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2016 Sumer Mountain Trip Part 2; Rocky Mountain National Park and US 34 the Trail Ridge Road

Following crossing Berthoud Pass on US Route 40 I took it westward to Granby to the western terminus of US 34.  My next destination was on US 34 over the top of Rocky Mountain National Park on the Trail Ridge Road.





The previous entry in this series can be found here:



The Trail Ridge portion of US Route 34 is 48 miles long from the Grand Lake Entrance east over the crest of the Rockies to the Fall River Entrance.  The Trail Ridge Road travels over the Continental Divide and several high passes in the Rockies such as; Milner Pass at 10,758 feet above sea level, Fall River Pass at 11,796 feet above sea level and Iceberg Pass at 11,827 feet above sea level.  The high point on the Trail Ridge Road is near Fall River Pass at 12,183 feet above sea level which I believe is the highest point in the US Route system.  US 34 and Trail Ridge close seasonally unlike many of the high passes in the Rockies.

The Fall River Road was the precursor route into Rocky Mountain National Park and was completed by 1920 west from Estes Park.  The Fall River Road is still accessible to traffic as a one-way westbound roadway from near Sheep Lake up to the Alpine Visitor Center.  Work on the Fall River Road apparently began in 1913 but was interrupted by the First World War.  The Fall River Road can be seen on the this 1924 Four Corners Trail Map as the through route over Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park west to Grand Lake.

1924 Four Corners Auto Trails Map 

The Fall River Road has grades as steep as 16% and was not built to a standard to allow two-way traffic to travel easily.   Work on the Trail Ridge Road begun in 1929 and was completed south of the Fall River Road to Fall River Pass by 1932.  Work on improving the road west to Grand Lake and Kawuneeche Valley was completed by 1938.  The Trail Ridge Road had a much more shallow 7% Grade which eventually was incorporated into US Route 34 when it was extended into Colorado in 1939.  USends provides more detail on the endpoints of US Route 34 and the map below shows the recently extended highway in 1941 ending at US 40 in Granby.  US 34 in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the few through routes in a National Park that is clearly US Route or even a State Highway.

USends on US 34

1941 Colorado Highway Map 

Before entering Rocky Mountain National Park I stopped at the location where the Colorado River enters Shadow Mountain Lake.  The Shadow Mountain Lake Reservoir was created in 1947 upon the completion of the Shadow Mountain Dam.  The Shadow Mountain Reservoir is the largest in Colorado.  The filling of the Shadow Mountain Reservoir backed up water to Grand Lake which is the largest and deepest natural lake in the state.




Upon entering Rocky Mountain National Park from the Grand Lake Entrance I took the Trail Ridge Road to Ditch Road in Kawuneeche Valley.  Ditch Road really isn't truly a roadway anymore but rather a trail that crosses the Colorado River to the Holzwarth Historic District.



Holzwarth was a district of cabins just outside the original 1915 boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park which was settled in 1917 by the Holzwarth family.  The guest cabins on the ranch lands were in use until the Nature Conservancy bought the lands in 1974.  By 1975 Holzwarth was transferred to the National Park Service and annexed into Rocky Mountain National Park.









Lots of critters to be seen around Holzwarth and the Colorado River.





North of Holzwarth Trail Ridge begins to ascend east away from the Colorado River.  There is nice view of Kawuneeche Valley from Farview Curve Viewpoint.






At Poudre Lake Trail Ridge crosses the Continental Divide at the 10,759 foot Milner Pass.



The Cache la Poudre River can be seen looking northeast from the Medicine Bow Curve along with the Trail Ridge Road ascending to Fall River Pass.




Lots animals up high above Trail Ridge. 





The view of the Cache la Poudre River from Fall River Pass and the Alpine Visitor Center is pretty nice.




To the east the Old Fall River Road can be seen descending easterly towards Sheep Lake north of the Fall River.


A sign for Fall River Pass and the Alpine Visitor Center.





East of Fall River Pass is the Gore Rand Overlook.  The 12,183 foot high point on Trail Ridge is just to the east.





Immediately east of the Trail Ridge High Point is the Lava Cliffs Overlook.





Trail Ridge over the 11,827 is surprisingly flat and level.  Trail Ridge descends easterly towards the Forest Canyon Overlook via a large cut in the rock face.  The lack of trees above 11,000 feet really make Trail Ridge visually striking as it is apparent how high up you're really driving.  The Forest Canyon Overlook probably is the widest overlook in Rocky Mountain National Park looking west towards the Big Thompson River.





East of Forest Canyon Trail Ridge begins to descend towards Estes Park.  There is one additional substantial viewpoint looking east at the Rainbow Curve Viewpoint.



The Trail Ridge Road meets the western terminus of US Route 36 near the Deer Creek Trail head.  I continued on US Route 34 eastward towards the Fall River.  Ahead is a westward view of canyon the Fall River and Old Fall River Road ascend to Fall River Pass.





I took Trail Ridge to the Fall River Entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.  I continued eastward on US 34 to I-25 in Loveland.  I took I-25 northward into Wyoming but I'll continue from there in Part 3.

Part 3 of this blog series can found here:

Part 3; the long road to the Black Hills

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