Estes Park Stories and Tips

Peak to Peak Highway

Peak to Peak Highway skims the southwestern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park This National Forest Scenic Byway, known as the Peak to Peak Highway, offers excellent views of the Continental Divide that runs through the park and Indian Peaks. You can also see far out onto the Great Plains of eastern Colorado and Wyoming. We saw grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers, deep canyons plunging into velvet green forest far below, and craggy peaks highlighted against azure blue. Peak to Peak highway starts at the mountain gambling towns Central City and Black Hawk, winding northward along highways 119, 72 and 7 to Rollinsville, Nederland, Ward and Allenspark to Estes Park. You drive north along the base of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, the high range of snow-capped mountains. This wilderness is one of the state's most popular areas, with miles of good hiking trails, demanding peak climbs and outstanding camping spots. In the Indian Peaks is Colorado's largest glacier, Arapaho Glacier, covering about 100 acres, over a mile long and up to 400 feet deep. Two local climbers, Hubert Wheeler and D.M. Andrews, discovered it in 1887. Soon after, several other glaciers were discovered in the area, and they became popular destinations for hikers. But because they were Boulder's drinking water supply, officials eventually had to protect them, and closed access to some of them. They are still up there, silent and majestic and alone. This is a designated National Forest Scenic Byway along the southeastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. It offers excellent views of the Continental Divide that runs through the Park and Indian Peaks. You can also see far out onto the Great Plains of eastern Colorado and Wyoming. Nederland was named by early Dutch miners (from the Netherlands). It is near Eldora Ski Area, one of Colorado's most popular cross-country skiing areas. As you drive north from Nederland, you are on the eastern flank of 11,471-foot Mt. Niwot (named for an Indian chief, Niwot), and you can see far out onto the Great Plains. Below you is the old mining town of Ward, named for prospector Calvin Ward, who discovered gold here in 1860. For a good stop, take Forest Road 112 to Brainard Lake just past the Ward turnoff. From this lake, you have spectacular views of the high mountains in the Indian Peaks, whose rugged-spiked tops were shaped by several glacial periods over millions of years. To break up your drive, catch some trout in Brainard Lake or nearby Red Rock Lake. Both are good fishing. Or hike the four-mile trail up 13,233-foot Mount Audubon from Brainard Lake. Near the town of Allenspark is another scenic overlook that offers fine views of Mt. Meeker and Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park. Mt. Meeker was named for Nathan Meeker, who founded the town of Greeley in 1870 and was later killed by Indians. North of Allenspark, the highway parallels the eastern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park, which contains more than 70 mountain peaks above 12,000 feet and over 100 peaks above 10,000 feet. The highest point in the Park is 14,255-foot Longs Peak, which you pass directly below on this drive. Like Pikes Peak, it was a famous pioneer landmark, standing as a towering sentinel for settlers crossing the eastern plains. But unlike Pikes, Longs Peak has no road to its summit. It sits in a vast wilderness area and is protected from the encroachments of civilization. Because of its remoteness, height and challenging east face, Longs Peak is a favorite with some of the world's best technical climbers and novices alike. Professionals like the awesome 2,000-foot sheer, granite wall you can see on the east face, which was sliced away by glaciers. The Diamond on the peak's upper face is considered one of the best technical climbs in America. Novices like an easier route available to the summit. It requires a 13-hour hike but is made by people of all ages every summer. That is, all ages in good physical condition. The road to the Longs Peak trailhead and nearby campgrounds takes off west from the highway and is clearly marked. The peak you see immediately south of Longs is Mt. Meeker, which is also nearly 14,000 feet (13, 911). The peak immediately north of Longs is 13,281-foot Mt. Lady Washington, named for Martha Washington. Indians climbed these mountains long before early French trappers and white explorers did. When Stephen Long's group reached the top of Longs Peak in 1820, they found evidence that Indians had trapped eagles there. For more information, contact Estes Park Visitor Information Center, 800 44 ESTES.

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