Cycling Trail Ridge, CO, a US Top 10 Most Scenic Bike Climb
Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, traversing Rocky Mountain National Park and offers spectacular views along the giant switchbacks 20 miles below a summit that tops out at a whopping 12,000'. At 43.9 miles, Trail Ridge is also the second longest bike climb in the U.S. and the fifth longest in the world. Visit PJAMM’s Rocky Mountain NP page.
The longer cycling route (least popular but much longer and the one featured on our climb page) begins on Hwy 34 at Dam Store - this is a very long route at 43.9 miles, 7,710’ at 3.1% (Map). Please see Dam Store slideshow for photos of this climb from start to where the standard climb begins just west of Estes Park.
When to climb Trail Ridge by bike: This bike climb tops out above 12,000’ so it is best to do it between June and September. Trail Ridge Road does close during the winter:
“It is open to vehicle traffic roughly from Memorial Day weekend in May through Columbus Day in October. Temporary closings may occur in early June or late fall because of snow. Occasionally it opens earlier in May. Average close date is October 23 (latest close date Dec. 2, 1933) when the Park Service gives up fighting the snow and turns the road back to Mother Nature for the winter. During winter it is closed between Many Parks Curve and the Colorado River Trailhead. Call (970) 586-1222 anytime for the latest Park recording of the status of the road.” RockyMountainNationalPark.com
The best months to ride Trail Ridge are June to September. However, there are never any “guarantees” . . .
Tiemen van Boxtel May 29, 2019 near Forest Canyon Overlook (11,716’)
Marloes Dekkers near Rainbow Curve Overlook ~10,875’ - May 29, 2019
How to climb Trail Ridge by bike: Since the high point of this climb is just over 12,000’ (36% less oxygen there than at sea level) it is best to acclimate to altitude if possible. However, we can say that the two times we climbed Trail Ridge by bike we did so on our first day in Colorado after traveling from nearly sea level in our Sonoma County Northern California home base. We suggest a road bike with compact chainring and at least a 28t cassette. While the average grade for this incredibly long climb is only 2.9%, the crux of the climb is above 10,000’ (the last 10 miles averages 5.5% which seems a lot harder as we approach 11 and then 12,000’).
Start of longer Trail Ridge Route
Start at The Dam Store on Hwy 34 west of Loveland
This route is the 2nd longest bike climb in the US behind the Mauna Loa (longest cycling climb in the world at 62.2 miles v. Trail Ridge at 44) and 5th in the world behind #1 Mauna Loa, #2 Wuling Pass East, #3 Alto de Letras, Colombia (50.5 miles) and #5 Doi Inthanon, Thailand (46.2 miles).
Mauna Loa, Island of Hawaii - longest road bike climb in the world.
The “shorter” (18 miles; map) and more popular route to the high point begins just 3 miles northwest of Estes Park, CO (we recommend staying there as this is a very charming town). Trail Ridge Road is the northernmost Top 100 cycling climb in Colorado, and can easily be included in a Denver-Area Top 100 trip which would additionally include #97 Magnolia Dr (Boulder, CO - 44 miles south) and #11 Mt. Evans(Idaho Springs - 84 miles south). Throw in #5 Pikes Peak for good measure! (Colorado Springs - 147 miles south).
The first 9 miles of the climb are mild, with nice views of meadows and forest surroundings.
Hold out until Glen Haven- excellent fudge and more here at mile 15.4
23 miles to Estes - Claire’s is awesome!
Mile 27 - enter Smoky Mountain NP;
$10 charge to get into the park on a bike . . . but . . .
. . . the park is cycle-friendly.
We turn right at mile onto Trail Ridge Rd which takes us another 12 miles to the summit of this climb.
The views transition to mountains and canyon as we ride the next 7 miles and travel above tree line into more barren surroundings at around mile 16. Altitude is certainly a factor on this ascent as we exceed 12,000' which is rare (only 7 of the Top 100 U.S. climbs are above 12,000').
Some awesome hairpins on this climb - big uns!
* Rainbow Curve Overlook at mile 40 (10,800’);
* Roadway just traveled an part of giant hairpin across the ravine;
* Lower portion of roadway also visible left-center of photo
Top of the climb, but not end of the line!
Continue past the roadway finish/high point to Communities Trailhead which accesses Mushroom Rocks which is THE summit, but ya gotta earn it . . .
Bruce on his way up Mushroom Rocks to the summit . . .
Mission accomplished at 12,300’
The road passes the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (elevation 10,758) which is about 8.9 miles down Trail Ridge Road after cresting the summit of our climb.
Continental Divide Top 100 US Bike Climbs
Wolf Creek Pass (top photo) - southwest CO (Pagosa Springs)
Steepest ¼ mile begins at mile 17.1 (1.5%) and steepest mile at 16.9 (9.7%)
Roadway and Traffic Report: This road is in excellent condition with minimal shoulder, but also light traffic, particularly after turning onto Trail Ridge Road from Hwy 34 at the 5.5 mile mark.