Rocky Mountains Colorado Vacation ~ Continental Divide ~ Fall River Road with Pictures

Scenery near Estes Park, Colorado

Our journey started down near Estes Park.
Our journey started down near Estes Park. | Source

Continental Divide in Colorado


As a part of my mother's and my Rocky Mountains vacation spent in the breathtakingly scenic State of Colorado one year, we decided to traverse the Continental Divide in two different ways. This time we would see it by taking the Old Fall River Road.

We had already taken the Trail Ridge Road...one of the highest continuous paved roads in all of the United States and this is probably the most usual way that visitors to this part of the country take in this spectacular scenery.

We were about to end our stay in Estes Park and move our location to the other side of the Rockies to Grand Lake, so did not want to repeat the trip already taken.

Fortunately there was another way and it consisted of the first motor route to cross the Rocky Mountains built back in the years from 1913 to 1920.

Be forewarned...it is not for those who are in a hurry, nor for the fool-hearty!




Estes Park, Colorado

A markerEstes Park -
Estes Park, CO, USA
[get directions]

Elk in the meadow near Estes Park

Notice the herd of elk in the meadow.
Notice the herd of elk in the meadow. | Source

Rocky Mountain Travel


We were once again in the Rocky Mountain National Park as we were headed towards the Old Fall River Road which would be our route over the mountains this time up to the Alpine Visitor Center.

The day was bright and sunny and we caught glimpses of wild animals such as the large deer (or probably elk) that had come out of the woods and into the open pasture such as shown in the picture to the right.

While we stopped the car to get a picture of the elk, a large and inquisitive black and white bird posed for its picture on the car's side mirror. He seemed as curious to look us over as we were him!

Driving through some aspens

Driving through some aspens.
Driving through some aspens. | Source
Rock Mountain Flora (Colorado Mountain Club Field Guide)
Rock Mountain Flora (Colorado Mountain Club Field Guide)

It is fun to be able to identify plants and trees (like these aspen trees we got to see) when in a new location.

 

Aspen Trees


Seen throughout most of North America, aspen trees are always a delight to see, particularly in the fall of the year when their leaves turn a glorious golden yellow color before falling to the ground for the winter.

The aspen bark is white and makes a dramatic and artistic counterpoint to the evergreen trees.

When seen in groves such as the one we drove through, it is a pretty site to behold.

Since it was in the summer at the time of our visit, the leaves were still green but the bark sets them apart from most other trees and we made a stop to take a picture.


Chasm Falls / Rocky Mountain National Park

Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls | Source

Scenery along Old Fall River Road

Scenery along Old Fall River Road
Scenery along Old Fall River Road | Source
Old Fall River Road...one way dirt road over the Rockies.
Old Fall River Road...one way dirt road over the Rockies. | Source

Old Fall River Road

As my mother and I started the upward trek on what would eventually become an old narrow dirt road, we thought that the name given this historic highway was appropriate.

We would see many different waterfalls at different points along the road which closely follows the path of the Fall River.

Construction of this early road over the Continental Divide was done slowly using shovels and other hand tools in the beginning.

Colorado State prison inmate's labor was utilized when this road building process began in 1913 and was finished seven years later.

It followed a path called the Dog's Trail utilized by Native Arapaho Indians long before the west was settled.

The Indians utilized their dogs to pull sleds made by securing poles together with animal hides to transport things and people over the Rockies in this area.

Long before the Native Americans began using this trail, glaciers had sculpted this area over time since the uplift of the Rockies had taken place millions of years prior.

The Fall River Road today appears much as it did upon completion with the exception that it has been made into a one way road ever since the paved Trail Ridge Road was completed in 1932. The bottom third of it is paved but then turns into a graded and narrow dirt road that twists and turns its way up the mountain.

One should also follow the precautions of using the lower gears of one's vehicle and not to use air-conditioning as this could cause one's car to overheat.

No vehicle over 25 feet is allowed due to the narrowness of the road.

While the Fall River Road is only 9 miles in length, the hairpin curves and drop-offs as well as elevation changes demand strict attention from the drivers and also mandates a leisurely pace.

At every mile there is a post and one can stop to read about what one is viewing as well as some of the geology and history of this area making this a particularly interesting way to traverse the Rockies from east to west.

Sensational Chasm Waterfall...

Old Fall River Road scenery

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Ecosystems


The Old Fall River Road takes one through different ecosystems as one ascends the Rocky Mountains in this part of Colorado.


Down at lower elevations we were traveling through what is called the Montane Ecosystem.


Starting at around 5,500 feet (1,700 m.) to about 9,500 ft. ( 2,900 m.) in elevation we passed through meadows, those aspen trees and many different pine trees.


It was here that we saw the Chasm Falls.


The Sub-alpine Ecosystem goes from around 9,000 ft. (2,750 m.) to about 11,000 to 12,000 ft. (3,350 to 3,650 m.) or at what is called the treeline.


There is no exact delineation between ecosystems and depending upon sun exposure or other conditions, these can vary a bit.


In this Subalpine ecosystem we saw spruce trees and others that can grow quite large.



