During the summer of 2014, I went to Colorado for a family reunion in Estes Park. With the Rockies, I knew there had to be some good rides. I recalled reading an article in Bicycling magazine of some special road in Colorado. I found the article and realized that it was right out of Estes Park, Trail Ridge Road. Reading the article again, I knew this would be a special, once in a lifetime opportunity.
Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the US. It reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 ft. It is great for climbing because it has an average grade of 5% and never exceeds 7%. From Estes Park to the Alpine Visitors Center is about 25 miles.
(My Strava info, going up and coming down)
I started my ride early in the morning, around 6am. I had checked with some locals and they let me know that I may need to pay a park entrance fee, the road is part of the Rocky Mountain National Park. I reached the entrance booth and was early enough that I didn't have to pay anything. If someone is there to take your money , cyclists pay $10 per person and good is for 7 days. The morning was nice and the scenery was spectacular. It was green and lush everywhere. On my way up I had number of local residence observing my ascent, a couple deer, some squirrels and a number of marmots.
At 10,000 ft I was feeling good, didn't feel any effects of the elevation. At 10,550 ft is the Rainbow Curve outlook. This is a good place to take a quick stop, there are restrooms for a break. Up to this point you are protected by all the trees that are growing lush and green. Two and a half miles further up the road is when you cross the tree line and enter the tundra zone. The next few miles are also critical as you become exposed and are subject to winds coming from the west.
The road winds around the rolling tundra, with some amazing vistas. At about 11,765 ft., there is another rest stop area. There are restrooms again, but I don't recall if there was any water to refill bottles. If you are heading to the Visitor's Center, no need to worry as there is the ability to fill up there.
(Blatant sponsor product placement)
After passing this stop, the next couple miles is where I started to struggle. Never having been on a bike at this altitude, I am not sure if it was due to the elevation or that I had not been eating enough on my way up. I had a couple stops at the side of the road to take in a fig bar or two.
There was actually a stop light up near the top of the road, some road work going on. It was just heading towards the summit. Unfortunately it is not marked, but is just less than 2 miles from the Visitor's Center. At the Visitor's Center there is a fountain to fill water, restrooms and plenty of info about the area.
(At the summit)
It took me just over 2 1/2 hours to get to the V.C. from my start just outside of Estes Park, now for the trip down. Coming down only took me a bit over an hour and I did take a slightly shorter route, by 5 miles. Coasting down 25 miles of mountain road is an experience in itself.
(Behind the Visitor's Center)
One thing to consider when riding the Trail Ridge Road is to start early to get down before 1pm. Nearly every afternoon of the week we were there we had afternoon thunderstorms with rain and lightning. There were a number of people that were injured by lightning strikes hiking in the mountains, two died from them. It is a beautiful area, but nature is clearly in control.
If I ever happen to be in the area with my bike, I would ride this again. Don't know when I will so possibly a "once in a lifetime" ride. I highly recommend anyone to give it a go, even plan a trip to ride the road. Definitely a bucket list ride.
*The Reno Cycling Team p/b Nature’s Bakery is the competitive arm of the Reno Cycling Club. Both the Club and Team are aligned with Reno Cycling & Fitness and are focused on education, safety and fun. We train and race to push each other to meet our true potential