The Mt. Evans Scenic Byway is a 14-mile drive to the 14,264-foot summit of Mt. Evans. The route includes pristine lakes, Bristlecone pines, flowers, and lots of wildlife.
Colorado is known for high mountain hikes, but few opportunities exist for those who want a similar experience by car. Less than an hour’s drive from Denver, Colorado, the Mt. Evans Scenic and Historic Byway winds its way up a spectacular high mountain road. Accessible from Idaho Springs on Interstate 70, this scenic drive is a must for summertime visitors.
Getting to the Mt. Evans Scenic & Historic Byway
From Denver, follow Interstate 70 to Idaho Springs, turning off at exit 240. Follow highway 103 south about 14 miles, past Echo Lake, to the Mt. Evans Scenic and Historic Byway entrance sign on the right. There is a small fee for taking the road, waived for Golden Age passport holders. From the entry, the road winds another 14 miles to the summit parking lot.
Open Dates for the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway
Typically, the highway is open from the entrance station to the summit from Memorial Day through Labor Day, although the dates are weather-dependent. The last 5-mile segment, from Summit Lake to the mountain top, usually closes on the day after Labor Day. The lower 10 miles of the road closes the earlier of the first of October or the “first significant snowfall”. Note, however, that the road may be closed temporarily at any time, to ensure safe travel. Possible road closures can be checked online at the Colorado Department of Transportation’s web site.
Mt. Goliath Natural Area
The Mt. Goliath Natural Area is a must-see stop between the byway entrance and Summit Lake. The Natural Area includes several trails and the well-designed Dos Chappell Nature Center. The Nature Center and trailheads are located in the heart of Mt. Evans’ Bristlecone pine forest, at 11,540 feet. There are hundreds of these remarkable pines, some of which may be 2,000 years old, and they are particularly photogenic, with dark blue horizontal cones and golden gnarled trunks.
Birds are abundant along the Goliath trails, as well, including Clark’s Nutcracker, Dark-eyed Juncos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Mountain Chickadees, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Flickers and Steller’s Jays. Hard-to-find but sought after Brown-capped Rosy-Finches have also been reported here.
Trails at the Goliath Natural Area range from an easy Bristlecone pine loop to the M. Walter Pesman Trail, which climbs more than 600 vertical feet in a mile and a half. The upper Mt. Goliath trailhead is located here, as well, and will take experienced hikers nearly 10 miles to the summit.
Visitors should look for herds of elk in the sweeping valleys below the road as they continue the climb. About 10 miles up the byway, drivers come to Summit Lake, a pristine high mountain lake nestled below snow-capped ridges. There is a parking area with restrooms here and a couple of trails that lead to and around the lake. American Pipits and White-crowned Sparrows can be found here, together with Long-tailed Weasels and Rocky Mountain Sheep.
Wildflowers are also abundant along the upper trail, where one can get excellent views of the Chicago lakes in the lower canyon.
The Summit of Mt. Evans
From Summit Lake, the narrowing road climbs steeply for nearly 5 more miles to a parking lot just 34 feet below the mountain’s peak. The remains of the historic Crest house are located here, and restrooms are nearby. A short trail leads to the mountain top, and Mountain Goats often pose for photos. The weather is unpredictable and can be harsh, with blowing snow possible on every day of the year.
Precautions to take when Visiting Mt. Evans
Visitors should carry drinking water and warm clothing. The high elevation of the mountain can cause altitude sickness, and you should be alert to altitude sickness symptoms in yourself as well as others in your party. These symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, and disorientation. If you or anyone in your party experience any of these symptoms, you should immediately return to a lower elevation.
The Pleasures of Mt. Evans
Mt. Evans is a destination that should be on every Colorado tourist’s agenda. An easy drive from Denver, this scenic byway crosses 3 life zones, provides amazing scenery, and showcases Mountain Goats, Rocky Mountain Sheep, Elk, and a variety of birds. Summer wildflowers are abundant, and an easy walk takes you through 2,000-year-old Bristlecone pines. Few other mountain destinations are as spectacular.