Cycling Colorado: Trail Ridge Road

Published: June 20, 2013, 9:00 am

by name the gazette -

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Trail Ridge Road

This is part of a summer series exploring great mountain rides in the state:

Length: 48 miles

Top elevation: 12,183 feet

Overview: Even with one annoying drawback – traffic – this is a classic mountain ride. It begins on one side of Rocky Mountain National Park and ends on the other, connecting Grand Lake and Estes Park.

The road is smooth. The climbing is difficult. The vistas – miles and miles of peaks and valleys – are worthy of the national park designation.

And the spectators are plenteous. No, not tourists – even though they line the roads, particularly on weekends – but wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see deer, elk, mountain goats, marmots and even moose or bear.

Maybe the critters enjoy hearing cyclists gasp for air, and there’s a number of stretches where this will happen. The grade isn’t extremely steep, topping out at 7 percent, but it’s a long haul and a lung-busting chunk of it comes above treeline.

The terrain is comparable no matter which side you start riding. However, starting from Grand Lake involves about 1,000 feet less of elevation gain.

Once you leave the forest, the weather and wind can be extreme. Afternoon storms are common at this elevation, and a sunny start in Estes Park could turn into a frigid finish at the summit. And the wind can turn you sideways.

There is shelter in the form of the Alpine Visitor Center, but it’s on the west side of the summit. So if you’ve started in Estes Park, you’ll have to ride several miles above treeline to reach it.

The descent can be exhilarating as there are a number of long straightaways and the turns aren’t hairpins. Or it can be frustrating as all of the joy (and speed) is diminished by a line of RVs, buses and out-of-state cars.

Nathan Van Dyne, The Gazette

Difficulty: 4 of 5

Rating is meant for a start in Estes Park, where the climbing is immediate with little reprieve. A Grand Lake start is 3.5.

Scenery: 5 of 5

It’s the main reason this road was built. And all of those miles above treeline are tough on the lungs but easy on the eyes.

Traffic: 4 of 5

A lot of cars travel this road, and many of the drivers are enjoying the views. Go early on a weekday to avoid the rush.