If you've got traveling Trail Ridge Road end-to-end through Rocky Mountain National Park on your bucket list, well, it'll have to wait until next year. Winter has forced park officials to close the road to wheeled traffic until next spring.
Riding this road across the backbone of the Continental Divide is not to be overlooked when you visit Rocky Mountain. It goes high -- reaching 12,183 feet, an oxygen-challenged elevation that once had my motorcycle complaining about lack of air for the proper fuel mixture -- and the views are spectacular.
Not surprising, in light of that elevation, winter can arrive early. Indeed, the road that connects Estes Park on the east side of the park to Grand Lake on the west was temporarily closed October 22 due to drifting snows, high winds, and sub-freezing temperatures.
This past Friday park officials made the closure permanent for the coming winter. Park Superintendent Vaughn Baker said that during the winter season, "weather permitting, we will keep Trail Ridge Road open to Many Parks Curve on the east side of the park and to the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side of the park."
The average winter closure date for Trail Ridge Road has been October 23. Although often times the road closes earlier and does not reopen, the previous ten year's official closure dates are: October 21, 2009, November 6, 2008, October 22, 2007, October 23, 2006, November 4, 2005, October 25, 2004, November 6, 2003, November 1, 2002, October 18, 2001, and November 2, 2000. The central portion of Trail Ridge Road normally opens the last week in May, weather permitting. This year Trail Ridge Road opened on May 28, 2010.
Old Fall River Road officially closed for the season on October 13. Old Fall River Road is an unpaved road that travels from Endovalley picnic area to above treeline at Fall River Pass, following the steep slope of Mount Chapin. Due to the road's narrow nature, the scenic 9.4-mile route leading to Trail Ridge Road is one way only.
With the winter closures to wheeled traffic, both roads have reverted to trail status; therefore bicycles and dogs are not permitted. For current road conditions and other park information, please call (970) 586-1206.
In a somewhat related story, Rocky Mountain officials say a road resurfacing project for Trail Ridge Road that was expected to take two summers has been wrapped up in one!
The road work was on a 19-mile section from the Colorado River Trailhead to Rainbow Curve. This project also involved resurfacing of all major overlook parking areas, pull-offs and the parking lot at Alpine Visitor Center.
The project was scheduled to take place this summer and next, but the project was completed a year ahead of schedule and within budget ($17.2 million).
"We are thrilled that this final project on Trail Ridge Road was completed in one year. We have had major work on this one of a kind road for three of the past four years," said Superintendent Baker. "All aspects of the construction have been funded by the Federal Lands Highway Program for a total of $34.2 million. It is the first major work on the road since it was built in 1932. Starting next spring, we will have many more decades to come without construction delays on Trail Ridge Road."