This was also an area where we viewed many different creeks and waterfalls.


In some of the meadows, elk and deer were spotted.



Along some of this dirt road cages of rocks called gabions have been constructed to keep the hillsides intact and to help prevent landslides.


Driving up the Old Fall River Road...

Traveling the old Fall River Road

Traveling the old Fall River Road in the Sub-alpine ecosystem.
Traveling the old Fall River Road in the Sub-alpine ecosystem. | Source
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Alpine Vistor's Center in far distance at the top of the crest.
Alpine Vistor's Center in far distance at the top of the crest. | Source
Closer view of Alpine Visitor's Center in the distance.
Closer view of Alpine Visitor's Center in the distance. | Source


As you view the pictures below just imagine traveling this road when it was still two way!


As one nears the upper limits of the Sub-alpine ecosystem the trees become shorter and grow in a twisted and gnarly shape. The word for this is Krummholz which in German means "crooked wood."


It is the transition between the sub-alpine and alpine ecosystems.


From a distance we could see the Alpine Visitor's Center which we had visited earlier on our Trail Ridge Road drive.


The Alpine Tundra ecosystem is land that lies above any living trees but it does bear life. Conditions may be harsh but plant-life still exists and the wildflowers in the summer make for a colorful landscape.


One should be careful if walking on tundra as it takes years for plants to re-establish themselves if harmed by careless foot steps! If paths are provided, please stay on the paths so that future generations of visitors can enjoy this unique beauty.

Traveling in the Alpine ecosystem on the Old Fall River Road.

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Traveling in the Alpine ecosystem on the Old Fall River Road.
Traveling in the Alpine ecosystem on the Old Fall River Road. | Source

End of the Old Fall River Road


After reaching the Alpine Visitor's Center where we once again stopped to stretch our legs, get some refreshments and use the restrooms, we traveled 4 miles west back onto the Trail Ridge Road to Milner Pass where the location of the Continental Divide takes place.


It is actually 1,000 feet (300 m.) lower than at the Alpine Visitor's Center and it marks the spot where waters flow ultimately either to the Atlantic or Pacific oceans depending upon which side of the Rocky Mountains rain, snow and ice accumulates.

Continental Divide at Milner Pass

Atlantic Side of the Continental Divide at Milner Pass
Atlantic Side of the Continental Divide at Milner Pass | Source
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Pacific Side of the Continental Divide at Milner Pass
Pacific Side of the Continental Divide at Milner Pass | Source

Heading down the Rocky Mountains towards Grand Lake.

Heading down the Rocky Mountains towards Grand Lake.
Heading down the Rocky Mountains towards Grand Lake. | Source
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Grand Lake


Descending the Rockies my mother and I planned our next stop and night's stay at Grand Lake which was another 24 miles away.

The air is rarefied at these upper elevations of the Rocky Mountains and the ultra-violet rays of the sun are intense. There are hikes one can take in these areas if one has the time and stamina. During the winter, most often these roads ( the Old Fall River Road and the Trail Ridge Road ) are closed due to snow...so plan visits accordingly.

I'll leave you with a few additional pictures as we drove back down the mountain towards Grand lake.

Hope you enjoyed these pictures of our Rocky Mountains vacation and getting to travel along the Old Fall River Road and seeing Milner Pass at the Continental Divide. It was certainly a memorable part of our trip and I would suggest exploring this area for yourself if you ever find yourself in that part of Colorado.

Scenery as we get closer to Grand Lake, Colorado.

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Have you ever traveled the Old Fall River Road?

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  • I have taken the paved Trail Ridge Road however to go over these Rocky Mountains.
  • I would like to do it sometime.
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Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Map
Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Map

I always like to have maps with tips about different places in the park like this one when on vacation to new and interesting places.

 

RMNP Vacation at Old Fall River Road & Trail Ridge Road

Other articles about Colorado by this author...

If you would enjoy seeing more spectacular scenery and learning more about the Rocky Mountain State of Colorado, CLICK HERE. Many more attractions await your discovery!

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5 out of 5 stars from 4 ratings of Fall River Road Photos & Information

© 2011 Peggy Woods

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Comments are welcomed. 59 comments

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 19 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hello fullofshoes,

Your trip sounds like fun. Adventures like that are certainly memorable. Hope you get back to the Rockies sometime. :)


fullofshoes profile image

fullofshoes 19 months ago

I took a semi-cross country trip over 30 years ago to Colorado and back to the East Coast. It was a trip of a lifetime, especially the time spent in the Rockies. Would love to return!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 19 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi colorfulone,

Hope you get to do it someday. The scenery is fabulous!


colorfulone profile image

colorfulone 19 months ago from Minnesota

I have thought that I would like to take a vacation in the mountains most of my life, but it hasn't happened yet. It would be a grand adventure I'm sure, and you help convince me of that. Awesome hub, Peg!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi pinto2011,

The Rocky Mountains are indeed beautiful. So glad to know that you enjoyed these photos. Colorado is having some severe fires this year south of this area. Hope that they will soon be extinguished.


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