Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Traveling Trail Ridge Road Through Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

No trip to Denver is complete without venturing a few hours into the mountains. I highly suggest renting a car for your trip and visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. The drive up is gorgeous and the views are breathtaking - literally. It was so cold I could not breathe. But it was also awe inspiring.

Upon entering RMNP you stop at a ranger's booth and pay $20 for park access. Once you enter you can stay on the Trail Ridge Road the entire time, the main road throughout the park, or venture off onto little trails that fork off. Since there was a lot of snow, we opted to stay on the main road. The trip from one end to the other was about three hours with a few stops for photos.

Rocky Mountain National Park snow-capped trees
Rocky Mountain National Park in fall

Fun facts about Trail Ridge Road:
-Highest continuously paved road in the continental US
-Crosses the Continental Divide
-Altitude reaches just under 13K feet

Not so fun facts about Trail Ridge Road:
-It's really, really high
-The road does not have a guardrail
-It may cause sweaty hands and panic attacks

Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Visitors Center
Trail Ridge Road

I don't want to scare anyone off this amazing journey, so let me clarify. I had altitude sickness during my trip to Colorado. I was out of breath and light headed as soon as I started walking around in Denver. That combo with my fear of heights was a disaster. Going up the road wasn't bad at all, until we got to Alpine Visitors Center. It's a huge overlook point where you can get out, walk around, and realize just how high you are. Throw in the wind and cold temps (it was 30 degrees and covered with snow when we were there the first weekend of October) and it's a bit rough just getting out of the car to take pictures. Once we saw how far we'd journeyed up the mountains, getting back on the road was tough. The rest of the ascent was on the cliff side of the mountain. Remember the no rails part? Pictured above is the drop off. It's not straight down, and doesn't even look bad in the picture, but in person it is scary.

There are two ways to enter RMNP, Grand Lake and Estes Park. We opted for the Grand Lake entrance because we wanted to spend time at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Driving this direction meant being closest to the edge of the mountain. So keep that in mind if you are not a fan of driving on cliffs. But, the scary part of the drive isn't for all that long. The benefit of selecting the direction that we did was that we avoided a lot of traffic. As we made our way back down the mountain we saw a lot of cars headed up.

Estes Park was more of a tourist trap than I'd imagined. We only stopped for food and it wasn't great, but it was the only place we could find parking. That was quickly forgotten as soon as we saw an elk and deer! My favorite moment of the trip. They were just chillin' at a city park. I don't see them in Los Angeles so I was super excited.

Elk rut season in Estes Park
Elk in Estes Park, CO
Elk rut season in Estes Park, CO

A must when visiting RMNP or Estes Park is The Stanley Hotel. This grand mansion served as the inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining". Being a big horror fan, we stopped for a drink at the Whiskey Bar, also featured heavily in the story. I got a very cliche REDRUM beer and was perfectly content as we listed to a few ghost stories provided by the bartender.

The Stanley Hotel
The Stanley Hotel Whiskey Bar
The Stanley Hotel REDRUM beer

Despite the terror on some parts of the Trail Ridge Road, this was my favorite part of the trip. The amazing views, wild animals, and spooky hotel were the perfect representation of Colorado. If you visit the Denver area, you have to take this day trip!


Kate at Green Fashionista said...

Holy gorgeousness! And add in a spooky hotel and it's the perfect October fall fun <3
Green Fashionista

Beautifully Candid said...

This looks so amazing! I always love exploring parks.
Beautifully Candid

Kristin said...

Oh wow, those mountains are so gorgeous! And the hotel is beautiful, too - if a little bit spooky! We keep talking about making a visit out to Estes or Rocky Mountain National Park when we're visiting family in Denver, and after seeing this, I'm really going to push for us to get up and go next time!