Mountain Lake near Mt. Evans
Clear Creek County Highway 103 from Idaho Springs leads to Highway 5, the highest road in North America. On the way, it passes Echo Lake, a cool spot to spend the day.
Idaho Springs is located on Interstate 70, less than an hour’s drive from Denver. Highway 103 is relatively level for the first few miles out of Idaho Springs, at 7,500 feet, but then begins a steady climb to Echo Lake, at 10,635 feet.
Echo Lake in Clear Creek County, Colorado
Echo Lake is a lovely treed area nestled in the mountains just under 11,000 feet. Only 13 miles from Interstate 70 at Idaho Springs, it is an easy day trip from either Denver, to the east, or the mountain resort areas of Keystone, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain to the west.
The lake is owned and operated by Denver Mountain Parks, and is stocked annually with fish. There is a level three-quarter-mile trail around the lake, with benches spotted along the way. A picnic area with tables in the trees and a restroom are located on the north side of the lake, and an Arapahoe National Forest campground is located on the other side. There is ample parking at the lake, and no fees are charged.
Birding at Echo Lake, Colorado
In July and August, probably the best times to bird Echo Lake, fledglings and juvenile birds can be found in the lake as well as around it. Mallard families are common on the lake in summer, and juvenile migratory birds are found in the trees throughout the picnic area. Gray Jays, Steller’s Jays and Clark’s Nutcrackers are commonly seen, as are Red-naped Sapsuckers.
American Robin, Dark-eyed Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows are also seen in the picnic area. Mountain Chickadees can be spotted in the pine trees, and several migratory warblers can found in the willows along the lake, including Yellow, Yellow-rumped and Wilson’s.
Driving and Sightseeing Beyond Echo Lake
Echo Lake is located just north of the fee entrance to the Mt. Evans scenic drive, Colorado Highway 5, the highest road in North America. Highway 5 winds its way from the entrance station at 11,000 feet up the mountain to the summit parking area at 14,240 feet, 14 miles distant. From the parking lot, one can climb on a short trail which leads to the summit at 14,264 feet. The Mt. Evans road passes through 3 life zones before reaching the top, winding through 2,000-year-old Bristlecone pine trees at Mt. Goliath Natural Area and pausing at Summit Lake, at 12,860 feet.
Birding and other wildlife opportunities are plentiful along this highway, especially at Mt. Goliath Natural Area and at Summit Lake, but the season is short. The highway is closed during “unsafe” weather conditions. The top 5 miles (from Summit Lake) are closed after Labor Day, and the entire 14 mile stretch beyond Echo Lake closes the earlier of October 1 or the “first significant snowfall”. To ensure that the highway is open, check online with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Getting to Echo Lake in Clear Creek County
From Denver, follow Interstate 70 to Idaho Springs. Take exit 240 and turn south on Highway 103. Echo Lake is on the right, approximately 13 miles from Interstate 70.
Stopping at Echo Lake on the Mt. Evans Scenic Highway
Driving to the summit of 14,264-foot Mt. Evans on North America’s highest road is a favorite with Colorado tourists. Echo Lake is a beautiful wayside on this route, and an ideal place to picnic, watch birds or fish. The lake is also an easy day trip from either Denver or the ski resorts of Summit County.