Old Fall River Road in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park is the ultimate road less traveled adventure.
Getting away from the big touristy attractions and off the beaten path can provide a sense of adventure you can't get when dealing with crowds of tourists.
And after all, it's this sense of adventure that draws many travelers to visit new places, see new things and experience different cultures.
But there's another way to get from Estes Park up to the Alpine Visitor Center and that's where Old Fall River Road enters the mix.
In this post I'm going to discuss everything you need to know before committing to the 11 mile (18 kilometer) drive up this one lane dirt mountain road.
If you can stomach driving along sections of road that peer over steep drops, you'll be rewarded with some of the best views in all of Rocky Mountain National Park!
Don't forget that Rocky Mountain National Park is now on the timed entry reservation system during peak season (end of May through early October). If you don't have a reservation be sure to head over to Recreation.gov to lock that in!
If you aren't familiar with that system - do not fear! I've put together a post highlighting how to get through the reservation process along with other useful tips. Check out my National Park Timed Entry Guide here!
Once you're finished reading this guide, be sure to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide I put together over on my YouTube channel. It includes tons of great footage I shot during my visit throughout the park.
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
Can you drive on Old Fall River Road?
Driving on Old Fall River Road, Colorado is one of Rocky Mountain National Parks best activities. Usually when I visit National Parks, I look back and my favorite activity almost always involves a challenging hike.
Those adventures usually result in accessing areas of wilderness that few visitors get to experience (back to that whole road less traveled thing)!
Old Fall River Road was actually my favorite activity from Rocky Mountain National Park - not one of the hikes.
The feeling you get traveling along this path is completely different than the experience you get when traveling along Trail Ridge Road, which is the main road that passes through Rocky Mountain.
Driving along Old Fall River Road isn't for the faint of heart. The road itself is only one lane and fairly narrow.
Along the sides you won't find any sort of barriers to prevent you from going over - so drive very carefully!
While the road is narrow you will notice plenty of opportunities to pull off along the way. Be sure to do this if you find any of the views particularly interesting.
Part of what makes this experience so enjoyable is pulling off to take in the pristine wildness along the way.
If you're concerned about making the drive, take a few deep breaths and just go for it. While the road is narrow and the drops are steep, you'll be driving pretty slow most of the way.
It really isn't that much more intimidating than driving through over parts of Rocky Mountain. Steep, windy roads are just part of the experience Clark!
The road leads from the eastern side of Rocky Mountain all the way up to the Alpine Visitor Center. The visitor center here is the highest one in the entire US National Park Service system and sits at 11,796 feet (3,959 meters)!
Once you reach the top you can park and look back over part of the mountain you just drove up. The Alpine Visitor Center is a great place to take a break, do some souvenir shopping and eat lunch.
Once you get going your nerves will settle and you'll be glad you pulled the trigger on this one. I sure was!
Where is Old Fall River Road located?
Old Fall River Road is best accessed from the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park via the Beaver Meadows entrance station. Without traffic the drive from Estes Park to the Endovalley picnic area where the trail officially starts should take about 30 minutes.
Once you've entered the park keep an eye out for signs that will guide you towards Old Fall River Road.
Most of the drive time occurs after entering Rocky Mountain which means you'll be able to take in the parks beautiful scenery along the way!
If you're lucky you might even spot some wildlife along the way. Shortly after entering the park we spotted a moose off in the distance!
In general I found that Rocky Mountain National Park is pretty easy to navigate. Other than Bear Lake Corridor and Old Fall River Road, there's pretty much one main road that cuts through the park.
Since you're still relatively close to Estes Park you shouldn't have any issues getting cellular or GPS signals.
Speaking of Bear Lake Corridor - if you're looking for other activities to do when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park this is a great area to explore. This area is home to many of RMNPs most popular lakes such as Bear, Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes.
If you're entering Rocky Mountain from the west, near Grand Lake, you'll have to drive across the entire park to reach the Old Fall River Road starting point which will take around two hours.
Considering many of the parks best hikes and sights are located along the Bear Lake Corridor, I generally recommend visitors book their hotel in Estes Park.
Can you park along Old Fall River Road?
While you don't need to park anywhere to start this activity, like you would with many of the hikes in Rocky Mountain, you'll want to pull off and park at times to enjoy the views.
Parking is actually very important when it comes to Old Fall River Road. How else are you going to enjoy Chasm Falls and the other epic views along the way?
Chasm Falls is the most popular detour along Old Fall River Road. Chasm Falls area is home to a road side waterfall and well marked which means you shouldn't have any issues finding it.
