U.S. 34 connects Granby, Colorado, with Chicago, Illinois, following a path across the Great Plains and Upper Midwest. In Colorado, U.S. 34 begins at U.S. 40 in Granby and immediately begins to ascend toward Rocky Mountain National Park, passing by Grand Lake before entering the park. Open only in summer, U.S. 34 follows the Trail Ridge Road over the top of the Rocky Mountains, rising to elevations over 12,000 feet (the highest point is 12,183 feet, one of the highest elevations on the U.S. Highway System). The highway then descends from alpine heights, meeting U.S. 36 at Deer Ridge Junction, and U.S. 34 then travels into Estes Park.
Estes Park is the primary gateway from the Front Range into the national park; a business route on Fall River Road and Elkhorn Avenue serves downtown, while mainline U.S. 34 bypasses most of the city by following Wonderview Avenue. Continuing east, U.S. 34 travels into Big Thompson Canyon. Signs along the route warn of flash flooding dangers; it is warranted, as the canyon is very narrow, thus leaving excess water very few places to go except up onto the road. The canyon can only accommodate the river and roadway. At the end of the canyon, U.S. 34 emerges in the city of Loveland, and it begins its long journey across the Great Plains toward Chicago.
Between Loveland and Greeley, U.S. 34 is a multi-lane, divided highway. U.S. 34 meets Interstate 25/U.S. 87 at the eastern edge of Loveland, then splits into a business/bypass configuration about five miles east of there to serve the city of Greeley (home of the University of Northern Colorado). After briefly merging onto Interstate 76/U.S. 6, U.S. 6-34 leaves the freeway at Exit 75, and the merged route follows the business loop through Fort Morgan and Brush. U.S. 34 frees itself from the business loop and U.S. 6 just east of Brush, after the intersection with Colorado 71. U.S. 34 then continues east, passing through the eastern Colorado communities of Akron, Yuma, and Wray before entering Nebraska. U.S. 6 and U.S. 34 will meet again in north-central Illinois near Princeton, with U.S. 34 traveling toward Chicago and U.S. 6 skirting the city by traveling through the south suburbs of Chicago.
U.S. 34 East
After separating from U.S. 40 on the north edge of Granby, U.S. 34 begins its eastward journey toward Rocky Mountain National Park. During the winter months, U.S. 34 is only open as far as the Colorado River Headwaters Trail in the park, with occasional closures required below that point in certain bad weather conditions. It is only 16 miles from Granby to the national park, but there is plenty of stunning scenery along the way, including Lake Granby and Grand Lake. In the summer, U.S. 34 continues through the national park, connecting with U.S. 36 and Estes Park on the other side. Photo taken 08/27/04.
The first mileage sign along eastbound U.S. 34 provides the distance to Grand Lake (16 miles) and Estes Park (62 miles). Although 62 miles seems like a short distance, it takes much more than just an hour to cross the Rocky Mountains. Expect the journey to take at least two to three hours to follow U.S. 34 between Granby and Estes Park in the summer with minimal stops, weather permitting. Add a few more hours to take in stops along the way. The road will become very windy, with several switchbacks and sheer cliffs in addition to amazing views and mountain scenery. Photo taken 08/27/04.
This is the first eastbound reassurance shield found on eastbound U.S. 34 after leaving Granby. Note that the directional banner is missing. Notably, U.S. 34 east is actually traveling almost due north from Granby north to Rocky Mountain National Park as it skirts the eastern shore of Lake Granby and Grand Lake. Photo taken 08/27/04.
The tall peaks that reside in Rocky Mountain National Park rise above the forests, offering a stark contrast. Here, eastbound U.S. 34 approaches Grand County Route 61, which provides local access. Photo taken 08/27/04.
U.S. 34 east also connects with Grand County Route 41, which again provides local access between Granby and Grand Lake. Photo taken 08/27/04.
