Gore Range Overlook, a mile southwest of the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road, has a spectacular view of Rocky Mountain National Park’s mountains and the Gore Range some 60 miles to the southwest. The 12,010-foot overlook, just down the road from the route’s 12,183-foot high point, is an open viewpoint that looks west. North of the overlook is Trail Ridge Road dipping down to 10,758-foot Milner Pass and the headwaters of the Cache la Poudre River. The Never Summer Range is immediately west with a long row of glaciated volcanic mountains named for clouds—Mount Stratus, Mount Nimbus, Mount Cumulus, and Mount Cirrus. The distant Gore Range, running north from Vail Pass, is a spectacular range of jagged peaks. The overlook lies in the alpine life zone, with fragile tundra dotted with wildflowers and rock piles. Don’t walk on the tundra plants.
- The Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet on Trail Ridge Road is the highest national park visitor center in the United States. The center offers scenic views down the Fall River cirque to the east, interpretative exhibits about the alpine tundra ecosystem and mountain geology, park information, a ranger-staffed desk to answer questions, a bookstore, restrooms, and food and drink at the Trail Ridge Store and Café.
- Lava Cliffs Overlook is a 12,080-foot viewpoint that’s 1.1 miles east of Gore Range Overlook on Trail Ridge Road. The view to the north includes red volcanic cliffs lining a high cirque that was excavated by glaciers. Below the cliffs is Iceberg Lake, one of the park’s highest water features. The cliffs are composed of volcanic tuff or compacted ash that spewed and flowed from volcanoes in today’s Never Summer Range. The flow stopped here before being buried than sculpted by glaciations.
- A good hike, 0.5-mile Tundra World Toll Memorial Trail, begins at Rock Cut Overlook on the out-and-back, which introduces the plants and wildflowers in the land above the trees. The paved wheelchair-accessible trail climbs to 12,304 feet across open tundra to Mushroom Rocks, views of Longs Peak, and wildlife including elk and marmots. The round-trip hike is one mile and takes about half an hour.
- Pay attention to the weather on Trail Ridge Road. Thunderstorms accompanied by lightning quickly move across the area on summer afternoons, creating dangerous situations for sightseers. In July 2014, two people were killed in two days in separate lightning strikes on the road. A strike at Rainbow Curve Overlook killed one man and injured 13 others, while a woman died from a lightning strike the following day on Ute Crossing Trail above Rainbow Curve.
Recommended season(s): May through October.
—Stewart M. Green