Hike up Old Fall River Road to Chasm Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

We just got back from a wonderful trip to Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. The national park had been closed to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Even though the park is now open, operations will be different this year. One of the biggest differences is visitors must obtain a time-entry permit through Recreation.gov. We purchased a season pass to the national park, and will also pay $2.00/day as a reservation fee. Here is a link to Frequently Asked Questions about Rocky Mountain National Park’s new timed entry system which will start June 4, 2020.

Another change in the park is signage directing visitors to stay 6 feet apart from other groups. When distancing isn’t possible, wear a face covering. Taking a mask off and on was a little cumbersome on the trails, so I’m thinking about ordering us neck gaiters or buffs like this one. That way we can wear them around our necks, and just quickly pull them up when we pass by fellow hikers.

old fall river road

Old Fall River road is a gravel road that travels one-way up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Because of extreme weather conditions at this altitude, the road is typically only available to drive up from July through September (in 2019, the road opened July 12).

When the road is closed to vehicle traffic, visitors use the trail for walking, jogging, and biking. Dogs aren’t allowed on trails in RMNP, but since this is a road, it is one of the few places that dogs are welcome to go on a hike with you inside the national park.

Old Fall River Road begins near the Endovalley Picnic area. When we were visiting, this area was closed so we parked just past the Alluvial Fan. The road between the Alluvial Fan and Fall River Road is approximately 1 mile. We enjoyed the mountain views and towering aspen trees along the way.

Old Fall River Road is currently closed to traffic, but signage indicates that dogs are allowed on leash and two way biking is also permitted.

Did I mention that Old Fall River Road heads up to the alpine tundra? That means it’s basically straight uphill.

For your effort, you are rewarded with some great views.

You will also see several waterfalls on your way including under bridges you cross and flowing down the mountainside.

You will hear Chasm Falls before you see it. This is one of my favorite waterfalls in the whole park. We ended our hike by exploring the lower/middle area of the falls which was a mile from where the gravel road began. There is a viewing platform near the top of the falls which is located an extra quarter mile up the road. Our total hike was 4 miles long, which is right about our family’s limit when hiking with our girls (ages 3 and 5).

This was our first time hiking to Chasm Falls. In the past we stopped by for a quick photo while driving up to the Alpine Visitor Center. The extra effort and time gave us a new appreciation for Chasm Falls as a true destination in the park, and not just a stopping point along the way.

from below Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls
looking up Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls from viewing deck (taken on previous trip)

Helpful Links:

Old Fall River Road – National Park Service site

Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Road Status – National Park Service site

More Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park, Colorado

Rent our Cabin

We haven’t been able to rent our cabin for the past few months to comply with accommodation orders in the state of Colorado. Starting this week, we are ready to rent! If you are looking for a relaxing place to stay in Estes Park this summer, we hope you consider booking at Solitude Cabins. Also consider following Solitude Cabins on facebook. The management team does a great job at sharing pictures and promotions.

If you are looking for a great place to stay on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park, I’m happy to share recommendations. Thanks!

*this post contains affiliate links.

Thank you for following along on our adventures!

Alpine Ridge Trail

The drive up to the Alpine Ridge Trail is an adventure. If you begin on the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park, you have the choice of driving up Old Fall River Road or Trail Ridge Road. Both routes are inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, so you need to purchase a park pass.

Old Fall River Road

We opted for the Old Fall River Road route where you can go one-way, and that is up. The road begins near the Endovalley picnic area and leads to the Alpine Visitor Center and the Alpine Ridge Trail. The gravel road is eleven miles long. You can expect tight turns and slow speeds. (The speed limit is only 15 mph.) The road is open seasonally and can close at any time for poor weather conditions. It’s a good idea to check the National Park Service’s Road Status Report before heading up. You can avoid crowds and afternoon storms by starting early.

Chasm Falls

One of the highlights along the road is Chasm Falls which is hidden from view. There is a small pull-out with enough room for a handful of cars to park. The trail leading down to the viewing deck is short and steep. If you can find a spot, Chasm Falls is worth stopping for. I included it as one of our best waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Chasm Falls off of Old Fall River Road

above tree line

Old Fall River Road takes you above the tree line. The views from this road are spectacular. Many times on our journey we have spotted elk. Eventually you connect to the parking lot of the Alpine Visitors Center where parking is competitive.

Alpine visitors center

The Alpine Visitors Center is a great place to use the restroom, shop for souvenirs, take pictures, grab a snack, and ask park rangers any questions you have about the tundra. It’s usually noticeably colder and windier at this altitude, so we add on a layer of clothing before walking around.

If you are looking for a fun and inexpensive activity/souvenir, my girls enjoyed picking out postcards for their friends back home at the gift shop. There is a post office in downtown Estes Park where you can purchase stamps and send them.

Alpine Ridge Trail

alpine ridge trail by alpine visitor center in rocky mountain national park

I’ve always noticed people hiking up the Alpine Ridge trail, but this was the first time we decided to make the hike up. It helped that we had a warm day with low winds.

trail ridge road leads to alpine visitor center and alpine ridge trail in rocky mountain national park

The hike is only .3 miles each way. Concrete stairs climb to the top. You start at high elevation and end up at even higher elevation, so even the short distance is a cardio challenge. My 4-year-old was able to make it on her own, but my 2-year-old got to ride on her Dad’s shoulders. I appreciate that the National Park Service places educational signage along the trail to help explain what you are looking at, why you are out of breath, and what they are doing to protect the natural environment surrounding us.

old fall river road leads to alpine visitors center

From this perspective, you can see Old Fall River road winding up the mountain.

wildflowers in rocky mountain national park tundra

The wildflowers were blooming on the tundra which is a delicate landscape. This area is roped off to encourage crowds to stay on the path.

views from alpine visitor center and alpine ridge trail

There were several groupings of large rocks that my girls enjoyed climbing on.

elevation is 12,005 feet above sea level on alpine ridge trail

The elevation at the top is 12,005 ft. above sea level. You can see for miles! I’m happy we took the time to take the small trek up the trail. It was something our whole family enjoyed. If you like this tundra hike, I also recommend reading our post on the Ute Trail.

Trail Ridge Road

We took Trail Ridge Road back down the mountain towards Estes Park. This trail is far less rustic than Old Fall River Road. We enjoyed views of the mountains and spotting a herd of elk playing in the snow.