· Grand Lake
Trail Ridge Road (Grand County section)
Aliases: Lulu City Trailhead, Milner Pass
Some three million people drive this road each summer – the highest continuous paved road in the nation – due to its unparalleled scenery and wildlife viewing.
The lower parts of the road, just inside the western boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park, provide excellent chances for up-close views of moose, mule deer, elk, chipmunks, and various birds from Red Crossbill to Three-toed Woodpecker. Higher up, at the scenic overlooks below treeline, it’s hard to miss the Steller’s Jays, Gray Jays, and Clark’s Nutcrackers as they vie with the golden-mantled ground squirrels for handouts from humans (which are against the rules in the national park). At Milner Pass, still far below treeline, the road crosses the Continental Divide. This is the starting point for the hard half-mile hike to the Crater, an excellent place to observe bighorn sheep. The Crater Trail is closed for the first half of every summer to protect the breeding sheep. Check at the park entrance for the latest information on sheep closures.
Farther up the road is one of the most famous birding spots in Colorado, Medicine Bow Curve, which sits above treeline just below the Alpine Visitor Center. This is probably the best site in the nation to see the elusive White-tailed Ptarmigan. The birds have a well-deserved reputation for being extremely difficult to find, because they are very quiet and cryptically plumaged, and one must nearly step on them to discover their presence. But prior to dawn in June and early July, the male ptarmigans become audible and visible from a mile away, during their spectacular screaming courtship flights over the tundra.
The alpine tundra is a harsh and fragile environment; it can threaten humans with severe weather, and humans can threaten it in return with the erosion caused by too many feet. Please be cautious during your visit and stay on trails above timberline.
Habitat: Lodgepole Forest; Spruce-Fir Forest; Alpine Tundra
Directions: These sites are along Trail Ridge Road (US 34) inside Rocky Mountain National Park. The national park charges an entrance fee, and the upper parts of Trail Ridge Road are closed from fall (October or November) to spring (usually late May).
Delorme: 28 A4-B4
Roads of Colorado: 39 D4-E4, 55 D1
Dates of Access: Open all year, but upper road closed mid-Oct - late May
Ownership: National Park Service
Admission: National Parks fee
Restrictions: Please observe all National Park rules and regulations
Parking: Paved parking lots
Lodging: Hotels in Grand Lake; campgrounds in park
Handicapped Access: Birding from car and from many paved pullouts