covers everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip, like tips for avoiding crowds (yes, it’s possible, and we’ve done it many times!), how to get the best photos (and where to stop for them), must-know info on reservations, what gear to bring with you…the list really does go on.

And of course, there’ll be plenty of photos of all the epic sights along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, from our many adventures in RMNP.

sunlight hitting Longs Peak from Rock Cut on Trail Ridge Road Colorado

Disclosure: We’ve included lodging and gear recommendations in this guide to Trail Ridge Road in Colorado. If you choose to book or buy through our links, we may earn a commission, at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support our small Colorado business and allows us to continue creating this free content.

All recommendations in our guide are crafted with love and expertise, from platforms we use and trust for our own adventures, both in the Rockies and beyond.

Where Does Trail Ridge Road Start and End?

Directions to Trail Ridge Road

sun streaming over Chapin Mountain from Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road Colorado

There are two potential start points to Trail Ridge Road: Estes Park, Colorado and Grand Lake, Colorado. The more common starting point is Estes Park.

To access Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park, Colorado, you have two options. The first is to go through the RMNP Beaver Meadows Entrance and just continue straight on this road.

The other option is to go through the Fall River Road entrance and continue for about 4 miles until you hit a “T” in the road. You’ll hang a right to continue up Trail Ridge.

As for accessing Trail Ridge Road from Grand Lake, Colorado, you simply go through the Grand Lake RMNP entrance and you’re already on TRR.

  • GPS Coordinates (summit of the road): 40.428402, -105.759655
  • Nearest Towns to Trail Ridge Road: Estes Park and Grand Lake, Colorado
  • Trail Ridge Road Length: 48 miles long
  • Trail Ridge Road Elevation (highest point): 12,183 ft
  • Cell Service: You shouldn’t expect cell service during the bulk of the drive along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, particularly once you enter the alpine tundra. We highly advise a satellite communication device like this brand we use as a way to send an SOS or keep in touch with loved ones when exploring this area (this is most critical if you’re hiking).

When Does Trail Ridge Road in Colorado Open?

And When Does It Close?

snow dotting Ypsilon Mountain seen from Rainbow Curve Overlook on Trail Ridge Road Colorado

Like many high elevation mountain passes throughout Colorado, Trail Ridge Road closes to drivers for about half the year. It typically opens on Memorial Day weekend, but this can be pushed back due to a rough winter (and this has happened before).

Trail Ridge typically closes in mid-October, but again, if winter comes early, this could happen sooner.

It’s worth noting, even during the Memorial Day to mid-October open season for Trail Ridge, there is no guarantee the road will always be open. This route enters the alpine tundra and goes to elevations higher than 12,000 ft above sea level. Snow and adverse conditions can happen at any time of year up here (yes, even in the thick of summer), and RMNP rangers will shut down TRR if this occurs.

Note: You actually can access Trail Ridge Road in Colorado year-round if you plan on hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing past the gate in the winter months. The road is not maintained during this time of the year, and snow can get quite deep in areas, but you can access it on foot.

Pro Tip: If you want to get a feel for what the mountains looks like near the RMNP Alpine Visitor Center along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, there’s a webcam where you can see the views.

How to See The Best Views on Trail Ridge Road

Expert Tips From Colorado Locals

alpenglow dotted mountains with snow on them seen from the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

Alright, let’s get into the good stuff! If you’re looking for the best views along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, we’ll break it all down. We’ll also share the ideal months, days of the week, and times of day to get on this route, so you can steer clear of the crowds.

Need More Iconic Colorado Views?

Colorado is known for its iconic roads and mountain passes. And if you really want to see the best our great state has to offer, there’s no better way to see it than with a mega road trip. 

Our ultimate 2-3 week Colorado road trip itinerary breaks down some of the most scenic views in the Rockies, so you can see the best of the best (and yes, Trail Ridge Road is already baked into this itinerary!).

The Best Months to Drive Trail Ridge Road in Colorado For The Prettiest Views

Never Summer Range of mountains with snow on them seen from Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

Like we mentioned earlier, we’ve driven Trail Ridge Road in Colorado in every single month, and there are some that are just hands-down better than the rest, in our humble opinions. Which are those? We’re suckers for June and July on Trail Ridge.

If you don’t plan on hiking but just want to take in those majestic + classic Colorado views on Trail Ridge Road, June is the go-to (especially early June). The road has recently opened, and if it’s been an especially snowy winter, there’s still a good bit of snow on the mountains (and you may even see walls of snow several feet tall lining the road), so you get this gorgeous contrast that makes for the perfect photos.