A bit further north, U.S. 34 reaches an intersection with Grand County Route 4. Like some other counties in Colorado, Grand County uses the standard blue-yellow pentagon to sign its county numbered routes. Photo taken 08/27/04.
North of Granby, U.S. 34 reaches the intersection with Stillwater Pass Road, which travels to scenic Stillwater Pass in the Arapaho National Forest. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Lake Granby, an artificial reservoir of the Colorado River, comes into view. The Stillwater River comes into the reservoir from the northwest, while the Colorado River enters the reservoir from the north (and Grand Lake). Photo taken 08/27/04.
A cloud covered much of Lake Granby, even though the sun was shining on the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Photo taken 08/27/04.
U.S. 34 does not enter the village of Grand Lake directly. The upcoming intersection offers a ramp into Grand Lake, while the left lane continues along eastbound U.S. 34 into Rocky Mountain National Park and Trail Ridge Road. Grand Lake is well known for hiking, biking, camping, and water recreation (even though the water is very cold). Vacationers rent or own cabins for the summer in Grand Lake to escape urban life. Photo taken 08/27/04.
To continue east on U.S. 34, stay left. To enter the village of Grand Lake, turn right. Most services are available in Grand Lake, including one of the last gas stations before entering the national park. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Just after the Grand Lake turnoff, eastbound U.S. 34 enters Rocky Mountain National Park. A favorite getaway from the urban areas along the Front Range, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the older parks in the system; it was dedicated in 1915. Elevations range from around 8,000 feet in the "low" valleys to a high point of 14,259 feet at Long's Peak. U.S. 34 becomes known as "Trail Ridge Road" upon entering the park; there are almost no U.S. 34 shields anywhere in the park. Camping, hiking, wildlife viewing, and related activities are the main draw of the park. Approximately 2.7 million people visit the park each year. Photo taken 08/27/04.
One of the popular hiking trails on the western slope of the national park is the Coyote Valley Trail, which offers splendid scenery and a myriad of photo opportunities. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Camping is also widely available. At the time this picture was taken, a brief thunderstorm brought some rain to the area. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Eastbound U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road finally rises above the tree line, entering the alpine tundra of the national park. The western slope receives more precipitation than the eastern slope, thus reinforcing the mountains as a sponge absorbing moisture from approaching storms and disturbances. To illustrate, Grand Lake receives an average of 19.95 inches of precipitation annually, while the town of Estes Park receives only 13.10 inches on average annually. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Continuing east on U.S. 34, the alpine tundra dominates the view. A word of caution to those who are unaccustomed to higher elevations: Watch for dehydration, dizziness, headaches, and nausea. These might be related to altitude sickness. If these occur, keep drinking water and descend to lower elevations as needed. Photo taken 08/27/04.
People are discouraged from hiking on the alpine tundra, due to the sensitivity of the area. Near this area, U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide, which separates water flowing to the Atlantic Ocean (Gulf of Mexico) and the Pacific Ocean. To the west, snow melts toward the Colorado River watershed, while snow melt to the east flows down to the South Platte River, which ultimately connects to the Missouri River and Mississippi River. There is no sign showing exactly where the Continental Divide or the highest point on the road are located at. Photo taken 08/27/04.
The tall peaks of the national park rise in the distance as Trail Ridge Road rises along the crest of the alpine tundra. Closed in winter, this road also sees the potential for snow even in the summer. Tall stakes line the road, offering snow plows a line to follow when re-opening the road after a major weather event or at the beginning of the summer season. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Looking down from U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road is a deep valley, which extends below the tree line. Even so, no valley in the park drops below 7,500 feet; most of the park is well over 8,000 feet in elevation. In fact, over 60 peaks in the national park's 416 square miles exceed 12,000 feet in height. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Switchbacks such as this one in the alpine tundra area are fairly common. Due to the significant amount of traffic on U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road, the switchbacks can be slow going. Watch for parked cars. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Continuing east on U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road, we reach the Alpine Visitors Center and Trail Ridge Store at an elevation of 11,796 feet. This visitors center is seasonal, as it is closed when the road is closed. Miles of alpine tundra as well as the myriad high peaks of the park are visible from the parking lot of the visitors center. Photo taken 08/27/04.
