Touring the Byway
80 miles | 3 Days/ 2 Nights | Gateway City: Estes Park, Colorado
You’ll start your journey at the eastern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park. After exploring Estes Park, the next morning you’ll have the pleasure of driving Rocky Mountain National Park’s highway to the sky, Trail Ridge Road National Scenic Byway, before you reach the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway. Bring a picnic lunch with you, since only the Alpine Visitor Center has snacks and there are no restaurants on Trail Ridge Road. Plan to take your time as you cross the park, and even spend most of the day. When Trail Ridge Road ends it flows right into the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway at Grand Lake.
View the Detailed Itinerary below to see the full route, which is complete with dining, shopping, and lodging recommendations!
With more than 60 peaks rising over 12,000 feet, Rocky Mountain National Park is a true Rocky Mountain high. A dozen magnificent alpine lakes feed the headwaters of the Colorado River – the same river that cut the Grand Canyon! Countless breathtaking vistas range from 8,000 to 14,259 feet with a third of the park above the tree line. Scenic vistas and well-placed overlooks allow you to take in the Park’s awe-inspiring landscapes at your leisure. Take a five-minute stroll for a magnificent view of Forest Canyon, Hayden Gorge and Gorge Lakes at Forest Canyon Overlook. Stand on the Rock of the Rockies at Rock Cut and Rainbow Curb, elevated more than two miles above sea level. At Milner Pass, the Trail Ridge Road meets the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Take your time and savor the views.
Six buildings in the Heritage Park Museum illustrate ranching heritage in Grand County, including MacElroy Livery Barn, the Hermitage Ranch House, a 1915 Forest Service Ranger Station, the Ritschard family fishing cabin, the original Kremmling jail, and the old railroad depot. Each building is outfitted to showcase a different aspect of life in the area in the early 1900s.
Did you know that the entire state of Colorado was one beneath a vast sea? A visit to Kremmling’s Fossil Ridge features the largest specimens of the Cretaceous group including giant ammonites and other marine invertebrate fossils that lived in the sea 70 million years ago.
After your tour of Estes Park, get ready for a birds-eye view without hiking up mountains. The Estes Park Aerial Tram whisks you above the treetops to the summit of Prospect Mountain. One of few European-style cable cars operating in America, instead of using towers to support the wires, the tram travels across a free span of wires strung between top and bottom stations. Spend your time at the top marveling at the stunning views and get photographs of the gorgeous panoramas.
Winding through 50 miles of forest and mountain landscapes, Trail Ridge Road National Scenic Byway, an incredibly scenic road that offers access to the diverse ecosystems that characterize the higher regions of the central Rocky Mountains. When first driving the road in 1931, the head of the National Park Service was awe inspired, saying “it is hard to describe the sensation this new road is going to make. You will have the whole sweep of the Rockies before you in all directions – a scenic wonder road of the world.” Up beyond the aspen, ponderosa pine, fir and spruce, it’s usually 20 or 30 degrees cooler. Vistas from the marked pullovers sweep north to Wyoming, east to the Front Range and West into the heart of the Rockies. Along the way, wildlife, colorful ground hugging plants, debris from Ice Age glaciers and lush mountain meadows are common. Stretch your legs on the Tundra World Nature Trail, a half-hour walk beginning at Rock Cut.
After dinner, stroll along The Riverwalk following the Big Thompson and Fall Rivers as they wind through the heart of downtown Estes Park. Wander past babbling brooks and beautiful sights, statues, bridges, fountains and more all along the way.
Operating as a hotel from 1892 to 1946, the Kauffman House is the only remaining log hotel constructed on the frontier. Today, exhibits tell the story of life in the early days of Colorado, featuring clothing, furniture, dolls, iron kitchen ware, books, quilts, stereopticon photos and more.