It’s important to note, though, that June is not ideal if you plan on doing any of the hikes along the road, as the snowfields typically have not fully melted at this point, and many can be quite deep. For the ones that have melted, mud can be intense.

sun streaming into the valley looking toward Estes Park Colorado from the Rainbow Curve Overlook on Trail Ridge Road

July offers much more trail accessibility than June, but you still get to experience Trail Ridge Road in its greenest stage (honestly, if we could pick just the best month hands-down for all of the high alpine spots in Colorado, it’d be July).

black and white photo of Ypsilon Mountain with snow on it from Rainbow Curve Overlook on Trail Ridge Road Colorado

So what about the other months? Well, Trail Ridge Road in Colorado is only open for a teeny tiny portion of May over Memorial Day weekend, but it’s a total zoo at this time, because everyone’s been waiting months for the road to open. You’ll sit in tons of traffic, and it’s just not ideal. We’d steer clear of this time frame.

By the time you get to August, the tundra starts drying out for the year, and it’s much less lush and green than in July. So if you’re looking for the best views, this month really isn’t it.

So what about fall? While you will see some aspen trees on your route, Trail Ridge isn’t really a great spot for seeing fall colors, and there are so many better locations throughout Colorado (like Guanella Pass or Ashcroft Ghost Town near Aspen, two of our faves!).

Plus, once we enter fall territory (end of September through that mid-October close), snowstorms at high altitude become way more likely. Meaning, if you’re traveling from out of town to see Trail Ridge Road, you could theoretically get your reservations only to find out the road has closed last-minute for that day. For this reason (plus the lack of fall colors), we generally don’t love these months on Trail Ridge.

Trail Ridge Road Reservations - How to Know If/When You'll Need Them

alpenglow on snow sprinkled mountains along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

During the peak Colorado travel season, Rocky Mountain implements a timed entry system (typically live from the start of Memorial Day weekend through mid-October), which can require reservations to drive Trail Ridge Road.

This pretty much overlaps with the time window that Trail Ridge is open for the season. That said, you actually might not need reservations. We’ll include all the must-know details below:

  • There are two types of timed entry: one that gives you access to the entire park (including the Bear Lake Corridor) and one that gives you access to the rest of the park (excluding the Corridor). If you’re driving TRR and not planning on visiting any spots along the Bear Lake Corridor (e.g. Sprague, Bear, Dream, and Emerald Lakes), you only need timed entry reservations for the rest of the park.
  • The “rest of the park” timed entry that excludes the Bear Lake Corridor is only needed between the hours of 9 AM and 2 PM. You must arrive at or within 2 hours after the start of your reservation window (but you can stay as long as you like once you’re in).
  • Outside of the 9 AM to 2 PM hours, you can access Trail Ridge Road in Colorado without timed entry reservations.
  • There is a reservation fee of $2 (this applies even if you have a pre-paid pass). The reservation fee also doesn’t cover park entry. You’ll pay that separately.

The Best Way to Avoid Colorado Tourist Crowds on Trail Ridge Road

golden hour light filtering up above the mountain tops

Curious about a way to experience Trail Ridge Road in Colorado without all the crowds (and without getting timed entry reservations)? As much as we love the park and TRR, we hate the crowds, and we make it a point to avoid them as much as possible (and have quite a bit of success doing it).

The first big factor is the day of the week you visit. As a general rule, avoid driving TRR on holiday weekends, if you can. Aside from that, aim for weekdays (mid-week from Tuesday to Thursday is the best).

The other best way to clear the crowds on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado is to aim for the less-busy hours (which also just so happen to be the prettiest hours for photos…a total win!). These would be sunrise (and the first couple of hours after) and sunset (and a couple of hours before).

alpenglow covered snowy Never Summer Range mountains seen from Medicine Bow Curve Overlook on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

In particular, we’ve found sunrise to be the most ideal. When we drive Trail Ridge at sunrise, we rarely come across other cars, and we tend to have the hiking trails to ourselves.

The best part? Sunrise and sunset are both outside the timed entry reservation window needed to drive the road.

The Best Hikes on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

snow covered Never Summer Range mountains seen from the Milner Pass hike along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

There aren’t a ton of hiking trails on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, but the ones that do exist pack a punch, with dreamy high alpine views and mountain vistas that are totally photo-worthy.