U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road remain in the alpine tundra area for several miles. The peaks of the national park are visible in the distance as U.S. 34 east swings north, east, south, and west as it travels around switchbacks. Photo taken 08/27/04.
A particularly narrow section of U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road is here, at this rock cut. The highway begins to descend toward the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Eastbound U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road passes under the tree line as it continues its descent toward Estes Park. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Several vista points and parking areas offer unparalleled views of the surrounding beauty of the countryside. Photo taken 08/27/04.
The greenery of summer returns as U.S. 34 travels toward the bottom of one the deep valleys on the eastern slope. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Now reaching the bottom of Trail Ridge Road, eastbound U.S. 34 approaches its junction with U.S. 36. Continue straight ahead to follow U.S. 36 east to the Beaver Meadow Visitors Center or turn left to continue on U.S. 34 east to Fall River Visitors Center. Either route connects to Estes Park: U.S. 34 comes into Estes Park from the northwest, while U.S. 36 enters from the southeast. The routes meet one more time, at a major signalized intersection east of downtown Estes Park. From there, U.S. 34 and U.S. 36 begin their separate and long journeys across America's Heartland toward the Midwest. There are not any U.S. shields posted on eastbound U.S. 34, but there are some shields posted in the other directions. Photo taken 08/27/04.
After the intersection with U.S. 36, eastbound U.S. 34 looks northwest at the seemingly barren peaks at the top of the national park. Since U.S. 34 travels northwest for a bit as it leaves this intersection, the road gives the illusion that we are traveling up again. However, the road quickly turns east again toward Estes Park. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Continuing east, U.S. 34 resumes its downward tilt, with continuing gorgeous views of mountain scenery even at these lower elevations. On this day, it was sunny in Denver, but it was somewhat overcast throughout the park, with occasional thunderstorms in the mountains. Oftentimes, the mountains can produce their own weather, even on the downslope. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Now approaching the eastern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park, eastbound U.S. 34 prepares to make its exit as the two directions split. Photo taken 08/27/04.
The standard entrance booths for westbound traffic stop all incoming cars. Eastbound U.S. 34 traffic passes around the booths, and the road prepares to exit the national park. Photo taken 08/27/04.
After the entrance booths, eastbound U.S. 34 passes the Fall River Visitors Center. Generally used by incoming visitors from the east, this visitors center offers road, trail, and park information as well as restroom facilities. Photo taken 08/27/04.
The pavement change signifies the change of U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road into U.S. 34 east, where the state department of transportation takes over maintenance from the National Park Service (NPS). Photo taken 08/27/04.
After departing from Rocky Mountain National Park, U.S. 34 east immediately sees the first signs of development. A camping area is located on the southside of the highway, and a Colorado Department of Transportation mileage sign depicts the distance to Estes Park (5 miles) and Loveland (35 miles). Despite the seemingly short distance to Loveland, the tourist traffic in and around Estes Park, coupled with narrow and winding Big Thompson Canyon, keeps the driving distance on U.S. 34 to Loveland at approximately one hour. Photo taken 08/27/04.
This is the first reassurance shield found on eastbound U.S. 34 after leaving Rocky Mountain National Park. As noted earlier, U.S. 34 is basically not signed within the national park, due to the National Park Service's general reluctance to post highway shields on its roads. So now that U.S. 34 is back on state-maintained asphalt, it is signed with a regular shield once again, for the first time since crossing the Continental Divide. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Eastbound U.S. 34 enters the town of Estes Park, which sits at an elevation of 7,522 feet and encompasses approximately six square miles. As of the 2000 Census, 5,413 people live in the town of Estes Park, and 8,889 live in Estes Valley. The town was incorporated in 1917, only two years after the Rocky Mountain National Park was established. Photo taken 08/27/04.
