In Montana, mountain valleys are called
"holes". Here in Colorado, they're called
"parks". Estes Park is one of these
enclosed mountain meadows, named for Joel Estes
who "discovered" the area, long after the Ute
and Arapaho Indians used the area as a hunting
route. Because it is so accessible from the
east, with no high passes to cross, the valley
and the town have been a favorite resort area
for many years.
The main attraction here is Rocky Mountain
National Park. The park attracts more than three
million visitors each year and they come to see
the impressive array of craggy peaks, the
highest of which is Long's Peak, at 14,255
From Estes Park, the route leads first through Rocky Mountain National Park, quickly ascending the mountains past the
treeline to mountain tundra. The alpine valleys
were glaciated and there are several of these
"parks" along the route of Trail Ridge Road.
A downhill skiing area at the 9,200 foot
Many Parks Curve
At 9,600 feet, panoramic views of several alpine
valleys with glacial moraines standing out as
ridges. This is a favorite area for bird watching
and the species include ravens, jays (including
Steller's and gray), and Clark's nutcracker, with
the distinctive white and black coloring.
The road approaches the treeline and only small
shrubs are seen at 10,830 feet.
A viewpoint provides a fine view of this canyon
plus Hayden Gorge and Gorge Lakes. A short walk (10
minutes return) leads to this overlook where on
sunny days you can hear the squeal and maybe see
the little pikas which inhabit the area.
The Rock Cut
At over 12,100 feet, the road crosses the top of
the Rockies through alpine tundra. Here, the
growing season is less than ten weeks each year but
regardless of the harsh environment, many flowering
Tundra World Trail
Near the Rock Cut, this trail leads across the
frozen ground. The return trip takes about 45
At a parking area, dark cliffs display volcanic
rock, a reminder that the area was dominated by
volcanoes between 26 and 28 million years ago. The
cliffs were exposed by passing glaciers.
Alpine Visitor Center
At Fall River Pass, this is the site of a summer
visitor center which includes a park information
desk, restaurant and gift shop. A short trail leads
to a panoramic view.
Past Medicine Bow Curve the highway crosses the Continental Divide. The Crater Trail leads for one
mile to a bighorn sheep viewing location.
Views of the Colorado River near its source and
the Kawuneeche Valley.
As the highway descends to cross the Colorado
River at the 8,884 foot level, a half-mile trail
leads to the ranch. It was the homestead of John
Holzwarth who settled here in 1917. It is now part
of the national park and has been preserved as a
unique historic site.
Colorado River Trail
Hikers will enjoy this walk, with the trailhead
in the park, eight miles north of the town of Grand
Lake. There is a parking lot (at the Timber Lake
Trailhead), and the Colorado River Trail begins
across the highway. The trail leads two miles to
Shipler Park and another two miles to the site of a
former ghost town, Lulu City. All of the buildings
were removed when the park was created. The Timber
Lake Trail leads 5.5 miles through the forest, to a
small picturesque lake.
Just before reaching the park boundary, there is
another visitor center, and more park trails may be
reached by taking a sideroad just south of the
boundary (Road #278).
Middle Park Lakes
Now we're inlake country, as the highway passes
near Shadow Mountain Lake, Grand Lake, and Lake
Granby. The town of Grand Lake is a popular
recreation town, with excellent fishing prospects.
This is a small alpine village with 400 residents,
and a quaint main street with log buildings and
boardwalks. It is situated on the largest natural
lake in Colorado, with two national forests
(Arapaho & Routt), and the national park
nearby. During the summer month visitors come from
both directions. During the winter -- when Trail
Ridge Road is closed -- Grand Lake is the end of
the line for travelers driving up Highway 34 from
Granby. Then, snowmobiles take over the streets and
the town has a relaxed ambience. Contrast this to
any summer day when more than 3,000 visitors invade
this little rustic town.
More about fishing: Grand Lake is famous for
kokanee, rainbow trout and especially the mackinaw
which weigh up to and over 20 pounds. Lake Granby,
the large reservoir near the town, also hosts brown
trout. Shadow Mountain Lake, another reservoir, has
rainbow, kokanee and mackinaw.
Arapaho National Recreation Area
South of Grand Lake lies this fine natural area,
containing several small lakes and excellent
camping opportunities. County Road 66 leads from
Hwy. 34 to Green Ridge Campground (one mile off the
highway). The campsites are on Shadow Mountain
Lake. Stillwater Campground is another, three miles
south on the shore of Lake Granby. County Road 66
also comes out to the highway a mile below Stillwater Lake Campground. Drive 10 miles to Arapaho Bay Campground. This is a large campground,
suitable for tents and RVs. Another recreation area
campground is found by taking County Road 40, eight
miles south of Grand Lake. The Willow Creek campsites are located three miles from the highway
on a reservoir.
14 miles south of Grand Lake, Hwy. 34 meets
Highway 40, and the town of Granby lies one mile
south of the junction.
More Online Information:
Mountain National Park