It’s not too late. After a drive this past weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park I’d say we were one week early for peak leaf peeping. Many spots in the park including one of my favorite aspen groves in Horseshoe Park are still green but a trip up Old Fall River Road provided plenty of gold patches along mountainsides.
Avoiding Fall Color Congestion
Estes Park, the quaint mountain town at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park has its charm, history and tourist appeal but for some locals like us, it is a hurdle to jump over to get to the park. At popular times of the year, especially on the weekends, driving through Estes Park can feel like you are stuck in a very slow tourist parade. And as you stop and go, your five year old is staring out the window at every taffy, chocolate, candy, ice cream shop and is vehemently expressing her disappointment that every other kid gets to stop and have a treat except her. And the scent of waffle cones wafts through the car.
But this can be avoided. Coming up the Big Thompson Canyon, take the bypass road towards the Fall River Entrance Station. You bypass town and this entrance usually doesn’t have as long of lines. Win, win.
Fall River Road
How have we not taken this road before? That’s the question that kept running through my mind as we climbed the one-way dirt road switchbacks through the beautiful montane and subalpine forest. We glimpsed waterfalls including Chasm Falls and oohed and ahhed over vistas. There is no need to rush up this 11 mile road, take in the beauty, stopping along the way at various pull offs.
Old Fall River Road was the first road up to RMNP’s high country, constructed in 1920. The road follows an old native American hunting route and takes you all the way up to Trail Ridge Road.
Trail Ridge Road
Old Fall River Road ends at the Alpine Ridge Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road. We made the stop here to let the kiddos get out of the car, walk around the interactive displays of history and wildlife. The visitor center deck offers views of the expansive tundra above tree line. No color, but majestic nonetheless. Not a surprise as it is the highest paved through road in the country. We did hit a little traffic jam on the way down, a couple of elk were lounging roadside, exciting park visitors and causing some poor parking choices. Like in the middle the road.
Picnic at Alluvial Fan
We brought a picnic lunch and with no real plan, ended up near Alluvial Fan at the Endovalley picnic area. Next time we will ensure we have a late breakfast so we can wait until 2pm to find a table. At 1pm it was packed and instead of lurking over people’s shoulders ready to slide in, we opted to walk a bit beyond the tables and found a treesy spot with a couple of logs.
Fall Color with Kids
Okay. It’s hard to get kids excited about an extended car ride to see yellow leaves. But if you are prepared with a couple of the usual car trip suspects, it can be enjoyable. Snacks, drinks, magna doodles, breaks and more snacks. It worked for us.