Fall River Pass, Rocky Mountain National Park

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Fall River Road ends at the parking lot of the Alpine Visitor Center. After a long, slow drive up the back road, this is a great place to stop and stretch your legs. While Fall River Road ends here, the original trail it followed, doesn’t. You can continue following the old path across the park on foot, from Fall River Pass all the way to Milner Pass, at the Continental Divide.

Fall River Pass, Alpine Visitor's Center, RMNP

The parking lot at the visitor’s center also serves as the trailhead for the short climb up the Alpine Ridge Trail. You’ll gain about 200 feet…

Fall River Pass, Alpine Visitor's Center, RMNP

… before you reach the highest point along the trail, at 12,005 feet. Keep in mind, that 200 foot vertical climb is extra strenuous at this altitude.

Fall River Pass, Highest Road, Rocky Mountain National Park

From the trail’s high point, you’ll have a great view of Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the nation (unlike Mt. Evans Road, which is higher, but dead-ends at the top). The actual highest point on the road is perhaps a half-mile beyond the curve pictured above. While it is marked on the official park map, I did not see any signs along the road.

Panorama, Alpine Ridge Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

The Alpine Ridge Trail continues past the high point, for a short distance down the other side of the hill. When you reach the end, you’ll be treated to this incredible panorama. In the distance, you can see Wyoming.

Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

You may also be lucky enough to see a herd of elk on the grassy tundra, perhaps 1/4 mile past the end of the trail. While the Alpine Ridge Trail doesn’t take you any closer to these animals, a trail from Medicine Bow Curve does.

Elk at Medicine Bow Curve

Elk, Medicine Bow Curve, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

Just a short distance from the Alpine Visitor’s Center (downhill, or west), you should find enough room to park at Medicine Bow Curve. A short walk will take you to this sloped, grassy land, which often serves as grazing grounds for a herd of elk.

Elk, Medicine Bow Curve, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

A narrow dirt trail allows you to walk out into the middle of the herd. The elk will probably ignore you as you snap a few pictures.

Elk, Medicine Bow Curve, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

Elk, Medicine Bow Curve, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

Bighorn Sheep

By choosing to enter the park via Fall River Road, I missed some attractions along Trail Ridge Road. So, I decided to head east for a few miles, before making a U-turn.

Bighorn Sheep, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

It’s not always easy to spot wildlife roaming the tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park. The animals are good at blending in with the scenery. But there is one easy way to find them: look for crowds of people gathered at the side of the road. I probably wouldn’t have spotted these bighorn sheep, if not for the line of cars stopped near Iceberg Pass.

Bighorn Sheep, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

Male bighorn sheep are known for using their round horns to butt heads.  I spent perhaps 10 minutes watching this herd, and only saw one such clash.  They spent the rest of their time getting along, and ignoring the humans that were just a few hundred feet away.

Bighorn Sheep, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)

Note: This trip was first published in 2005.

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