If you look on a map, you can trace the winding route of US Highway 34 from Estes Park to Grand Lake, Colorado. What you won’t be able to tell in two dimensions is the towering steepness of this “Highway to the Sky.” Also, known as the Trail Ridge, the 48-mile route has been called the All-American Road because the sheer beauty of this journey makes it a tourist destination in its own right.As the highest continually-paved road in the nation, 11 miles of the route are above the tree line, flirting with the clouds. In fact, the elevation is so high that it takes 42 days just to plow the snow off the road before it can open in late May. Just below where the trees begin to disappear, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and bobcats make their home. While farther down the mountain are more common animal sightings of elk, moose, marmots and pikas, adorable creatures that look like small rabbits.
If a trip to the Rockies is in your travel plans, make sure to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park and what is, undoubtedly, one of the country’s most scenic highways. Here are some tips for making the most of your drive along the Highway to the Sky:
Timing Is Everything -- The summer months welcome many visitors to the park. Your best bet for avoiding the crowds and the traffic slowdowns is to arrive early in the day or late afternoon. Not only will save yourself some time, you’ll also enjoy the beautiful glow of the sun rising over the mountain peaks or dipping below the horizon.
Picnic In The Clouds -- If you’re setting off from Estes Park, grab some sandwiches from a deli. You can enjoy your brown-bag meal later in the day at a picnic spot with a panoramic view.
Altitude Awareness -- Be aware that you’ll climb more than 4,000 feet in just the first few minutes of the drive. Avoid altitude sickness by drinking plenty of water before, and during, the day. Chewing gum will also help your ears adjust to the pressure.
Mid-Way Stop -- About halfway through the drive, you’ll arrive at the Alpine Visitors Center at Falls River Pass. Take a few minutes to use the facilities, visit the gift shop or hike the short trail to the overlook. From this vantage point, you’ll be able to see the towering peaks and sweeping valleys that were carved by ancient glaciers.
Photo Bomb -- Make sure to stop at Milner Pass for jaw-dropping photos of the Continental Divide. It’s said that when it rains, the water to the west of the split makes its way to the Pacific and the water to the east eventually spills into the Gulf of Mexico.
Layer Up -- The temperatures above the trees can be 20- to 30-degrees colder than at the start of the drive. Make sure to bring along a light jacket or sweater for the chill.
You can travel this magnificent drive on YMT Vacations’ Rocky Mountains & Black Hills National Parks Tour. This 14-day itinerary takes you from Mount Rushmore to Little Big Horn, from Old Faithful to the Grand Tetons. To make your plans to join the journey, call your travel consultant or YMT Vacations at 1-888-756-9072.