Trail Ridge Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

Trail Ridge

CO, USA

Biking Trail Ridge Road: A Beautiful Colorado Climb Into Rocky Mountain National Park

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Climb Summary


Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - cyclist riding on curved portion of two-lane road surrounded by greenery, mountains in background

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Colorado

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 offering 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 Cycling’s Rocky Mountain National Park page for more information on climbs in this area.

John Johnson PJAMM Cycling with bike at high point of Trail Ridge bike climb

The longer cycling route, which is the less popular version and the one featured on our climb page, begins on Highway 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 the start to where the standard climb begins just west of Estes Park.  

Fragile World sign on bike climb up Trail Ridge

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”  (Rocky Mountain National Park).  

Though we’d say that the best months to ride Trail Ridge are June to September, there are never any “guarantees” . . .

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, cyclist standing and riding on wet road with extremely tall snow walls on either side

Left photo:  Marloes Dekkers near Rainbow Curve Overlook ~10,875’ -- May 29, 2019

Right photo: Tiemen van Boxtel near Forest Canyon Overlook, ~11,716’ -- 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 average 5.5%, which seems a lot harder as we approach 11 and 12,000 feet of altitude).

Start of Longer Trail Ridge Route:

Beginning of Trail Ridge bicycle climb - Dam Store Hwy 34, Loveland 
Colorado

Start at The Dam Store on Highway 34 west of Loveland.

Ride 31 miles and turn right onto Trail Ridge Road for the final 23 miles.

This route is the second  longest bike climb in the US, behind the Mauna Loa (longest cycling climb in the world at 62.2 miles) and fifth 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 - longest bike climb in the world 

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 three miles northwest of Estes Park, Colorado.  We recommend staying in Estes --  it 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, Colorado - 44 miles south) and #11 Mt. Evans (Idaho Springs - 84 miles south). You cold also throw in #5 Pikes Peak for good measure (Colorado Springs - 147 miles south).


​The first nine miles of the climb are mild,

with nice views of meadows and forest surroundings. 

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, signs for Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake, Overlook Ranch Estes Park, Entering Big Thompson Canyon, views along the roadway of rock formations

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, inside and outside of Glen Haven General Store

Hold out until Glen Haven -- excellent fudge and more here at mile 15.4.

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - large light up construction signs reminding drivers to 'WATCH FOR CYCLISTS'

The highway is busy, but motorists are certainly alerted to our presence.

Claire's Place in Estes - sign and front of restaurant

23 miles to Estes -- Claire’s Restaurant is awesome!

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, inside the Fall River Visitor Center

The Fall River Visitor Center is located just before the Fall River entrance to the park.

There is a store and restaurant next door to the Visitor Center.

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, toll booth to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, Fall River Entrance 

Mile 27 -- enter Rocky Mountain National Park;

As of 2020, there is a $15 charge to get into the park on a bike,  but . . .

 

   Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, NPS signs reminding visitors that "This is a Protected Area" and "It is Illegal to Feed or Approach Wildlife", climb map and gradient profile

. . .  the park is cycle-friendly and environmentally sensitive.

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, bike parked at various viewpoints miles within entrance point to park, long stretch of road surrounded by evergreen trees, open valley with golden grass, small pond, mountains, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Scenes within the first few miles of entering the park.

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, signs near park entrance and within the park, including Highway 34 sign, Estes Park City Limit sign, etc., PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Signs near and just inside the park (enter park at mile 27).

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, viewpoint at mile 30, Horseshoe Park, bike parked against informational sign, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

First viewpoint at mile 30.

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, Mary Parks Curve Overlook at mile 35, bike parked along craggy rock overlooking mountains in distance, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Mary Parks Curve Overlook at mile 35 (elevation 9,700’).

We turn right at mile 31 (staying on Highway 34), which is where Trail Ridge Road begins and takes us another 12.7 miles to the summit of this climb (gaining 3,305’ at 4.7% average grade).

The views transition to mountains and canyon as we ride the next seven 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 seven of the Top 100 U.S. climbs are above 12,000').

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - Garmin device showing overview of hairpins along the climb

Some awesome hairpins on this climb - big ‘uns!

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, sign for Rainbow Curve overlook, informational signs, bike parked against low stone retaining wall overlooking mountains in distance, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

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.

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - aerial view of the 3.2 mile loop from Rainbow Curve

The giant 3.2 mile loop that ends at Rainbow Curve.

  Garmin 1000 elevation at top of Trail Ridge bike climb

Top of the climb, but not end of the line!

Continue past the roadway finish/high point to Communities Trailhead which accesses Mushroom Rocks, THE summit, but ya gotta earn it . . .

Bruce Hamilton hiking to high point of Trail Ridge

Bruce on his way up Mushroom Rocks to the summit . . .

Cyclist holding bike over head at high point of Trail Ridge bike ridge Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

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 sign on Trail Ridge   

  Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - Continental Divide sign 

Continental Divide Top 100 US Bike Climbs:

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - Continental Divide signs at Independence Pass, Cottonwood Pass, and Wolf Creek Pass

Wolf Creek Pass (top photo) -- southwest Colorado (Pagosa Springs);

Independence Pass -- central Colorado (Aspen);
Cottonwood Pass -- central Colorado (Buena Vista).

Steepest ¼ mile begins at mile 17.1 (1.5%) and steepest mile at 16.9 (9.7%).

Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: This road is in excellent condition with minimal shoulder, but also light traffic, particularly after turning onto Trail Ridge Road from Highway 34 at the 5.5 mile mark. ​

Due to the pandemic, the park required and was out of permits on the day in July 2020 we visited.  The gate attendant told us to backtrack five miles to Estes Park and park in a parking lot there.  However, the ranger in charge of the Visitor Center let us park the van in back, for a price!! . . . 🍦

Cycling Trail Ridge Road, Estes Park, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bribing park ranger with ice cream so that PJAMM Cycling could park SAG van in parking lot

The ice cream story: center photo -- our parking spot;

Upper left and upper center photo:  the market where we obtained our parking fee.

Upper right: Visitor Center;  Lower right and center: payment made.

Bottom left: well, just because . . . 😉