Those unfamiliar with mountain driving can sometimes find it very stressful to drive near Estes Park. Give us the mountains any day… driving in the city freaks us out!
Here are some tips to make your mountain drive a little smoother.
1 ) It’s okay to go very slowly, and to look at the scenery. Just make sure to pull over for anyone who might want to go a little faster. That might mean you are pulling over a lot, but better that than to anger a long line of cars behind you.
2 ) Be very careful if you are watching the scenery and driving at the same time! If necessary, stop often to take in the view. The mountain air will do you good.
3 ) Be alert for wildlife. Deer have the unfortunate tendency of springing into traffic, but they can often be avoided if you are driving at an appropriate speed and you are watching for critters along the sides of the road.
4 ) When watching wildlife, avoid stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures. It is polite to pull over and get your car off the road so that others can pass. Stay in or near your car and view wildlife from a distance.
5 ) When you are going up steep hills, shift into lower gear. You’ll get better performance out of the car and avoid the possibility of vapor lock. (When when of our writers was a young whippersnapper driver, she didn’t know you could downshift an automatic transmission, so she once drove up to Joshua Tree National Park going about 15 miles per hour!)
6 ) When coming down steep hills, shift into lower gear to save your brakes. You will smell a lot of burning brakes when mountain driving in Colorado, and occasionally people will lose their brakes altogether! Use lower gear!
7 ) Trail Ridge Road does not have many guard rails. If that makes you uncomfortable, or if you have a profound fear of heights, you should not drive over Trail Ridge Road. There are plenty of other nice things to see nearby.
8 ) If you do make the trip over Trail Ridge Road, stay in your lane. The lanes are wide enough to accommodate your vehicle, yet you will often see cars straddling the center line of the road because the driver doesn’t want to get too close to the edge! This is perhaps more dangerous, because you may end up swerving to avoid oncoming traffic, or they may end up swerving to avoid you.
9 ) Most cars perform better at mountain driving when the tank is full. Plus, with long distances between mountain towns, it’s not a bad idea to keep the tank filled.
10 ) Bring lots of water and snacks. Doing a lot of driving in the mountains can make you hungry – it’s a long way in between stops! – and the altitude can make you woozy. Staying well hydrated and well fed will help keep altitude sickness at bay. (Avoid caffeine, since it will dehydrate you. And you already knew to avoid alcohol when driving!!! It also dehydrates the body, so passengers should avoid it as well.)
11 ) Pay attention to the weather. Weather changes quickly in the mountains, and is unpredictable. We’ve seen snow in the middle of July and windshields shattered by gale force winds. If the weather gets rough and it’s hard to drive, pull over and wait it out. The weather will probably change in ten minutes anyway!
One of the highlights of any trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park is mountain driving, and you’ll get to enjoy some incredible scenery. Now you’re all set for the trip. Hope you have a nice drive!