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Gravel Bike Ride: Old Falls River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

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Old Falls River Road Estes Park, Co 2023

37.43 Miles  3:21 Moving Time  4606’ Elevation (Strava Ride)

Kim surprised me with a trip to Fricso, Colorado over Labor Day weekend 2023.   We took the gravel bikes with us on this trip and were looking for a good gravel rides.   I wanted to visit Estes Park (also knowns at the Rocky Mountain National Park) and we found a gravel ride review for Old Falls River Road.

The reviews said it was a challenging but beautiful ride.  We watched a Youtube video review and decided, why not, let’s do it.

We drove down to Estes Park and as usual, ended up with a later start than planned.  That seems to be our MO these days.

Mike and Kim top Old Falls River Road
Mike and Kim top Old Falls River Road

We parked at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.  We turned left onto Highway 36 and rode about ½ mile before getting in line with the cars.  A word of advice, Kim and I didn’t know if we could bypass the line of cars or not.  Kim rode up ahead to ask the rangers.  While I was in line, two cyclists passed me and said we didn’t have to wait in line.

The 4 of us made it to the ranger station and were immediately stopped by a ranger.   She said we would have to pay to enter the park but let us jump the line.  The couple we met were surprised we were going to have to pay because they said they had never had to pay before.  Anyways, Kim smoothed talked the ranger in the booth and she let us in.  

My advice would be to be prepared to pay.

We entered the park, saw a couple Elk and the usual folks stopped to look at the Elk.  We continued on Highway 36 and started the first climb and had some great views of Estes Park (also known Rocky Mountain National Park).

Estes Park is a town in northern Colorado. It’s known as a base for the Rocky Mountain National Park, home to wildlife including elk and bears, plus miles of trails. The park’s Trail Ridge Road winds past craggy peaks, forests and tundra. Nearby are the wilderness areas of Roosevelt National Forest. The Estes Park Aerial Tramway connects the town to the summit of Prospect Mountain for views over the valley.

 We continued to climb on Rt. 36 up to the Deer Mountain Trailhead.  The views are spectacular and you can overlook the valley and get an idea of how big Estes Park really is.

Colorado 2023 Estes Park
Colorado 2023 Estes Park

We made a right at the Deer Mountain Trailhead on to Trail Ridge Road.  This was a super fun 4 mile downhill with great view off to the right.   At the bottom of the hill, we made a left onto Old Falls River Road.  There’s a parking lot for the Lawn Lake Trailhead so if you are doing the ride, you’ll know you are going the right way.

Kim and I followed the paved road for a maybe a mile and then we found the start of the gravel climb.   This was when I kind of questioned our decision.  Kim pulled in front of me and the first section was pretty steep.  I knew the climb was going to take awhile and this was kind of a kick in the pants. The climb is 9.07 miles with 3,189’ of climbing and  6.7% average incline.

We weren’t in a hurry so we found a steady pace.  We enjoyed the conversation on the way up.  At the bottom, you are surrounded by cliffs and steep mountain sides.  And a couple streams to take your mind off the climbing.

After a while, the include eased up some and we just really enjoyed the climb.  As you climb the views just get better and better.    You start getting an idea of where you are headed.

About half way up the climb you hit several switch backs which have some awesome view points.   If we hadn’t been on our bikes, we definitely would have stopped for pictures. 

The include felt like it picked up here and we soldiered on.  The climb was great and we started to come up on some alpine meadows which made the ride a little easier. 

About ¾ of the way up the climb we hit another switchback section.  At this point you can see the Alpine meadows and actually see the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of the climb.   But don’t get confident, you still have a long, long way to go.  The climb is challenging from this point.  The road turns back on itself a couple times.

There’s a pond at the last switch back.  At this point, the temperature was dropping and we hit a major headwind.  As we made the last left turn, we were hit with a steep, steep climb of probably 100 yards.  Kim dropped me and I just enjoyed the view off to the right.  It was spectacular.  I chased Kim up the last section and we finished the last couple yards together at the Alpine Visitor Center.  Our time up the climb was 1:32.11.  (Sepp Kuss’s time is 54:33…so with a little training…never mind…)

We met several folks at the top.  The saw our bikes and wanted to know if we rode them to the top.  We met some great folks.  One guy on a motorcycle was super cool that was finishing a several day trip.  And another couple from Arkansas that saved up by giving us some sodas (the visitor center was out of soda!!).

We took a couple pictures and were getting cold so we started the trip back down to Estes Park…or so we thought.

We turned left on Trail Ridge Road thinking it was going to be all down hill.  Boy were we wrong.  I think we had about 3 more miles of steady climbing to get to the downhill.    It was cold and windy – which made for a challenge considering how much we had climbed to get to the Visitor Center.  But we kept our head down and moving.  The views were again – SPECTACULAR.

Riding Old Falls River Road Estes Park
Riding Old Falls River Road Estes Park

Once we made it to the downhill, it was smooth sailing all the way back to Estes Park.   The downhill was awesome.   The sun was out and the temps warmed up all the way down the climb.  We probably descended for around 25 minutes at around 33mph.   We followed a couple on a motorcycle all the way down and just smiled all the way.

It was hot and warm in Estes park which put a smile on our faces.  We packed the bikes, took a picture at the Rocky Mountain Park sign.  We grabbed some awesome BBQ at Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ on Moraine Ave.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED if you make it to Estes Park.

We recommend this ride to anyone – but be warned.  It’s an advanced level climb so be careful if you don’t have your climbing legs.  Bring warm gear as it was cold at the top and it could snow anytime of the year at the Alpine Visitor Center.

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