Thursday, July 4, 2013

Rocky Mountain National Park: Old Fall River Road

After much debate about what to do on the 4th of July, since everything was likely to be crowded, we decided to just deal with the crowds and go go up to Estes Park and on to drive the Old Fall River Road.  

There are two roads to the top in Rocky Mountain NP – Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road.  Old Fall River road is the old road up and it’s one way – up only – dirt, no guardrails, no facilities, and has tight turns and lots of switchbacks.  Trail Ridge Road is the new road through the park.  It’s paved, has pullouts and facilities (pit toilets mostly), and is more graded (max 7%).  It’s also US34, so a major-ish US highway!  We were going to drive up Old Fall River Road to the Alpine visitor center and then come down on Trail Ridge Road back to Estes Park. 

Between Loveland and Estes Park we had to pass through the Big Thompson River Canyon.  It was pretty cool!  It had steep rock sides and we could see the river as we climbed!

P1130553Part of the Canyon Walls

Estes Park is a tourist town nestled in the heart of the lower Rockies.  The town is kind of in a bowl and mountains rise up around it! Other than it’s spectacular location, there’s not much special about Estes Park – it’s a typical tourist town, a lot like Bar Harbor, but a little Gatlinburg! We drove right through to a NPS visitor center (and restaurant and gift shop!) where Mom and I got our passports stamped and we picked up a book and some other “must haves”. 

Soon we were heading up into the park.  The first stop was the Endovalley Picnic Area for lunch.  We weren’t hopeful that we’d be able to get a table, but we were surprised! There were a lot of people there, but it wasn’t totally overrun!  We had a nice picnic and we were ready to head off up the road!

Only about a mile in on Old Fall River Road there was a short trail to Chasm Falls.


View looking down the river


Chasm Falls

Dad and I took the short walk down there and back and then we headed back down the road.

P1130564Old Fall River Road

The road up is only 9 miles long, but it covers a lot of ground!  It goes up from forests to alpine and all the zones in between!  Estes Park it at about 7,000 feet (I think) and the Old Fall River Road goes up to 11,796 feet, so it’s a lot!  There are a few pull outs and wide spots in to road to stop and take pictures.  There are also a few trails, but we didn’t really walk any. 

We stopped at a the Chapin Mountain trailhead and we were considering walking up, but it was a least a mile before you could see anything and the storm clouds were building. We were almost above the treeline at this point so lighting is extra dangerous.  We walked up a little bit and as we were walking down heard several rumbles of thunder! We got back in the car and continued up the road.

By the time we got to the top the storms were brewing on all sides and the thunder was booming!  It wasn’t bad, in fact you could watch one storm move off and then it would be sunny while you watched another storm brew!

P1130593Storm clouds in the distance


But turn around and it’s sunny in the other direction!

Just before we got to the visitor center at the top there was a large group of cars stopped along the side of the road and everyone was looking at something and taking pictures…it was a very large, very well endowed Elk, just hanging out in the bushes!


When we reached the top the sky was looking ominous, but soon it cleared up!  There were still people climbing to the top of the ridge just above the visitor center though!  We visited the gift shop and the visitor center and then, since the storm had cleared up enough, Dad and I climbed the ridge.

I’m not sure how far the ridge climb was, but it felt like we’d gained a couple thousand feet.  A guy at the top told us were at about 11,800…that would mean we gained 4 feet.  ummmm…no…it had to be more than that!  The hike up the ridge was tough not because it was long or even steep, but because of the elevation!  You had to go slow and take breaks.  I didn’t have as much trouble as I thought I would!  While it wasn’t thundering, it had started to rain.  It was a light cold rain so not enough to make me turn back, but it was cold.  I was wearing a skort and tevas so my legs and feet were freezing! At the top I put my fleece on and was pleasantly surprised to find a pair of gloves in the pockets! I love wearing fleece and gloves on the 4th of July! :-)



Once we got back to the car we headed out down Trail Ridge Road.  The road went up up a different valley and we had different views than the way up! We also passed over the highest point on Trail Ridge Road – over 12,000 feet! WOW!  Soon after we began our descent it began to seriously rain and got very cold – into the 40s!  brrrr!!!! We didn’t stop to take pictures or anything, just kept driving!

P1130639View at the last pullout before the rains came! 

We arrived back in Estes Park and continued on to Loveland in hopes of getting back before the fireworks traffic got going.  We cruised right by the lake where the fireworks were going to be and found a sandwich shop open to grab some dinner before heading back to Boyd Lake.  The fireworks were visible from our campsite so we sat out at the picnic table uploading pictures and eating ice cream and watching the fireworks!  Then it was time for bed!

To see more pictures from today visit my album on Google+: RMNP: Old Fall River Road

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