Nothing quite says summer in Rocky Mountain National Park like a drive across Trail Ridge Road. Once the road opens up for the season, It’s on the to do list of most visitors to Rocky and the road itself is considered to be one of the icons of the park. Trail Ridge Road which is the highest continuous paved road in the continental United States is the highlight for many visitors to the park.
The winding, curving roadway not only gives visitors and photographers spectacular views of the mountains but also lets one experience the harsh but beautiful world that survives above tree line. Topping out at 12,183 ft above sea level, a good eleven miles of the road runs above or near tree line which in Rocky Mountain National Park occurs around 11,500 ft. Trail Ridge Road with its steep drop offs lack of guardrails and shoulders can turn even the best drivers into white knuckle drivers who end up gripping the steering wheel like their trying to squeeze juice from an orange.
So while I generally prefer to be out on a trail when heading out to photograph the park, the short window that Trail Ridge Road is open each season makes spending time traveling the road each summer a priority. July in particular is a great time to explore Trail Ridge Road. The alpine tundra will have turned green, much of the snow will have melted and wildflowers will sprouting and growing on the tundra and between the rocks.
I spent a few days last week on Trail Ridge Road and was lucky enough to catch two stunning sunrises. Rocky Mountain National Park has been pestered by smoke from fires in the far north of Canada the last week. With the weather pattern changing and the winds shifting to a more southerly and westerly direction, the smoke from the Canadian fires quickly was moved out of the park. Wildflowers are blooming all over the tundra and the alpine sunflowers are growing the thickest I’ve seen them in the last 10 years or so.
The conditions right now on Trail Ridge are great. Plenty of green, plenty of wildflowers, still some good snow cover on the highest peaks. Many of the Elk have migrated above tree line from the valley’s below so there is plenty of large wildlife to observe. So enjoy Trail Ridge while it’s open, accessible as beautiful as it will be all season.