Old Fall River Road

Old Fall River Road in the Rocky Mountain National Park

Old Fall River Road is a narrow one-lane dirt road winding through the Rocky Mountain National Park, a national park in the north-central region of the U.S. state of Colorado, with a length of 11 miles. 

Old Fall River Road climbs almost to the same height as Trail Ridge, but does so via an unpaved road. The trail was opened in 1920, and earned the distinction of being the first auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park offering access to the park's high country. Starting by Larimer and Grant counties in 1913 before the establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park, the early construction was carried out by state prison inmates. The convicts made little progress and contractors completed the road in 1920. Due to the steep grades some early automobiles had to climb Old Fall River in reverse because of their weak engines and gravity-fed fuel systems. The road climbed to Fall River Pass on steep grades sometimes reaching 16%. Some early automobiles had to climb in reverse due to their weak engines and gravity-fed fuel system. Surface materials washed off quickly. Motorists had to negotiate sixteen switch-backs with radii as tight as 20'. Some vehicles had to turn back and forth repeatedly to make the curves.Typically, it's open by the Fourth of July weekend and closes for the season on October.
The surface of the road is unpaved. The road itself is safe, but narrow and curved. Primarily gravel, one-way uphill and punctuated by switchbacks, slower-paced, 11-mile-long. The old road quietly leads travelers from Horseshoe Park to Fall RiverPass, 11,796 feet above sea level. The journey to the alpine world at the top of Old Fall River Road is relaxing. The experience is one to be savored. Old Fall River Road is ideal for visitors seeking to become intimate with nature. There are no guard rails along this road. This road can be driven in any normal passenger vehicle when dry (RV's are prohibited).

There are some narrow sections -scarcely wide enough for two cars- where if two vehicles have to pass each other, one might have to reverse for some kilometres of winding narrow road to get to a place wide enough to pass. It shouldn’t be attempted by those who don't know how to reverse. The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both). The posted speed limit is 15 miles per hour, a clear indication that a journey up Old Fall River Road is not for the impatient. The road follows a route traveled long ago by Indian hunters. In places, the trees of the montane and subalpine forests are so close that motorists can touch them. If you don't like driving up the mountain on a dirt road with hairpin turns better avoid it.

Old Fall River Road is:

• 11 miles long
• One way uphill means no oncoming traffic
• Fall River Pass is 11,796 feet above sea level
• Speed limit is 15 miles per hour

This road is open in the summer, weather permitting, from Sheep Lakes to the Alpine Visitor Center, but it can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. The Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park was the first automobile road to penetrate the interior of the park. The road linked the east side of the park near Estes Park with Grand Lake on the west side. Work began in 1913 and was completed in 1921. In 1968 the National Park Service restored the road, paving the lower third. Watch out for sudden loose-gravel breaks. The road width rarely exceeded 14', too narrow for cars to pass safely. Passing turnouts were provided, but these were few and far between. The roadway was largely built out from the hillside. In the steepest places, multiple switch-backs were stacked one above the other. Few pullouts were provided to allow motorist to stop; some were located on switch-backs, making the curves even more difficult. Before you take this drive, stop by one of the Rocky Visitors Center and pickup a copy of the $1 guide called "Old Fall River Road". When you do take the ride, stop frequently and often as every "pull off" or parking area has much to offer.
Pic: Ashish Sharma