When I was doing all of our pre-vacation research on Rocky Mountain National Park, I discovered that there are actually five visitor centers in the national park and a few other informational kiosks and ranger outposts. I knew we’d visit Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, Fall River Visitor Center, and Kawuneeche Visitor Center because they are all near major park entrances, and the Moraine Park Discovery Center because it’s off Bear Lake Road in one of the most popular areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, but the one I was most excited to visit, the one that I knew would be unlike any other visitor center we have been to, was the Alpine Visitor Center.
At 11,796 feet elevation, the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park is the highest elevation visitor center in the entire National Park System.
The Alpine Visitor Center is the perfect halfway point, when driving Trail Ridge Road between Estes Park and Grand Lake. So after visiting the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, stopping at Farview Curve Overlook, checking out the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, and taking in the view at Medicine Bow Curve Overlook, we pulled into the crowded parking lot ready for lunch!
Sitting at the top of Fall River Pass at the junction of Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road, the Alpine Visitor Center provides absolutely spectacular views of the alpine tundra, Fall River Cirque, Continental Divide, and the Never Summer Mountains.
At the visitor center, you’ll also find:
- Interpretative exhibits about the alpine tundra ecosystem, mountain geology, and animals living in the park
- Rocky Mountain National Park information
- A ranger-staffed desk to answer questions and ranger-led park orientations and interpretive programs on the alpine tundra
- The Alpine Ridge Trail, a short 0.25 mile out and back trail totaling 0.5 miles. While it’s a short hike, you’ll climb 300 feet in elevation in just a quarter mile and at 11,796 feet elevation, it can feel pretty dang strenuous — which is probably why we heard people calling the hillside it climbs Huffer’s Hill.
We first wandered through the visitor center, checked out the exhibits, and headed outside to see the views behind the building, which were breathtaking. This overlook gave us our first views of Old Fall River Road, an 11 mile, 15 mph, one-way dirt road that stretches from Horseshoe Park near the Fall River Entrance Station to the visitor center. We had plans to make that drive the next day and seeing it from this angle just sealed the deal.
Trail Ridge Store and Café
Adjacent to the visitor center is the Trail Ridge Store and Café, the only snack bar and restaurant in Rocky Mountain National Park.
As much as I was excited to go to the visitor center, my family was excited to go to the Trail Ridge Store and Café. Not only is it a HUGE store with gifts, clothing, jewelry, crafts, toys, games, food, drinks, and almost anything else you can think of, but it has a pressed penny machine and Carter collects pennies from all of our family adventures.
Opposite the gift shop, is a large snack bar and restaurant with indoor seating. It’s the perfect place to enjoy lunch and take in the views of the beautiful Fall River Cirque. We skipped the restaurant food however, and opted for a tailgate picnic in the parking lot.
About the parking… The Alpine Visitor Center and Trail Ridge Café parking lot is crazy busy from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm and during these busy hours, you may be unable to park. The first time we drove by, the parking lot was closed. Luckily, the next day when we arrived just before lunch time, we were able to find one of just a few spots left! If you can, try to arrive in the morning.
Know Before You Go
- Alpine Visitor Center is located in Fall River Pass on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park at the junction of Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road in Larimer County, Colorado.
- At 11,796 feet elevation, the Alpine Visitor Center is the highest national park visitor center in the United States.
- At the Visitor Center, you’ll find park information, a ranger-staffed desk to answer questions, a bookstore, interpretative exhibits about the alpine tundra ecosystem and mountain geology, and accessible flush restrooms.
- It is one of five visitor centers spread throughout the park.
- It is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Memorial Day weekend through mid-October, depending on weather. It, along with a large portion of Trail Ridge Road, is closed in the winter due to snow.
- Visit the Alpine Visitor Center early or late in the day. The parking lot is busy from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm and during these hours, you may be unable to park.
- Food, drinks, and pets are not allowed in any park visitor centers. The National Park Service welcomes service animals that have been individually trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of persons with disabilities.
- At the Trail Ridge Store and Café adjacent to the Alpine Visitor Center, you’ll find the only restaurant and snack bar in the national park, as well as a huge store with food, drinks, clothing, gifts, souvenirs, games and toys, artwork, and much more.
- Hike the Alpine Ridge Trail, a short 0.25 mile out and back trail totaling 0.5 miles. While it’s a short hike, you’ll climb 300 feet in elevation in just a quarter mile and at 11,796 feet elevation, it can feel pretty dang strenuous.