This is a must-do when vising the Rocky Mountains. On this scenic drive you will see sights like never before and the scenery is always changing, just simply amazing!
Reservations are required. The cost for adults is $25. Youths 16 and under $12. Children not occupying a seat are free. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center Book Store. Call 970-577-7477 for reservations or more information.
This is a fantastic drive that puts you at one of the highest spots (and highest continuous road) in the U.S.! On our last visit, during opening weekend of the road, there were 30-50 foot snow drifts! They were awesome! Make sure to stop and enjoy all the pull-offs and trails. Try to hike the summit trail, too! There are trail patches available in Estes Park if you're a collector.
Growing up in Colorado, Trail Ridge was always one of my families favorite drives. We used to always "cut" through the park to go fishing just because the views were so spectacular (and I think my dad always took a lot of pride in successfully navigating the mini-van along jeep trails.
Returning to Colorado with my kids has allowed me to see this place we frequented so often with a new perspective. Our first trip into the park with the kids brought us to a herd of roughly 40 elk. To see the kids reaction the first time they saw and heard an elk bugle was priceless. Next up, snow. We visited the park in July, but there are several stops along the way where snow can be seen and touched year round. This was the highlight of the trip for the kids. And lastly, the distance you can see that doesn't appear to have ever been touched by man. My three year old was absolutely floored while looking out from the visitor center and not being able to see any houses or buildings. Definitely worth the trip and the $20 admission.
I've been waiting for someone to start reviews of the Rocky Mountain National Park area, so I'll begin with the low-hanging fruit. Trail Ridge Road is, I think, the longest stretch of absolutely (and maybe literally) breathtaking mountain scenery in the world. It's a continuous two-laned paved highway that starts near Estes Park and goes for 50+ miles over to Granby. The road climbs by switchbacks to well above the timberline, passing lakes and countless vistas of mountain ranges and deep valleys. There's almost always visible snowpack up there, close to the road for most of the year. There are almost always elk in the higher elevations, and often deer and bighorn sheep at the lower ends. There are lots of turnouts for looking and picnicking and just breathing in the thin air, and several short (and a few looong) trails for those who want to get away from the highway, but be aware that you'll feel the altitude if you're not acclimated to it. Pit-type toilets are fairly reasonably placed along the road, and there is food available (a bit pricy) at the Alpine Visitor Center, along with souvenirs ranging from cheap noisemakers to fine expensive art and jewelry.
You can enter from either end, of course, and make a long but do-able day trip looping back around on I-70 and I-25 to wherever you started from (but that of course involves a drive through Denver traffic). Driving up or down via Loveland will take you by a lot of grocery stores and fast food, plus lead through the magnificent Big Thompson Canyon. Going via Lyons used to involve less urban landscape (but that's probably not as true as it was 10 years ago), and no canyon. And I suppose you can just turn around and drive over it again, but that's pretty exhausting on the eyeballs. One favorite and little-used trick is to go up Fall River Road from the park up to the Alpine Center (one way, up), and then take the highway back down. It's a shorter loop, but Fall River Road is a narrow, one-way dirt road that I wouldn't recommend if you worry about your car. (We made it easily in a Honda Accord, but an SUV would probably be better.)
The main drawback to this trip is that it's closed all winter because it's impossible to keep the road clear, winter being about October to May (check the website for day-to-day info). Also, if you're a cheapskate, there's a $20 per-carload fee (good for seven days) for entry to the park, but it's well worth it. Traffic is sometimes a problem, between the lookers and the RVs, so don't try it if you're in a hurry. And, if you've never been there before, you'll want to be sure to take plenty of film or a spare memory card or two.
I guarantee that you'll never forget it.