These are our top three choices:

  • Tombstone Ridge via Ute Trail – This is the first hike you’ll see on the eastern side of Trail Ridge Road after you break above tree line. It’s our favorite hike along TRR for dreamy views of Longs Peak, one of Colorado’s most iconic 14’ers. Parking is a super tiny roadside pull-off where you can parallel park.
  • Alpine Ridge Trail – This trail starts from the parking lot of the Alpine Visitor Center (if you’re facing the entrance of the gift shop building, the trailhead is to your left). This is a busy one, given how accessible it is, but you get gorgeous mountain vista views, including the typically snowiest range visible from TRR: the Never Summer Mountain Range.
  • Ute Trail to Milner Pass – This is the trail in the photo above. Park at the Alpine Visitor Center and cross over Trail Ridge Road. You’ll see a tiny sign that says “Milner Pass” with a path cutting across the tundra. Prepare for the dreamiest alpenglow views at sunrise. I don’t think we’ve ever seen more than 5 people every time we’ve hiked this trail, unlike Alpine Ridge that tends to get packed.
afternoon storm clouds engulfing a mountain along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado on a summer day

Hiking Pro Tip: All of the hikes on our TRR hiking list are above tree line. During the time of year that the road is open, afternoon thunder and lightning storms are extremely common, and at this high altitude, they’re more life-threatening than they would be otherwise.

The best and safest way to hike any of the trails along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado would be to aim for sunrise, when the weather is more predictable.

Recommended Gear For Hiking The Trails Along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

sunlight hitting Longs Peak from Trail Ridge Road Colorado

Hiking in the alpine tundra presents its own unique set of challenges. While not an exhaustive list of everything you might personally need, these are the bare minimum gear items we always bring with us when completing any of these hikes along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado:

  • Sunscreen – Not only do these Trail Ridge Road hikes go above tree line, with complete exposure to the sun, but the sun is just inherently more intense at these high altitudes in Colorado. Even if you’re not one to burn (and one of us isn’t), you can easily at these elevations. This is our absolute favorite sunscreen, and it’s a mainstay in our hiking packs. And we also use their face sunscreen, which doesn’t leave a white cast or clog pores (a serious gem).
  • Satellite Communication DeviceOur Garmin is our #1 pack essential on basically every hike or alpine drive, especially when we know we won’t have cell service (which is to be expected on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado). It allows us to send out an SOS in case of emergency, as well as stay connected with loved ones via text.
  • Headlamp – If you plan on hiking any trails on Trail Ridge in the dark at any point (which we highly recommend if you want epic sunrise or sunset views), you’ll need a headlamp to help you navigate. This is the headlamp we personally use, and we’ve tested many, to say the least. The battery life is great, compared to other options with similar power levels. And the high beam is super solid, making navigating extra dark nights so much easier. And our favorite part: it’s not as expensive as comparable headlamp options.
  • Water – It’s common for people to underestimate how much water they’ll need when hiking at altitude in Colorado, especially in places like Trail Ridge Road. Please pack that Nalgene bottle or bring a hydration bladder in your hiking pack. Higher altitudes increase your water needs, and it’s easy to feel dehydrated much faster. Of course, please ask your doctor first, but electrolyte packets can be another great addition for longer hikes with more exertion and sweating (think: the 8 miles to do Ute Trail to Milner Pass).

Other gear honorable mentions include hand and foot warmers (because yes, it’s basically cold year-round on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, especially close to sunrise and sunset) and a reliable lightweight puffer jacket (again, this helps with the cold, but we also use ours to block some of the intense winds that TRR is known for).

Looking For a Short Hike in RMNP With Dreamy Views?

Sprague Lake is one of our favorite sunrise hiking spots in the park, and it’s a short, super flat loop trail that’s perfect for the whole family. Our guide details everything you need to know about this spot.

The Best Roadside Stops And Overlooks Along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

alpenglow on the mountains seen from the Gore Range Overlook on Trail Ridge Road Colorado

Our favorite spots along Trail Ridge Road start on the Estes Park, Colorado side and go a little past the Alpine Visitor Center that’s located a couple miles toward the Grand Lake side after you hit the summit.

If you’re looking for the most photogenic landscape views of TRR, these are the must-see locations. We’ll go in order, from closest to Estes Park to closest to Grand Lake.

Many Parks Overlook

sun streaming in through the clouds at Many Parks Curve on Trail Ridge Road Colorado

As you meander up Trail Ridge Road away from Estes Park, Colorado, this’ll be the first truly scenic overlook you’ll come across. The mountains have more of a foothill vibe that’s pretty similar to what you see in much of Estes Park, but the greenery of the trees makes for a lovely sight.