The parking situation for Chasm Falls should be plentiful. There are actual parking spaces and plenty of spots to pull off along the road. The waterfall is located steps from the parking lot, making this a relatively quick stop and so parked vehicles will turn over quickly.
In addition to the falls be sure to pull off at other scenic areas along the way. Just keep your eyes open and you won't have any issues finding designated vehicle pull offs along the road.
While we didn't have time to do any hiking on this particular day - there are hiking trailheads that originate along Old Fall River Road.
Keep an eye out for Chapin Creek Trailhead which is located near the end of Old Fall River Road if you're looking to do some hiking at higher elevations.
Is there cell phone service along Old Fall River Road?
Cell phone service throughout most of Rocky Mountain National Park is minimal. You may get intermittent cell phone service along parts of Old Fall River Road but don't count on it.
The higher points of the park (towards the Alpine Visitor Center) will offer better opportunities to get a signal.
Do you need a pass for Old Fall River Road?
You do not need a special permit to access Old Fall River Road. Keep in mind this part of the park can be susceptible to road closures due to construction or poor weather.
Be sure to check the National Park Service's website for updates before visiting.
Is there a fee to access Old Fall River Road?
There isn't a fee specific to drive on Old Fall River Road. The Rocky Mountain National Park entry pass and timed entry reservation are all you need to access this area.
You can check out current rates at the National Park Service's website.
Do you need four wheel drive for Old Fall River Road?
Despite being a narrow dirt road, it was in pretty good shape. For the most part at least. A few of the switchback turns were a bit rutted out so if you're in a low clearance vehicle you'll want to be careful.
While I was driving a Jeep during our visit, I saw plenty of low clearance, 4-door sedans making the trip up the mountainside. Just don't be surprised if you end up with some scratches in your car's paint. There are plenty of loose rocks and debris along the way!
Now would be a good time to mention that rental cars in Colorado can be on the expensive side if you're visiting during peak summer season. The best way to combat this is by obtaining your rental car reservation early using a price comparison tool like Rentalcars.com. This will help ensure you get the lowest price!
How long does it take to drive Old Fall River Road?
Start off by budgeting 30-45 minutes of driving time from Estes Park. This should get you to the Endovalley picnic area where the one lane portion of road begins.
Once you start up Old Fall River Road, you're committed to completing the drive all the way up to the Alpine Visitor Center.
The road is 11 miles long (18 kilometers) and will take you about one hour to drive without stops.
The drive is absolutely stunning if you can stomach it and this will certainly be one of your favorite activities from your trip to Rocky Mountain!
In addition to viewing Chasm Falls, we pulled off along Old Fall River Road a few other times to take photos. I'd budget another 30-60 minutes for stops along the way.
From Alpine Visitor Center back to Estes Park you should budget about one hour of driving along Trail Ridge Road.
Are dogs allowed along Old Fall River Road?
While your pet is welcome to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, don't expect to take them with you at Chasm Falls or any of the other trails.
Pets are only welcome around parking lots and certain campgrounds. With that said, I would assume your pet is welcome to stretch its legs if you pull off along the way.
Are there bathrooms along Old Fall River Road?
There are restrooms available before you reach Old Fall River Road.
According to the NPS website there is another set of facilities along Old Fall River Road just before you reach the Chapin Creek trailhead.
However, that location is fairly close to the Alpine Visitor Center which also has facilities.
What is the best time of day to visit Old Fall River Road?
I'd recommend visiting Old Fall River Road early or late in the day to minimize the chance you encounter poor weather. Be mindful that during the summer Rocky Mountain National Park frequently experiences afternoon thunderstorms.
Looking for suggestions on what to pack for hiking during your Colorado trip?
Chances are if you're visiting Rocky Mountain National Park you'll be doing some hiking. If you're doing some hiking you'll want to have the right gear handy in order to have the best experience possible.
For your convenience I've put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don't overlook anything.
That guide is geared towards longer day hikes, so if you're doing something more casual you probably won't need everything on that list. But rest assured you won't overlook a thing!
Check out my Timed Entry Reservation Guide
There's one mistake you cannot afford to make when visiting US National Parks. Showing up without a timed entry reservation is a surefire way to blow up what should be an otherwise stress free day exploring some of Americas most beautiful destinations.
Rocky Mountain National Park requires timed entry so be sure to check out my Timed Entry Reservation Guide here!
I've also put together a ton of other useful trip planning resources to help you plan your trip to Colorado. I have a video guide covering the hike to Emerald Lake, a short video covering Old Fall River Road and a video guide covering tips to know before visiting Rocky Mountain.
Thanks for reading my post covering Old Fall River Road in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park.