Green grass, pond and Rockies in background

All photos: Anna Norris

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks — and a sure way to make the most out of limited time is to take Trail Ridge Road all the way up to its highest point. Since pets aren't allowed on hiking trails here, but they can go wherever a car can go, this road is a great way to see many of the park's highlights with your four-legged companions.

Dubbed the "highway to the sky," Trail Ridge Road stretches 48 miles between Estes Park and Grand Lake, steadily climbing 4,000 feet of the mountainside until it reaches its highest elevation of 12,183 feet. Its multiple pullouts allow travelers to enjoy many of the park's most incredible features:

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Leaves in foreground, elk blurred in background

At the foot of the mountains are mixed forests of evergreens and aspens, and if you take the time to really look, there are often surprises to be found.

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Elk hiding behind trees

A majestic elk takes cover behind the trees.

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Elk in trees and open field

Open fields meet with hillside forests — the perfect combination to spot some of the park's elusive wildlife.

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Looking down on Aspen tree

The pullout points offer unique perspectives of the flora as well as the fauna.

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Stream runs down mountain into trees

At a slightly higher elevation, the view is spectacular, especially on an early summer day.

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Aspen tree frames Rocky Mountains

And higher still, visitors can catch a glimpse of the snowy mountaintops from afar.

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Boulder and mountains behind

Trek a little farther past the pullout points (when allowed) and spectacular views mix with fun rock climbing opportunities.

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Chipmunk rests on windy outcrop of mountain

As the wind picks up and the temperature drops, chipmunks don't seem to mind.

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Chipmunk laying down on rocky mountain outcrop

Despite the chilly weather towards the top of the mountain, this chipmunk is calm and relaxed.

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Chipmunks fighting playfully

... Until another chipmunk hops along for a playful fight.

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Bird flying over snowy mountains

A huge bird of prey soars above the tallest mountains — incredibly, this is a typical view from the car window.

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Lava Cliffs

Near the highest point, the ancient Lava Cliffs, formed over 20 million years ago, offer a glimpse into the past. In June, the cliffs peek out of the still-melting snow.

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Snowy mountaintops and tundra

And a final glimpse from the tallest areas of the road, surrounded by tundra and "cookies and cream" mountains as far as the eye can see.

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Anna Norris is an associate editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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