If you thought the journey to Rocky Mountain National Park was beautiful, just wait until you experience Trail Ridge Road. Completed in 1933, Trail Ridge Road spans the park from east to west, and links the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake, Colo. The road winds past countless 12,000-foot peaks, high-alpine tundra and some of Rocky Mountain National Park's best views.

The above time lapse video goes 43 miles from the northeast entrance of the park to the west entrance. This high alpine road is only open from Memorial Day through mid-October when roads are clear of ice and snow, so even though the video was taken on June 1, 2014, you can still see a lot of snow. Some early June nights can have temperatures below freezing, so be prepared for night road closings. Some September and October snows close the road temporarily. Call 970-586-1222 before you head out.

More about Trail Ridge Road's Season

Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. Known appropriately as the "Highway to the Sky," it crosses the Continental Divide at a whopping 12,183 feet. Colorado has also designated Trail Ridge Road as a scenic and historic byway.

Car lights illuminate Trail Ridge Road at night in Rocky Mountain National Park

Car lights illuminate Trail Ridge Road at night

Driving Trail Ridge

Most Park visitors choose to drive Trail Ridge Road, pulling over periodically to take advantage of countless turnouts and sweeping views along the way. The drive is fairly relaxing since the two-lane highway never reaches grades above 7 percent and has only a few hairpin turns.

If you plan on driving, heed our advice and start early. Tour buses, RV's, and other drivers usually pack the road around 10 or 11 a.m. and an early start can mean enjoying the scenery at your own pace, while also photographing stunning sunrises and grazing wildlife.

To access Trail Ridge Road, start from either Estes Park on the eastern side of the Park, or Grand Lake to the west. The road quickly ascends 4,000-feet breaking tree line and emerging into open tundra resembling a baron moonscape of rock and jagged peaks.

Some of the most popular turnouts along the way includes: Many Parks Curve, Forest Canyon Overlook, and Medicine Bow Curve.

The Alpine Visitor Center sits close to the halfway mark, and is a perfect place to grab a cup of hot chocolate and soak in the views.

Drive Time: 1.5 to 4 hours depending on traffic and stops at overlooks.

Sunset at the top of the trail from the Alpine Visitors Center on Trail Ridge Road

Climb the short Alpine Ridge Trail near the Alpine Visitors Center to see an amazing sunset

Biking Trail Ridge

While most visitors decide to experience Trail Ridge Road by car, a small majority decide to hop on their bikes and ascend at a much slower pace. The ride is one of the most spectacular in Colorado, and since the grade never exceeds 7 percent the ascent is relatively gradual.

Take it from us and start early: We usually hit the road around 8 a.m. Our route typically is an out-and-back with a stop at Alpine Visitor Center. Early in the morning it's not uncommon to see mule deer, moose, elk, and other wildlife grazing in open meadows as you warm up the legs spinning through Beaver Meadows.

Since the ride crests at 12,000-feet, make sure you've got an extra jacket or arm and leg warmers due to the fact the temperature is usually quite a bit cooler up high.

As you ride don't forget to check out Many Parks Curve and Rainbow Curve. The views are spectacular and it's a perfect place to catch your breath and take a bathroom break.

As you continue to ascend keep an eye out for building afternoon storms, which can be life threatening above tree line. Upon reaching Alpine Visitor Center grab a much deserved snickers bar and soak in the views. Then it's all-out pandemonium as you plunge back down the 5,000-feet you just climbed.

The History of Trail Ridge Road

Watch the video below by CBS Denver on the history of the road, the recent finish of road construction in 2011, and the ancient road that came before the pavement.


Trail Ridge Road in Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park

Scenic Drives in Rocky Mountain National Park

These three roads pass by the most scenic park views that can be seen from a car: Trail Ridge Road, Bear Lake Road and Old Fall River Road.

Entrance sign to Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

The 9.4-mile gravel, one-way road leads cars along the steep slope of Mount Chapin's south face past waterfalls, pine forests, and Fall River Pass

Toadstools on Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hands down the most beautiful trail with the ugliest name. If the views don't take your breath away on this 1-mile round-trip hike, the elevation and incline will.

At the summit of Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park

3-Mile Trail to Deer Mountain Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park

There are gorgeous views all the way along the trail and a 300-degree view as your reward for reaching the top.

Sightseeing from the road in Park County, Colorado

Drive Colorado’s Best-Kept Secret Road in Park County

Point your wheels towards evergreen forests, pristine rivers and abundant wildlife opening up to a beautiful high alpine valley, guarded by breathtaking peaks.

Sunset at Yavapai Point in the Grand Canyon in Arizona

Grand Canyon to Rocky Mountain National Park Road Trip

See the Grand Canyon and Great Sand Dunes in one unforgettable trip and end in Estes Park outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Elk lounging on a clear spring day in Rocky Mountain National Park

Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone Road Trip

Hot springs, bison and bears await on this 1,763-mile adventure through cowboy towns and three national parks.

Paul Bunyan's Boot on the Gem Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hike to Gem Lake and Balanced Rock in Rocky Mountain National Park

A moderate hike along Rocky Mountain National Park's Lumpy Ridge. You see unusual rock formations and a small lake with a beach.

Trail Ridge Restaurant Fruit options

Trail Ridge Store and Cafe in Rocky Mountain National Park

Find healthy foods at Rocky Mountain's sole food vendor at the seasonal Trail Ridge Store and Cafe. Get sandwiches, salads and fruits to dine in or grab-n-go.