The 2013 Colorado floods caused widespread damage, especially to parts of US 34 through the Big Thompson Canyon. Many of the same sections of the road were damaged during the 1976 flood as well.

Courtesy CDOT

Want to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park? Starting Oct. 17, you’d better plan on adjusting your route as one of the major roads leading to Estes Park will be closed – through Memorial Day 2017.

It’s all to make permanent repairs to damage from the massive floods of 2013 – and the 1976 flood – along US 34 through Big Thompson Canyon. The closure will run between miles 77 and 80. US 34 will still be open east of mile 80 (near Cedar Cove) and west of mile 70 (just east of Drake). The Colorado Department of Transportation has been studying the flow of the river in the canyon looking not only for safety improvements, but ways to protect roads and bridges against future floods.

One particular section that CDOT is paying attention to is a giant curve that was washed out in both floods.

“We are actually going to allow the river just to do what it wants to do and we’re actually gonna cut through the mountain and basically cut off that curve,” said CDOT spokesman Jared Feil. “So, the river will continue along that curve and the roads’ basically going to over it, through the mountain to the other side.”

The blasting for curve work has already been causing delays ahead of the full nearly nine month closure. Big Thompson Canyon residents will have limited access during the closure and permits will be required. Two open house style meetings will be held allowing the public to ask questions about the closure. The first will be Sept. 29, 2017 at Big Thompson Elementary in Loveland and the second will be Oct. 4, 2017 at Estes Park High School. Both open houses start at 6 p.m.

Access to the canyon will only be allowed to residents and emergency services. Residents with access permits shouldn’t expect free flowing traffic. Travel will be limited to two windows led by a pilot vehicle, 6 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.

“We don’t want people to think that just because you got a permit you’re gonna be able to cruise up and down whenever you want and get there in a timely fashion,” Feil said. “It’s still gonna be slow going.”

In the meantime, CDOT wants Northern Colorado travelers to start getting used to using the detour route over Highway 66/US 36 through Lyons for access to Estes Park and the surrounding area.