If you are lucky you’ll find the time to ride your road bike over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) before it opens to summer traffic. This has to be one of my favorite all time rides but work, weather, and life in general can sometimes get in the way of accomplishing this ride. I made it happen this year and already I have a summer highlight for the memory books.
Last year snow moved in during my window of opportunity and once the National Park Service (NPS) had plowed the road back through cars, trucks, and campers were making their way across Trail Ridge. I really wouldn’t ride my bike over Trail Ridge with it open to cars unless I really had to. However, when Trail Ridge has been plowed open and the gates are still closed I really feel that I have to ride my bike over this awesome road.
The beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park cannot be overstated. It is drop-dead-in-your-tracks gorgeous and from the seat of your bike you practically have the entire Park to yourself. The interesting thing is looking at 360° of amazing beauty while keeping your bike from weaving to and fro and maintaining some kind of pedaling efficiency. That is the hard part.
The easy part is picking your highest gear and grinding out this climb and working your way from about 9,000 feet to 12,183′. It’s May. I don’t have that many miles under my tires and where did all the oxygen go?
Winding your way up the west side of Trail Ridge through the lower 5 switchback is pretty cool with waterfalls providing the sound track and tall thick pines providing shade. Every once in a while you get a glimpse of the tundra far above and you realize that is where you’re headed. Oh, man. Please, weather, please hold…
One of my favorite signs is an elevation sign that reads “10, 560′ – You are two miles above sea level.” Thanks for that. Next up is the Continental Divide at 10,759′. Next up is Medicine Bow Curve with its Top-of-the-World views but there is more climbing to come. Next is the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796′. Watch out at the Gore Range Overlook. This year the winds pushed me backwards a couple steps when I stopped to put on a hat and my gloves.
Somewhere between Gore Range Overlook and Tundra Curves is the high point at 12,183′. The cross winds played havoc with me on this ride. I could barely keep my bike upright getting blown from the right to the left. As soon as that gust stopped the cross winds blew from the left to right. Counter balancing this wind machine had me gripped and riding super slow. I rode a bit further to the Rock Cut and with a few skiffs of snow blowing in the clouds and the nasty winds I figured that was good enough for this ride and started my long way back down.
When I started at the Timber Creek Trailhead it was sunny and warm and I couldn’t decide what to wear or take with me. I did stash an extra layer for my top, my hat, gloves, and arm warmers. I used everything I took except the arm warmers. My other layers on my torso and shell jacket gave me the warmth and wind protection I needed for the nasty cross winds on top and the 30mph downhill ride.
If you do ride Trail Ridge Road before it officially opens to cars you do need to be aware of RMNP maintenance vehicles. They are up there but they are far and few between. You do need to be aware of the yellow center line and don’t cross it on the ascent or descent. Be prepared for fast changing weather and road conditions. One year I did this ride and got down right before a major snowstorm blew in and closed the road… fyi.
Mark your calendar. Replace your worn out road tires, grab a spare tube, your helmet, and warm layers, and don’t forget to make this ride happen for yourself next year. Trail Ridge opened to vehicles on May 25 this year.