We take or send all of our out-of-state friends on one of Colorado’s most spectacular mountain drives, because it starts approximately 35 miles from downtown Denver. The ride up to the peak of Mount Evans, on the highest paved road in North America, winds through ever-changing scenery. You go through several climate changes from where you pass Echo Lake at the entrance to the barren, rocky parking area, about 134 feet from the mountain’s peak.
If you’ve heard about the Coloradan’s who love to bag 14,000-foot and higher peaks, here’s your chance to say you’ve reached the top – although not climbed – 14,264-foot Mount Evans. From the parking area near the peak, there’s a rocky path you can take up to the highest point of Mount Evans.
During the ride on the twisting 15-mile road, you travel through three life zones, from pine-covered slopes to high-alpine tundra dotted with the occasional mountain goat or elk. (Mid-summer, the fields and slopes are filled with vibrant yellow, pale lavender and other colorful wildflowers.)
We’re always amazed at how the gnarled, thousands-of-years-old gnarled bristlecone pines keep living at this altitude. You’ll see these trees, considered the oldest single living organisms on earth, if you stop at the Mount Goliath Research Natural Area and stroll on the paths past the pine and other high-tundra plants. A ranger is usually on duty and can tell you more about the flora and fauna that thrive at this altitude.
On the way up, stop at Summit Lake, formed in a basin left by receding glaciers that once clung to the surrounding peaks. Forest Service interpretive Rangers are stationed throughout the recreation area and happy to tell you about the geology, flora and animals, as well as answer questions.
Ride along with the motorcyclists who are driving up the Mount Evans road in this video
Important to Know
Portions of the Mount Evans Road are closed in the winter and when weather conditions make the road unsafe. Call the Clear Creek Ranger Station at 303-567-3000 before you go. Plan on spending a half- to three-quarters of a day on this excursion. It can be linked with a visit to Idaho Springs.
Travel tips and fees
When it’s 90 in Denver, it can be 40 degrees at the top of the mountain. Bring a jacket. There is a fee station at the entrance. While you can drive to the top without paying a fee, if you park anywhere along the route or at the top you must have a permit. Park rangers ticket parked cars without a permit. Drive down the mountain in a lower gear, so you don’t burn out your car’s brakes.
The most common approach is to take I-70 to Route 103 (Exit 240) in Idaho Springs, follow 103 for about 14 miles to the fee station then go up Hwy 5 to the summit. Return to I-70 on the same road.
For the most scenic drive, take a circular route. From Denver, take I-70 to the Evergreen Parkway (Exit 252). Head into Evergreen and turn right on Squaw Pass Road (Route 103). This route takes you on a winding road through towering pines and alongside a stream, until you come to the fee station. After you’ve been to the summit, at the fee station turn left on Route 103 and take it out to Idaho Springs, a former mining town where you can visit a gold mine and a gold mill.
High Altitude Tips & Weather
You’ve climbed about 5,000-feet higher than Denver, by the time you reach the top of Mount Evans, and driven through several weather zones. Take a look at these High Altitude Tips and Weather Tips.