ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, COLORADO – Trail Ridge Road, one of the iconic drives in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), has officially closed for the season as of today, Wednesday, October 18, 2023. As winter approaches, seasonal closures of certain roads and trails are not uncommon in the park. However, the closing of Trail Ridge Road marks a significant turning point, indicating the onset of harsher weather conditions in the higher altitudes of RMNP.
The decision to close the road comes as a necessary safety precaution. With 11 miles of its stretch soaring above 11,500 feet, the road is particularly vulnerable to adverse winter conditions such as drifting snow, high winds, and below-freezing temperatures, especially at elevations above 10,000 feet. Additionally, the road is not designed for all-season travel, lacking features like guard rails and shoulders that might make it safer for winter transit. The closure points for Trail Ridge Road are at Many Parks Curve on the park’s east side and at the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side. Although these closure points may fluctuate throughout the fall, the road will remain closed to through travel for the season.
Visitors of the park should note that several other driving destinations remain open for exploration and recreation. These include Bear Lake Road, Moraine Park, and Horseshoe Park on the east side of RMNP, as well as a section of Trail Ridge Road along the Kawuneeche Valley on the west side.
This year, Trail Ridge Road initially opened on May 26, adhering to its usual schedule of opening in the last week of May, weather permitting. It will likely follow a similar timetable for reopening next year.
In related news, Old Fall River Road, another scenic route in the park, closed for the season to vehicles on October 3. However, both Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road will remain open to bicycles, hikers, and individuals walking leashed pets until November 30. Starting December 1, these roads will shift to “winter trail status,” prohibiting bicycles and leashed pets beyond the closed gates but still allowing for pedestrians, snowshoers, and skiers.
Winter Safety Tips for RMNP
As the winter season takes hold in the Colorado mountains, ensuring your safety during visits to places like Rocky Mountain National Park becomes increasingly important. While the beauty of snow-covered peaks and frozen lakes may be awe-inspiring, the harsh conditions pose various risks that should not be underestimated. Here are some winter safety tips to consider when planning your mountainous excursions:
Check the Weather Forecast: Always check the weather conditions before heading out. Sudden storms can make roads impassable and put you at risk.
Gear Up: Make sure to wear layers of moisture-wicking clothing, a waterproof outer layer, and appropriate boots and gloves. Pack extra blankets, food, and water in your vehicle.
Road Awareness: If you’re driving, make sure your vehicle is winter-ready with snow tires, antifreeze, and an emergency kit. Stay updated on road closures and conditions.
Communicate Your Plans: Always let someone know your itinerary and when you expect to return. This can be invaluable in case of an emergency.
Pack a Survival Kit: In addition to standard hiking gear, pack a whistle, compass, extra food, and a first-aid kit. A portable phone charger can also be a lifesaver.
Know Your Limits: High elevations and strenuous activities can be much more demanding in winter. Understand your physical limits and don’t push beyond them.
Avoid Off-Trail Excursions: Stick to well-used and marked trails. In winter, the risks of getting lost or encountering dangerous wildlife increase.
Stay Hydrated: The dry mountain air combined with physical exertion can quickly lead to dehydration. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids.
Watch for Signs of Hypothermia: Shivering, confusion, and loss of coordination are early signs. If you or anyone in your group starts showing these symptoms, seek immediate shelter and medical attention.
Check Avalanche Forecasts: Before embarking on backcountry adventures, check local avalanche forecasts and consider carrying avalanche safety gear like a beacon, probe, and shovel.
By taking these precautions, you can greatly minimize risks and ensure that your winter visits to Colorado’s mountain parks are not only breathtaking but also safe.