After entering Estes Park, U.S. 34 splits into bypass and business routes: stay left to follow mainline U.S. 34, avoiding downtown Estes Park and turn right to follow the business route into downtown Estes Park. The fastest route through town would be to take mainline U.S. 34, but scenic downtown Estes Park is not to be missed. Photo taken 08/27/04.
The business route begins as a long offramp from eastbound U.S. 34. Both the bypass and business route begin as two-lane highways. Photo taken 08/27/04.
U.S. 34 West
Westbound U.S. 34 approaches the intersection with U.S. 36 in Rocky Mountain National Park. Unlike most national park signs, the one at this intersection actually shows U.S. shields on it. However, this is not unprecedented: although Yellowstone National Park is perhaps the best known of national parks to eschew the use of any U.S. shields inside the park, other well-known national parks, such as Shenandoah National Park (on Skyline Drive at each U.S. route intersection), Grand Teton National Park (at Moran Junction, where U.S. 26, 89, 191, and 287 meet), and Yosemite National Park (from the valley to California 41, California 120, California 140, and U.S. 395), all post route shields. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Here is a close-up of the signage as seen from westbound U.S. 34 at the intersection with U.S. 36. Use U.S. 36 south (east) to the Beaver Meadow Visitors Center, Rocky Mountain National Park Headquarters, and Bear Lake. Continue west on U.S. 34 by following Trail Ridge Road to the town of Grand Lake and Granby. Note that the sole destination for U.S. 34 can be changed if the road is closed over the top of the mountains. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Westbound U.S. 34 reaches U.S. 36 at this intersection. Historically speaking, U.S. 34 served the national park first, as it was extended west from Nebraska into Colorado back in 1939. While U.S. 36 was extended into Colorado in 1930, it did not extend northwest into Estes Park until 1967 and west into Rocky Mountain National Park until around 1977 or 1978 (based on map research). As a result, latecomer U.S. 36 ends here at its junction with U.S. 34. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Up in the alpine tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park, U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road westbound passes over some of the highest territory along its route. Looking north from this point, the state of Wyoming and the Medicine Bow Mountains are visible only 30-35 miles north of here as the eagle flies. However, it would take a lot longer to travel there via car. Photo taken 08/27/04.
After departing the national park, U.S. 34 descends into Granby, where it meets its western terminus. The Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Route departs from U.S. 34 westbound and follows U.S. 40 west to Kremmling. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Here is a view of the U.S. 34/40 intersection as seen from westbound U.S. 34. There is only a stop sign for westbound U.S. 34 upon reaching U.S. 40 in Granby. Photo taken 08/27/04.
U.S. 40 travels south (east) to Interstate 70 at the town of Empire, then turns east toward Idaho Springs, Denver, and Kansas. To the west, U.S. 40 connects with Kremmling, then turns northeast to Steamboat Springs, Craig, and Dinosaur National Monument in northwestern Colorado. Photo taken 08/27/04.
Business U.S. 34 - Estes Park (Eastbound)
Upon entering downtown Estes Park, the rural highway widens into a traditional shopping area, with plentiful on-street parking and a tree-lined boulevard with a variety of shops, restaurants, and amenities. The business route follows Fall River Road, which changes into Elkhorn Avenue. U.S. 36 joins the business route when it comes into Estes Park from the southwest (via Moraine Avenue and Colorado 66). The business route ends at a four-way signalized intersection with U.S. 34 and U.S. 36: a left connects to westbound U.S. 34/Wonderview Avenue back to Rocky Mountain National Park; straight ahead follows U.S. 34 east into Big Thompson Canyon; and a right turn connects to U.S. 36/Colorado 7 southeast on St. Vrain Avenue toward Boulder and Denver. Photo taken 08/27/04.