One of my favorite day trips from Denver is the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway. Normally open from Memorial Day to Labor Day (weather permitting), this spectacular byway winds up to the peak of one of the Rocky Mountain chain’s most accessible 14ers. The mountain is 14, 265 feet, and the road reaches a final height of 14,130 feet, making it the highest paved road in North America. Pikes Peak, near Coloardo Springs, is the only other 14,000-foot peak accessiable by car.
While the drive to the top takes less than two hours from Denver, you’ll want to plan much more time to fully enjoy all the scenic wonders of Mt. Evans.
The first stop is at the falls on Chicago Creek found along Squaw Peak Road when approaching Mt. Evans from the west (Idaho Springs). This pretty little falls is tucked away on a curve and often overlooked by many in their haste to reach Mt. Evans.
Next along the highway is Echo Lake at the base of Mt. Evans, just west of the turn off onto the byway. I love to arrive here as near as possible to sunrise as the lake is usually calm then and allows for beautiful reflections such as this image of Echo Lake and Alpine Peak.
Heading up the mountain you will want to stop at the Mt. Goliath Nature Center, where you can take a short hike and see many of the different types of high-elevation wildflowers and plants. You may also be fortunate enough to view some wildlife, like these downy woodpeckers.
Continuing up this narrow and winding road (take your time, it’s more fun if you actually make it to the top), the next major stop is Summit Lake. Summit Lake is actually a city park of the City of Denver, so there is a $5 fee to park here, but it’s worth it. The lake is beautiful, especially when it is calm and reflects the peak.
Turning the other way from the lake, the view is just as spectacular.
This last stretch of highway is often my favorite, as it is the part of the trip, where you are most likely to see mountain goats and other wildlife.
Finally arriving at the top, the views are amazing in every direction.
Once you’ve reached the top parking lot, it is only a short hike to the peak. But don’t be fooled. You are nearly three miles above sea level and your lungs will quickly let you know it. Take your time and rest if you need to. It’s apparently a 14er tradition to be photographed with a sign showing the peak name and the elevation when you climb a 14er, so it made me smile to find this sign at the top of Mt. Evans (since I didn’t actually climb the mountain, it’s a bit facetious).
While on top, I found engaging Mr. Marmot, who was not at all afraid of me and happy to pose for photographs. Marmots are cute members of the squirrel family, but they have sharp teeth and will bite if they feel cornered. As with all wildlife, keep your distance and use a long lens.
Heading back down, just below the summit on the south, there is a place you can park and hike down to the beautiful Helms Lake Valley. To my knowledge, this is the only way to get there, as there are no roads to this scenic paradise. I didn’t get to hike on this trip, but you can be sure it’s on my list for next summer.
A few things to know before you go. Mt. Evans Scenic Byway is park of the National Park system, so if you have a Federal Lands All-Access pass, admission is free. Otherwise, it’s $10. From Denver, it’s about a 2-hour drive from the city to the peak–but really, plan time for your stops. Bring plenty of water and drink it. High elevations are dehydrating, and dehydration can contribute to altitude sickness. If you begin to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness, you need to leave the mountain and go to a lower elevation immediately. If you hike, be mindful that you are at an extremely high elevation. If you are not accustomed, you will tire much more quickly than usual. Listen to your body and take your time, resting as necessary.
Bring a jacket. It can and does snow all year round on Mt. Evans. The weather can turn suddenly. If a thunderstorm rolls in, know that you are in an area of extreme danger. Return to your car immediately, and drive down the mountain as safely as possible. Lightning is deadly and your risk is increased at high elevation. If you are prepared, the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway will be a fun and memorable Rocky Mountain adventure.
Many of the images in this post are available for purchase in my art gallery, either by clicking on the image, which will take you to its sales page, or by clicking on the Art Photography link at the top of the page.