Trail Ridge Road

Adventure over workout, every time

Trail Ridge Road — Before it’s opened for cars

Trail Ridge Road — Before it’s opened for cars

After an incredibly rainy and snowy spring — including several late-May storms — we’ve finally made it to summer, and even had a few of those TOO hot days. (I consider anything above 80-degrees too hot). The entire state is anywhere from 200-700% saturated, and some of the passes have just barely opened to car traffic. One of my favorite things to do is bike up high and see the huge walls of snow. I went a few miles past Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road at the end of May, and it was other-worldly.


We also recently made the trek down to Watershed Ranch, and I biked Independence Pass on the first full day that it was open to Aspen. It’s one of the most beautiful and most fun passes to ride. Mostly a gradual climb for 17 miles, with a slightly steeper final push. The views are just nonstop amazing. This year, because of the tremendous amount of snow, there were several sections of avalanche damage. It makes the power of the snow really clear. Entire sections of forest turned to matchsticks.

Watershed Ranch

Watershed Ranch

One thing I’ve continued to notice about myself — especially when friends and people I follow on Strava and elsewhere post about zones and numbers — is that I don’t care about working out at all. I’ve always thought trainers and treadmills were ridiculous. I’ll bike in 17-degrees and run below zero. I’ll get up at 4am to beat the heat. Because I care a lot about adventure. I want to climb the highest peak. I want to go a little farther and maybe even sometimes a little faster. But damn. I do not care about monitoring my heart rate.

Independence Pass — First day open for the season

Independence Pass — First day open for the season

Yesterday I took the new Moots (such an insanely amazing bike) up Old Fall River Road, and down Trail Ridge. I didn’t see a single other person on the road, and thought most of the time about what I would do if I came upon a bear. I sang to myself a lot.

I’ve got some events coming up that I’ve been “training” for, but I think I’m finally ready to admit that I’m more a wake-up-early, grab-a-Clif-bar-and-go kind of person. I’d much rather be the first one at a trailhead, and discover some stunning view, than tow the start line at any race. I like to push myself, but generally, I’d rather do something impressive alone than with a number pinned on my chest. A mountain sunrise always beats a t-shirt and a participant medal.

Old Fall River Road — before cars are allowed on for the season

Old Fall River Road — before cars are allowed on for the season

Get up high, is what I’m saying. Find the snow and the views and the adventure. Maybe think more about sticking your feet in the cold creek at the end of a tough hike, than about those zones on your device.

Do it: Old Fall River Road


Old Fall River Road has been on my list of rides since I got a gravel bike, and it did not disappoint. Built in 1920, Old Fall River was the first road through Rocky Mountain National Park. Very little has been updated to this road, which makes it extra special. Mostly dirt/gravel, there are no guard rails, and very little signage. The road is one-way...straight up, with 16 switchbacks, and not much room, even to pass a bike. At times the grade is up to 16%, though most of the time it's more like 7%. The last push is the toughest, as it climbs to nearly 12,000 feet. 


I parked at the Fall River Visitors Center on 34 just before the park entrance. I clipped in at just before 8am on a Friday. There was no line at the gate, and I was probably only passed by 6 cars for the 11-mile dirt climb. The sky was blue, the wind was calm, and the pines smelled amazing. The road passes back and forth over Fall River, and you can always hear the water and a few small falls as background music. I only saw small critters: beaver and chipmunks, and could hear the pikas chirping. 


Once I got to the Alpine Center, the wind turned up. The climb to Rock Cut (at 12,090 feet) on Trail Ridge was a little scary: gusts were pretty significant. But after I passed Rainbow Curve, the descent was fast and fun. When I set out for the ride it was 51-degrees. I'd estimate it was probably around 40-degrees at the top, and by the time I was back down to 8,000 feet, it was nice and warm. 


The next time I do this climb I want to leave even earlier: truly have the dirt to myself at sunrise. 

Do It: 12,183 Feet


High Point on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park sits at 12,183 feet, which makes it not only the highest pass in Colorado, but also the highest continuous motorway in the United States. More than 8 miles of the road are above 11,000 feet. Each spring, for a few weeks, Trail Ridge is open to cyclists and pedestrians, but not to cars. This time is spent readying the visitor centers, getting water pumping at the restrooms, and generally maintaining the park. It's also, obviously, the best time to be up there. 


I recently biked from the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park (which sits at 8,400 feet) up to High Point, and around the top area--which is like being on another planet. The trees disappear, the snow on both sides of the road grows higher than can be seen over, and the air is thin. A little over forty miles and 5,000 feet of gain all in. There was some wind at the top, but I've driven the road when the wind was far worse. Overall, it was the quiet that impressed me. 


The majority of other cyclists I saw at the top were women, which is not usually the case on the roads that I frequent. I met a group of 3 women who (like me) were biking it for the first time, and another woman who was going all the way from Granby to Estes on a bike that looked to weigh almost as much as she did. She had clearly been camping for a while. A thing I've learned is that women in Colorado are not afraid to do challenging feats alone. 


I bought an annual pass for Rocky Mountain and all the rest of the national parks when I entered. Now more than ever, it seems vital that we maintain and support these treasures. I only live about 30-miles from Rocky Mountain, but every time I enter the park, it feels like such an escape. And any time spent above 11,000 is just automatically dream-like. It's important to be in these places: to feel small and get a little scare from the sheer size of everything else.