Why they close Trail Ridge Road


I just came across this four-year-old video by Justin Calkins, an Estes Park, Colo., photographer. If you’re a frustrated tourist who didn’t get to drive Trail Ridge Road because it was closed — this shows why. Would you really want to be caught up there in this? And this was on October 13, relatively early in the season. I’m not sure why Calkins was up as high as Rainbow Curve in weather like this, but locals have the advantage of dashing up and down the road on very short notice.

The text at the beginning says Rainbow Curve is at 10,000 feet; the park service actually lists it as 10,829 ft. (Note the sign on the way down says 10,500 ft.) Going on down, the next stop or viewing area is Many Parks Curve at 9,640 ft. The road, when closed, is usually closed there. Below, the town of Estes Park (downtown) is at 7,522 ft.

Calkins notes the road was closed behind him as he exited. I think the car seen going up is a park service car, probably checking to make sure no one else is on the road before closing it at Many Parks Curve.

In September 2011, in notably better weather, I shot the following from Rainbow Curve and published it in “Fall in Colorado: Always colorful, one way or another.” It’s the view Calkins couldn’t see during his October drive.

View from Rainbow Curve
I drove up Trail Ridge Road to my favorite overlook at Rainbow Curve, about a quarter mile past the sign that says “You are now 2 miles above sea level.” Below is the highway I’ve just come up. The golden area is as much the result of a spot of sunlight as the presence of yellow aspen trees. Just to the left of the highway is an area of marshy beaver ponds. The large flat tan area beyond is the meadow or “park” where elk gather this time of year.Tourists come by the hundreds at dusk and park along the road to watch them feed and rut and to listen to their bugling.* The town of Estes Park lies on down the valley on the other side of that lumpy mountain just right of center. (Click photo twice to fully enlarge. You’ll be able to see cars down on the highway.)

5 thoughts on “Why they close Trail Ridge Road

  1. Brrrr… makes me cold just looking at it. Being from northern Indiana, lots of snow was the norm. I remember driving home out in the country through drifts that went over the headlights of my car. Just had to keep the speed constant and plow through. Couldn’t see the road when they were that deep so had to follow the fence line or a power line that ran parallel to the road. Never really had any problems, never got stuck and needed pulled out.

    However…. Indiana is flat. Flat, flat, flat. You put that kind of snow on steep mountain roads and you’ve got a “No way am I driving that! Are you trying to commit suicide?” type of drive.

    After I moved here, I first lived in the East Mountains just outside of ABQ. Shortly after moving there, we had a small amount of snow (1″-3″) and the news was carrying on about being careful, “these” and “those” roads closed, school delayed, etc. Of course my cocky self snorted it off with a big “hmmph” and proceeded to leave and head into the city. Very quickly I came to find out why they put out all those warnings and school delay. When I went through a section on the interstate that is narrow and very winding, I thought I was going to mess my pants. Just one little miscalculated twitch to the front tires could easily put me in a spin.

    So I prefer to stay in when it snows here.

    1. Oh I stay in too. One of the biggest, best things about being retired is not having to brave treacherous or even just questionable driving weather. I just don’t go out if I have any doubts about the roads. And you’re so right, there’s a huge difference between a questionable flat road and a questionable hilly, curvy one.

  2. I drove narrow unsalted and unsanded roads in Switzerland, often with steep dropoffs. Luckily I never came to harm, but I would not attempt such a thing today.

... and that's my two cents