Note: if you’re driving from Estes Park, you’ll see the first parking lot on the left side of the road. This is for the cars driving down towards Estes. Keep going up Trail Ridge a tad and you’ll find another lot on the right hand side of the road that you can park at. Please do not cross over TRR into oncoming traffic to get to the first lot, as it’s located on a switchback with limited visibility.

Rainbow Curve Overlook - Our Favorite Stop on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado For Gorgeous Sunrise Valley Views

sun streaming into a mountain valley near Estes Park seen from Rainbow Curve Overlook on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

We’ve seen a lot of Colorado mountain sunrises, but the sunrise views of the light pouring into the valley in layers from Rainbow Curve Overlook on Trail Ridge Road has to be one of our favorites. It truly feels like it came straight out of a movie.

Forest Canyon Overlook

jagged snow dotted mountain views from Forest Canyon Overlook along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

Forest Canyon Overlook is a Colorado tourist favorite along Trail Ridge Road, and for good reason. This tends to be the one of the busiest overlook spots, with a very short trail leading to a patio-like overlook area where you can get epic 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and canyons that were carved by glaciers.

snow covered mountain views from Forest Canyon Overlook along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

We especially love Forest Canyon Overlook at sunset (like in the photo above), when the warm glow is setting behind the westbound mountains off in the distance. It’s one of our favorite panoramic views along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado.

Rock Cut

view looking up toward Rock Cut on a foggy and moody day on Trail Ridge Road

Rock Cut is another super popular overlook area along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, and on busier days and weekends, you’d be hard-pressed to find parking. But it’s still worth the stop for the iconic views, including the dreamiest angles of Longs Peak (see photo below).

sunlight hitting Longs Peak from Rock Cut on Trail Ridge Road Colorado

There’s a section of Trail Ridge that basically cuts through the rock to navigate through the mountains. It’s definitely one of the cooler aspects of the drive.

Rock Cut is also home to a small 1.2 mile RT hiking trail: the Tundra Communities Trail. It’s a paved path with gorgeous views of the mountains and informative signage along the trail with details about tundra plant life.

Lava Cliffs Overlook

snow on the Lava Cliffs along Trail Ridge Road Colorado

Volcanic rock in the high alpine tundra? Yup, that’s the kind of epic sight you’ll find at the Lava Cliffs Overlook along Trail Ridge Road (Colorado is pretty dang incredible, right?).

It’s wild to think about, since the Never Summer Mountains are known for being quite snowy, but lava actually flowed from the area 28 million years ago to create what we now see as the Lava Cliffs.

Gore Range Overlook - The Most Photogenic Stop Along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

alpenglow mountain views seen from the Gore Range Overlook on Trail Ridge Road Colorado

The Gore Range Overlook is honestly our favorite spot on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado. It gets a fraction of the traffic of Forest Canyon Overlook or Rock Cut, but the views are honestly better.

We love swinging by for sunrise and for sunset, and it truly never disappoints. You get views of Longs Peak, the Gore Range, and the Never Summer Mountain Range.

view of Mount Stratus, Mount Nimbus, and Red Mountain Never Summer Range of mountains along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado seen from the Gore Range Overlook

The perfect (and oh so Colorado) way to enjoy this spot along Trail Ridge Road? Back your car into one of the parking spaces, open the trunk, lay down some blankets, and enjoy a little picnic while taking in the mountain views. 

Alpine Visitor Center - The Perfect Spot Along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado For a Bite to Eat With Epic Views

sign for the Alpine Visitor Center and Trail Ridge Road gift store and restaurant

The Alpine Visitor Center claims the title of the highest elevation national park visitor center in the country. Those are pretty solid bragging rights, if you ask us.

In addition to having the classic visitor center must-haves, like restrooms and a gift shop, this spot is also home to two of the trailheads we mentioned earlier: Alpine Ridge and the Ute Trail to Milner Pass.

But one of the things we really love about this spot is the dining area, with large windows overlooking the alpine tundra and sweeping mountain views, with Old Fall River Road meandering down below. It’s such a unique way to take in the sights of Trail Ridge Road in Colorado while also fueling up for your next adventure on the road.

Medicine Bow Curve - One of the Most Underrated (Yet Drool-Worthy) Spots Along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

alpenglow views of the Never Summer Range of mountains seen from Medicine Bow Curve along Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

Swing a right out of the Alpine Visitor Center and continue down Trail Ridge Road toward Grand Lake, Colorado. The first sharp switchback you hit will have a pull-off area alongside it. This curve in the road is Medicine Bow Curve.

