Sunday drives happen every day of the week in Estes Park. The scenery beckons and charming ribbons of highway unfurl around pretty lakes and through fertile meadows at the base of craggy peaks. Some scenic drives push high into the mountains, offering views of the picturesque valley below and revealing how the landscape changes with the elevation. As expected, many of these scenic drives extend into Rocky Mountain National Park, but not all. A few thread through the Estes Valley and don't cost anything more than the gas in your car.
Leading south out of the Estes Park valley, a portion of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway (aka Colorado Highway 7) crests at charming Lily Lake and offers tremendous views of Mount Meeker, Longs Peak and Twin Sisters. You'll pass the stone building of Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel, circa 1935. Locals also refer to it as St. Malo Church or Chapel on the Rock. The road borders Rocky Mountain National Park, past its Wild Basin Entrance and through Allenspark, where Highway 7 cuts east. Although the route veers off the Peak to Peak, eventually connecting with Highway 36 in Lyons, it shows the diverse scenery of the area-from massive rock walls and delicate sandstone spires to bubbling rivers and mountain meadows dotted with elk or deer-before dropping into mountain-fringed Estes Park.
The bulk of Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States, lies within the bounds of Rocky Mountain National Park, but it begins in Estes Park. Pick up Hwy. 36 (aka Moraine Avenue) and follow it west into the national park past Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. You'll pass Deer Mountain and the intersection with Bear Lake Road. At Deer Ridge Junction, pick up Hwy. 34. The route climbs from 7,800 feet to more than 12,000 feet at its highest point. It passes through a variety of habitat, from mountain meadows and woodlands to well above treeline into the alpine tundra. You can turn around at the Alpine Visitor Center or transform the scenic drive into a day-long road trip to Grand Lake, and back. Or, use Trail Ridge road to connect to the three other central scenic byways in the area and complete a 360 mile loop of Northern Colorado.
Because of the elevation gain, Trail Ridge Road is open from Memorial Day until late-September to mid-November, depending on snowfall. Please check the Trail Ridge hotline at 970-586-1222 970-586-1222 for current updates.