Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park: Skiing Trail Ridge Road

In the summer, Trail Ridge Road is one of the absolute highlights of Rocky. This paved highway ascends to the top of Trail Ridge, rising to an elevation of just over 12,000 feet (3660 m) and providing unparalleled views of the surrounding landscape. It’s also quite a driving adventure, especially for those who have never traveled this type of steep, curvy, exposed mountain road. I highly recommend the drive in the summer or fall.

From approximately mid-October to late May, most of Trail Ridge Road is closed to vehicular travel. On the east side of the park, the road is plowed up to the viewpoint at Many Parks Curve; to go beyond this point you have to use your own two feet. Most people opt to walk up a short distance and we saw a few wearing snowshoes, but we opted for skis. It’s definitely a more challenging approach, but I highly recommend tackling at least part of Trail Ridge Road on foot in the winter as well.

There wasn’t any fresh snow so we were able to follow existing tracks. It was a gradual but steady upward climb, punctuated by periodic gusts of chilly wind, but much of the road was sheltered by trees and the surrounding terrain and the sun made its grand entrance about halfway through the morning. There was one section that required us to unclip and a couple others that we had to hug the edge of the road to avoid exposed asphalt, but aside from that there was an adequate amount of snow cover.

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That white line cutting across the hillside… that’s the road. And we skied all the way up to there!

We didn’t have a definite destination in mind but eventually decided to turn around at the “2 miles above sea level” sign. Just slightly up the road from this point is the Rainbow Curve viewpoint, which was approximately where the other three people we saw turned around. It was nearly 4 miles (6.4 km) and 1150 feet (350 m) of elevation gain to reach this point… needless to say, we were pretty sore the next day.

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Not very often that you get the chance to do a handstand in the middle of a highway

Overall, we found this to be an ideal skiing location. It wasn’t too steep but the incline was enough that we could coast most of the way down while easily maintaining a controlled speed… which was perfect because Pat is fairly new to XC skiing and I’m pretty out of practice. There was one section that crossed beneath a potential avalanche slope, but avalanche danger was pretty low that weekend and we were able to quickly and safely navigate our way across.

Plus, the views from Trail Ridge Road are always beautiful!

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The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Many Parks Curve is located about 4 miles (6.4 km) up Trail Ridge Road (US Highway 34) from the east side of the park
  • Fees and passes: there is a $25/car daily or $35/car weekly entrance fee to RMNP; interagency annual passes accepted
  • Hiking: from Many Parks Curve to the top of Trail Ridge Road is 15 miles (24 km) and 2500 feet (760 m) of elevation gain, so you have the option to make this hike as long or as short as you want
  • Other: the higher you go, the windier and less sheltered the road becomes, so this wouldn’t be a good destination on a windy day!

8 thoughts on “Rocky Mountain National Park: Skiing Trail Ridge Road”

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park looks and sounds absolutely amazing. Having lived in Ireland for nearly twenty years I miss the snow and winter activities that come with it; here we barely see any snowflakes at all. Hopefully we can start traveling again some day, I would love to feast my eyes on snowcapped mountain tops. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 😀 Aiva

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Truly is a winter wonderland! I didn’t venture that deep into RMNP when I last visited, nor did I visit in the winter…all the same, the views of the towering pine and snow-capped landscape makes for such a breath-taking experience, and I’d like to return to see that in all of its splendor!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. Trail Ridge Road is spectacular. I first did it with my family when I was twelve on a camping trip across the country. Fifty years later on a road trip we tried it again, but had to turn around about ten miles in – pea soup fog made it impossible to see more than five feet in front of your car. And that is one road where you don’t want that kind of limited visibility.

    Liked by 1 person

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