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capturing fall foliage along trail ridge road

Two weekends ago, I woke up at 5am, threw on some warm clothes, and drove up to Estes Park to grab some tea and head to rocky mountain national park.

It was the last weekend of summer, and the aspens throughout the park had already started to change color — vibrant patches of yellow were scattered through the evergreen trees across the mountainsides.

I’d been hiking in RMNP a number of times this summer, but stuck entirely to hiking trails easily accessible from the Estes Park entrance on the eastern side of the park. My plan for this golden Sunday morning in late September was to drive along the park’s famous Trail Ridge Road, which would take me west from Estes Park all the way through the park to Grand Lake along US-34.

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According to the National Park Service

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park’s heavily traveled highway to the sky, inspired awe before the first motorist ever traveled it. “It is hard to describe what a sensation this new road is going to make,” predicted Horace Albright, director of the National Park Service, in 1931 during the road’s construction. “You will have the whole sweep of the Rockies before you in all directions.”

The distance between Estes Park and Grand Lake is just under 50 miles, but it took a little more than 2 hours to drive the entire road due to winding roads next to steep cliffs and no guard rails — my frequent stopping for roadside photo-taking slowed me down a little too.

It ended up being one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken — a combination of the early morning golden light, the mountains and the changing colors of the leaves. Here are the shots I snapped along the way:

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Longs Peak as seen from the north. One of Colorado’s most difficult 14ers to hike. Or so I hear.

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Classic Colorado.

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Sup. RMNP thug lyfe.

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This is my “photo of a moose.” A few miles before the Grand Lake entrance/exit of the park, I noticed cars pulled over to the side of the road and a group of people gathering together, all looking at something through binoculars and camera lenses. So of course I also pulled over, walked over to these peeps, and an older gent from Iowa offered to let me look through his binoculars at the “moose” that had “just sat down” and was “mostly hidden in the tall grass except for his antlers.”

After awhile of searching through binoculars and following his directions, I found the antlers! I SAW A MOOSE. KIND OF.

The best way I can explain where he is in this photo is… look at the big evergreen tree on the left of the photo and follow the one solo branch that curves up and out in the middle of the photo. Then look directly down from there in the brush/tall grass and you just might be able to make out a darker cluster of something.. those are the antlers! Thank god for my amazing photography skills.

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Have you ever driven along Trail Ridge Road?

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23 Comments

  • Reply shmamyhopf

    holy butts!!!!!!!!!!!!! these are amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 4, 2015 at 8:30 pm
    • Reply Kristen

      TYSM AMY

      October 4, 2015 at 8:32 pm
    • Reply Margie

      Amy, the trees with the little yellow leaves are the same trees I showed you from Cooksburg, PA. “The waving tree”. Do you remember them now?

      October 6, 2015 at 8:35 am
      • Reply Kristen

        OMG that’s my name for the aspens! Ain’t gon give me no cred?

        October 6, 2015 at 12:12 pm
  • Reply Ingrid

    That’s one of my all time favorite drives and the fall colors are always lovely. Moose sightings are common at the western end of the park and off Columbine Road. They’ve been known to walk down Main Street in Grand Lake early in the morning.

    October 4, 2015 at 9:05 pm
    • Reply Kristen

      I heard they were more common on the western side but wasn’t expecting to actually see one. Exciting!

      October 5, 2015 at 6:19 pm
  • Reply camerapacker

    Neat travel px.

    October 5, 2015 at 8:59 am
  • Reply acquiescent72

    Truly, my favorite place on earth!

    October 5, 2015 at 10:57 am
    • Reply Kristen

      It has become one of my favorite places too 🙂

      October 5, 2015 at 6:20 pm
  • Reply travtrails

    Intense scenery

    October 5, 2015 at 12:22 pm
    • Reply Kristen

      It was beautiful!

      October 5, 2015 at 6:20 pm
  • Reply Hannah Myer

    STOP THIS IS SO AMAZING. be still my heart.

    October 5, 2015 at 3:30 pm
  • Reply Ines

    So nice to see these photos, I was in Colorado in March 2011 and remember that landscape very well 🙂

    October 6, 2015 at 7:01 am
    • Reply Kristen

      I think Colorado’s landscape can be hard to forget 🙂

      October 6, 2015 at 12:13 pm
  • Reply Margie

    Your pictures are beautiful. I remember this ride well (though there was snow there in July)
    . The scenery in Colorado is absolutely breathtaking!

    October 6, 2015 at 8:33 am
    • Reply Kristen

      Thanks girl!!! Colorado is beautiful af!!! The mountains will have snow on them again pretty soon….. 😮

      October 6, 2015 at 12:13 pm
  • Reply Meghan

    Gorgeous photos and a fantastic capture of a beautiful place.

    October 7, 2015 at 9:04 am
  • Reply rockymountaintot

    Gorgeous photos! I drove (mostly) up Trail Ridge Road last weekend and there was already a little snow, but the leaves were still remarkable.

    October 9, 2015 at 2:54 pm
  • Reply Hiking the East Inlet Trail in RMNP | skyward eyes

    […] a golden, warm September 20th – I woke up at 5am to catch the early morning magic hour along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National […]

    December 30, 2015 at 7:57 am
  • Reply Postcard from Grand Lake, Colorado | skyward eyes

    […] happened upon Grand Lake after my end-of-summer morning along Trail Ridge Road and before I hiked the East Trail Inlet in Rocky Mountain National Park. The fact that I was so […]

    January 6, 2016 at 8:05 am
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