Look in one direction and you can see the snow-dotted Never Summer Mountain Range. Look in another, and you’re staring into Wyoming. Pretty dang cool.

snowy mountains during golden hour from the Medicine Bow Curve on Trail Ridge Road near Grand Lake, Colorado

Where to Stay When Exploring Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

The Closest Towns to TRR

sunlit mountain views on Trail Ridge Road from Rock Cut

The two Colorado towns closest to Trail Ridge Road are Estes Park on the east side and Grand Lake on the west side.

If you want to see the most iconic spots in the park, we’d recommend choosing Estes, since it’s close to so many of them. These are our favorite options there:

  • Trailborn Rocky Mountains – This boutique hotel is hands-down one of the cutest options in Estes Park. We’ve been waiting forever for Estes to get a nice boutique hotel that feels modern and updated (there are so many over-priced hotels that are insanely outdated and dingy, and sadly they can get away with it, since Estes is a top destination in the state). Plus, it’s within walking distance of Lake Estes.
  • The Estes Park Resort – The views from this hotel are beyond dreamy. It literally sits on the shore of Lake Estes and the property has some super solid outdoor seating options to take in the landscape.
  • This Cozy Cottage – If you’d rather stay in a home with a washer/dryer and kitchen stocked with the essential supplies, this is the place. It’s located in a quiet neighborhood in Estes Park, but also close to everything. And the fire pit table is basically begging to be used for s’mores after a long day of exploring those dreamy Colorado sights along Trail Ridge Road.
jagged snow dotted mountains seen from the roadside along Trail Ridge Road Colorado

Unsure About the Best Time Of Year to Book Your Colorado Travels?

Every season in Colorado has its perks. But CO doesn’t follow the typical seasonal timeline, especially in high altitudes when winter stretches on for much longer than you’d expect.

Our complete guide to Colorado’s seasons covers everything you need to know to book your travels during the ideal time windows for the activities and adventures you want to go on (whether that’s driving Trail Ridge Road or anything else).

FAQs About Driving Trail Ridge Road in RMNP

How Long Does It Take To Drive Trail Ridge Road in Colorado?

view of Chapin Mountain getting snowed on from Rainbow Curve Overlook on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

If you’re driving without any stops, you can expect it to take about an hour and a half long to drive Trail Ridge Road in Colorado. That said, we highly recommend hitting up at least one (if not all!) of the roadside stops we mentioned earlier. Or even doing a hike or two.

Just to visit all the roadside stops we’ve mentioned above, with enough time to hang out and take photos of those iconic Colorado views along Trail Ridge Road, we’d budget at least 3 hours (note: add an extra 30 minutes to an hour if you want to swing by the Alpine Visitor Center for a bite to eat).

Is Trail Ridge Road Scary to Drive?

jagged snow dotted mountains seen from the roadside along Trail Ridge Road Colorado

If you have a fear of heights and are not used to twisting, narrow mountain roads, Trail Ridge Road in Colorado can be a scary drive. There are some sections of the road with steep drop-offs and no guardrails, and this can be nerve wracking for anyone not accustomed to these types of road conditions.

That said, one of us has a fear of heights and has driven this road many-a-time and done so without feeling scared. It is possible, but it might take some getting used to. Just take it slow and be aware of your surroundings.

Is Trail Ridge Road in Colorado Difficult to Drive?

tree lined section of Trail Ridge Road in Colorado on the way to Estes park

We’ve driven more mountain roads in Colorado than we can count, and we’d say that Trail Ridge Road is on the more moderate to easy side of things. For starters, the road is fully paved, which makes it much simpler from a technical standpoint. This isn’t an off-roading route that requires a high clearance 4X4 vehicle.

That said, if you’re dealing with adverse conditions like ice, snow, and dense fog (all things we’ve experienced while driving this road…yes, even in summer), the drive can be more difficult. There are some sections with steep drop-offs, so paying close attention to the road and being prepared for adverse conditions is essential to safely navigating TRR.

Want To See More of RMNP?

We get it, there’s a lot to do in Rocky Mountain. The park is huge! Our guide to RMNP breaks down the most iconic, must-see spots.

Want to See More Epic Views of Trail Ridge Road in Colorado?

snow alpenglow on Mount Cumulus from the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

We’ve got you covered. Scroll on down for more of our favorite images of this iconic Colorado route.

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