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Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

Bendigo, Australia
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6 posts
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Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

Hi

We will be travelling by hire car from Denver via Nederland to Estes Park in late June. We won't be leaving Denver till early afternoon due to a morning tour of Red Rock Amphitheater. My question is should we drive the Trail Ridge road in the late afternoon or leave it to the following morning? We have no problem getting up early. Should we also try and fit in Bear Lake trailhead? We only have 1 night in Estes Park, heading to Hot Springs the next day.

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Denver
Denver
Colorado
Estes Park
Estes Park
Colorado
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road
3,018 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Bear Lake Trailhead
Bear Lake Trailhead
340 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
8 replies to this topic
Fort Collins...
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1. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

My favorite time up on Trail Ridge is later in the day when things are a bit quieter and most people have headed back to town for dinner. It's much more peaceful then than in the 9am-4pm timeframe when everyone is up there. Sunset is really amazing up there! If you're ok with early morning, getting up to the top before 8am is usually best because the RVs and crowds aren't up there yet.

Bear Lake is a zoo, you'll likely have to take a shuttle bus to get into this area if you're there in the afternoon. If you're just wanting to see a pretty alpine lake and you aren't planning to hike or anything, I would go to Sprague Lake and walk the trail around the lake and then head up towards Trail Ridge Rd in the late afternoon/early evening. Just my 2 cents!

Edited: 04 June 2018, 09:07
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Bear Lake
Bear Lake
1,458 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake
299 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Bendigo, Australia
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6 posts
12 reviews
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2. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

oh thank you for your suggestion, sprague lake looks beautiful!

Windsor, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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12,229 posts
135 reviews
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3. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

If you are driving the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, you will pass RMNP Lily Lake as well.

Depending on which Hot Springs you plan to visit after Estes Park, I would wait until early the next morning to both drive and explore Trail Ridge Road especially if that can be done on your way to your next destination. Trail Ridge Road is much more than just a drive, and the road does not end at the Alpine Visitor Center. It goes all the way to Grand Lake. It will add 2 hours to your driving time just to stop for the many overlooks along Trail Ridge Road. If you want to hike some of the many short trails along Trail Ridge Road, you will need more time. You will not have time to drive and explore all of Trail Ridge Road in the late afternoon and toward sunset.

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Lily Lake
Lily Lake
298 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Estes Park
Estes Park
Colorado
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road
3,018 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Alpine Visitor Center
Alpine Visitor Center
459 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Grand Lake
Grand Lake
Grand County, CO
Bendigo, Australia
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12 reviews
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4. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

Thank you for taking the time to reply, it is greatly appreciated!

Wichita, Kansas
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5. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

My favorite time to drive TRR is late afternoon / early evening. Fewer cars and more wildlife. Brief thunderstorms often pop up in the afternoon, so heading up after the rain is a great time to do it. The only issue you might have is that if you are already doing the scenic drive from Nederland that morning, also doing TRR in the afternoon is a lot of mountain driving in one day. Mountain driving takes longer and can be uncomfortable for anyone with even slight motion sickness.

You absolutely should do a hike in Bear Lake area while you are there. If you hit the trailhead early, by 7am, you’ll have no problem whatsoever with crowds of parking. Please return here to update your thread on whether you thought crowds were an issue (if you start early, I highly doubt it).

If you can only do 1 hike, do either Emerald Lake from the Bear Lake TH (short and moderate) or if you’re more fit and adventurous, do Timberline Falls from the Glacier Gorge TH in the same area.

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Bear Lake
Bear Lake
1,458 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Windsor, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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135 reviews
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6. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

If you just drive all of Trail Ridge Road over to Grand Lake and back to Estes Park, that will take about 3.5 hours without any stops. When you add time for overlooks, allow 5.5 hours. Sunset in late June is around 8:30 pm. You can judge whether or not you have time for Trail Ridge Road before sunset depending on what time your arrive in the afternoon in Estes Park. Here is the route from Estes Park over Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake and back.

https://goo.gl/maps/gsJ2VSPhtxq

If you only want to drive part of Trail Ridge Road before turning around, go at least as far as Lake Irene.

At times the frequent afternoon thunderstorms leave a moisture haze that obscures the views along Trail Ridge Road. Once the storm blows through and the air dries, the views will return sometimes even within an hour.

Edited: 05 June 2018, 20:17
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Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road
3,018 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Grand Lake
Grand Lake
Grand County, CO
Estes Park
Estes Park
Colorado
Windsor, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
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135 reviews
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7. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

No one commented on this topic that the Bear Lake Trailhead was crowded at 7 am in the morning. Rebecki14 commented that Bear Lake Trailhead would be crowded in the afternoon. By later afternoon - 3 pm or later, parking at the Bear Lake Trailhead usually starts to open back up especially during the week as opposed to a weekend.

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Bear Lake Trailhead
Bear Lake Trailhead
340 Reviews
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Bendigo, Australia
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12 reviews
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8. Re: Denver to Estes Park and Trail Ridge

Thank you all for your thoughts. I think we will see how everyone is travelling after the trip from Denver to Estes Park and if everyone is ok, we will continue to the trail ridge road and maybe take a picnic tea with us and watch the sunset. If not, a hike around one of the lakes mentioned above and the trail ridge road early the next morning. We don't have to be at Hot Springs SD the next day for anything, it's just an overnight stop before tackling Wind caves NP and Mt Rushmore area. Thanks again, greatly appreciate your thoughts.

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Denver
Denver
Colorado
Estes Park
Estes Park
Colorado
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