When Old Fall River Road closes to cars for the season, it opens to cyclists and hikers – with their dogs!
In 1920, Old Fall River Road opened as the first road in Rocky Mountain National Park offering cars access to the high country. The gravel road leads one-way uphill, switchbacking from Horseshoe Park to Old Fall River Pass and the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet. The road follows a route traveled by Native American hunters who visited what is now the National Park because of abundant game. The road reaches grades nearing 16%, meaning early cars had to climb the hill in reverse, due to gravity-fed fuel systems and weaker engines. Though Trail Ridge Road get’s most of the attention, Old Fall River Road offers amazing vistas of the Estes Valley, and even a beautiful waterfall along the way, truly making it the “Other Scenic Route” in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Given the amount of snowfall the park sees, Fall River Road is a seasonal deal, only open in the summer–sorta. Old Fall River generally opens to uphill automobile traffic around the 4th of July and closes in the fall, (October 1 in 2018). Then, after a short total-closure for annual maintenance, the road opens for a locals-favorite, almost-secret season of access starting October 6 this year and running through November 30th.
This “secret season” opens up the road for adventuresome people-powered pursuits. Local mountain biker and Visit Estes Park staffer Kevin Benes says “Old Fall River is a beast of a climb, but it’s also the best mountain bike descent I’ve ever done—nine continuous miles of alpine awesomeness.” That gravelly, nine miles drops 4,000 feet through amazing scenery and perfectly-shaped switchbacks perfect for mountain bikes and gravel grinders. According to Kevin it’s doable on a road-bike, but definitely not ideal. Check out Kevin’s 5 Cycling Routes for more pedaling around Estes Park!
However, it’s not all about the biking. Old Fall River Road’s secret season is also a great time to hike with your pup. Dogs, or any pets for that matter (including that adventure cat riding atop your backpack), are not allowed on any trails in Rocky Mountain National Park—but roads are fair game. Old Fall River Road holds its “road” designation in the national park throughout this time until it reverts to trail status for the winter (December 1 in 2018), which is when you can snowshoe or ski the road to your hearts content (sans pets). Old Fall River Road becomes a road again on April 1, 2019. No joke!