When it comes to travel, people are always looking for opportunities to take the road less traveled. 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.
Old Fall River Road is quite literally a road less traveled. When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park most visitors will travel along Trail Ridge Road when crossing through the park.
But there's another way to get from Estes Park up to the Alpine Visitor Center. That's where Old Fall River Road enters the mix.
In this post we're 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!
Have a specific question about Old Fall River Road? Jump ahead using the table of contents below:
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!
What to Expect When Driving Old Fall River Road?
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.
Looking for tips to save on airfare? Check out a full post I wrote on the subject here!
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. Additionally, at this point 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, I've put together a post on visiting Bear Lake you should definitely check out after this one!
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, it's not a surprise that most people suggest staying in Estes Park over Grand Lake.
Old Fall River Road Parking
While you don't need to park anywhere to start this activity, like you would with many of the hikes in Rocky Mountain, there are still some things to discuss on this front.
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? Let's discuss Chasm Falls first.
Chasm Falls is the most popular detour along Old Fall River Road. The Chasm Falls area is 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 Chasm 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.
Other Things to Know About Old Fall River Road
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 I Need a Permit 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.
Do I Need a Special Vehicle 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!
How Much Does Old Fall River Road Entry Cost?
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.
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 Pets 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.
Should I Bring any Special Gear for Old Fall River Road?
Just make sure you have plenty of fuel for the drive! Also, hiking gear isn't necessary for Chasm Falls since it's located directly next to the parking pull off.
What is the Best Time of Day to Visit Old Fall River Road?
Be mindful that during the summer Rocky Mountain National Park frequently experiences afternoon thunderstorms. I'd recommend visiting Old Fall River Road early or late in the day to minimize the chance you encounter poor weather.
Also - don't forget to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide over on my YouTube channel if you haven't already!
Looking for hiking gear recommendations?
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 in order to have the best experience possible.
Finding gear that's functional, not overpriced, that also looks good can be a challenge.
For your convenience I've laid out some of my favorite hiking apparel below. All of the gear I link to below are items I personally own and have tested out on the trails. Quick disclaimer, I am an affiliate of several referral programs and I may earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
Hiking day pack - If you're in the market for a hiking day pack I'd suggest browsing REI's selection. If you've never owned one before you can go into a retail store and they'll ensure you find one that fits properly with any of the bells and whistles you may require!
Water reservoir - I have reservoirs from Platypus and Gregory that I really like. While these come in a variety of sizes I wouldn't bother with those smaller than 3L. You can always just fill up the larger ones part way if you're concerned about weight since they collapse to the same size.
Moisture wicking t-shirts - Patagonia makes really great hiking t-shirts that keep you dry all day long. They also perform well under multiple layers of clothing.
Hiking socks - I absolutely love the FEIDEER brand of hiking socks. I've tried some other hiking sock brands, but I think these take the cake! They make great socks for women and men.
There's nothing worse than missing out on a great hike because you didn't come prepared, don't be that person!
Check Out Our 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.If the park you're visiting requires timed entry reservations be sure to read this guide first!
Fortunately - we have put together a guide walking you through that process. We also provide useful tips on how to get the best time slots and what to do if you find yourself without a reservation.
You can access our Timed Entry Reservation Guide here!