So can you “do” a road? In this case you can — and should. Highway 7 is not just another scenic drive.
Highway 7 out of Lyons, Colorado (map) takes you briefly south before turning back north and west to drop you, eventually, in Estes Park. This slight detour is definitely worth it: along the way there are a handful of stops that will upgrade your trip to Estes from simply a drive to part of the trip itself.
Staff note: Highway 36 will be closed to traffic for 30 days starting March 9, 2020 — read on for ideas on how to make the extra 20 minutes added to your drive worth your while. Find more information on the closure here.
If you’re a mountain biker
One of the harder mountain bike trails in this part of the state, Hall Ranch/Bitterbrush Trail, has a trailhead just off the highway and a short drive on old St. Vrain Road brings intermediate riders to Heil Valley, an easier although no less scenic, trail that trades the challenging rock formations for single track that passes an old quarry and at least one abandoned automobile from that era.
If you’re a hiker
Check out Hall Ranch or Heil Valley — they’re good on two feet as well as two wheels — but keep an eye out for bicycles since they are well known biking trails. If sharing the trail with mountain bikers cramps your style then plan your hiking stop for either the Wild Basin or Longs Peak Trailheads leading into Rocky Mountain National Park. These two national park entrances are significantly smaller than Beaver Meadows and Fall River (read: very limited parking, fewer trail options) so plan ahead accordingly.
There are no services at these trailheads, or along the way, so be sure to bring enough water and season-appropriate equipment with you.
Local’s tip: if you do find yourself without water, check out this local spring where you can fill up (the water is free but please consider leaving a donation). Be sure to bring your own water bottle; this location is simply a running spring – there are no bottles for sale.
If you’re a walker
A flat, paved path encircles Lily Lake and affords views of Longs Peak, Lily Mountain and Twin Sisters Peak. Even if you’re less of a walker and more of a… anything else, really… a stop here is certainly recommended, if only to stretch your legs a bit before dropping down into Estes Park.
If you’re into scenic overlooks
Okay, who’s not into scenic overlooks? Make sure not to miss two of our favorites, the first (between mile markers 16 & 17) looks into the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park, and the second (between mile markers 8 & 9) provides the most up-close and personal view of Longs Peak you’ll get without having to leave the highway.
If you’re some combination of all of the above
Create your own itinerary and spend the day along Highway 7 — it’s easy to do!
Depending on the time of year, snow and general weather may impact your willingness to get out and explore along the way. Make sure to check local weather forecasts and snow reports ahead of your journey and use this packing guide to decide what to include in your pack. Check out this Highway 7 map and business description brochure for ideas on where to fuel up once you get into Estes Park.
Starting March 9 US Highway 36 will be closed to traffic for 30 days to allow flood recovery and mitigation work to be completed. This is the final flood recovery project planned following Colorado's flood disaster of 2013. The project entails installing drainage structures beneath the highway to return the Little Thompson River to its natural flow path, which will minimize erosion and highway closures should another flood occur.