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Just beyond Denver, outside Idaho Springs, stands beautiful Mount Evans, a 14,265′ beast of a mountain in the Front Range of Colorado. We originally drove the 14 mile trek up the mountain a few years ago, but this year we went back for a second trek up the mountain. This time was far less lonely, as there were plenty of other adventurers exploring right along with us; and we saw so much more wildlife this time than we’d seen on our previous trip. This is one trip I’ve been so excited to share because, like our overlanding to Crystal Mill road trip, it’s a trip I could honestly do over and over again; the views from the top, including those of the Continental Divide, just never get old.
Imagine a road that leads up a mountain…no guard rails, no walls, and really no shoulder room at all…a road that seemingly leads to the clouds or sits on the edge of Heaven. Long poles stand in the air, showing the direction the road takes in winter when snow covers the road so deep the path is unrecognizable. That road is Highway 5, from Echo Lake to the top of Mount Evans; it’s the highest paved road in North America. The first time we drove this road, I needed a paper bag; I don’t know why I was so scared. Sure, there are sheer rock walls and drop offs that make me think of the road in Arizona we drove where cars were scattered down the side of the mountain, having missed the curve and gone over the side. But all in all, the second time around was so much better; you can ask Dan. Though we were all a bit nervous (it felt like we were taking a risk), we were so excited we could hardly stand it. Mount Evans is a wild, untamed, less explored, off the beaten path, beautiful, amazing place. The road is only open through the summer into usually the first weekend of October; in fact, it’s closed for the season now. But it’s definitely one place that should be on everyone’s Colorado bucket list.
The Road to Mount Evans
You can read a little bit about the history of Mount Evans and how the road was built through the US Forest Service. The road actually opened up for the public to drive in 1931. It travels to 14,130 feet in elevation.
The road is fairly smooth when you enter the gate at the bottom, and it remains pretty smooth until you get closer to Summit Lake. Then the road gets quite rough. Driving through a few parts of the road, some of the edges looked as though they were eroding away, so that made the ole heart skip a beat. There are places to park along the way and get out and explore, though. The views are awe-inspiring, just amazing, views like we had never seen before. The closer you get to the top, the more switchbacks you’ll drive.
Recreational Areas on Mount Evans
Along the way are places to catch a scenic view, get out and explore, hike…there are several trails leading here and there, especially at recreational spots along the way. Mount Goliath Natural Area and Dos Chappell Nature Center is one of the first stops. Explore the nature center, or walk around an alpine garden amongst Bristlecone Pines that are 900-2,000 years old.
Summit Lake Park is probably my favorite stop because it’s just so breathtakingly beautiful. Travelers come to a rather flatter spot nearer the top of the mountain where a lake rests. There are patches of snow here and there. It’s green and gorgeous and reflective and filled with wildlife.
We walked the trail back to where we could also view Chicago Basin. Pictures just don’t do it justice…
At the top of the mountain, once you’ve reached the end of the road, lies the Summit with the ruins of an old restaurant, an observatory, and a short hike to the very top of Mount Evans.
This is where my story becomes a tad bit sad…Jaden and I were hit hard with altitude sickness; oh, let me tell you, altitude sickness is very real. So, we were forced to stay at the Summit while Jacob and Dan walked to the very top, though they also started feeling the effects the higher they climbed. Oh, I was so bummed. But I wasn’t about to let it stop the guys from taking off and finally getting to see the very top; it was something we’d all waited for and looked forward to with anticipation. Finally, they made it to the hallowed benchmark at the very top.
Even without hiking the extra hundred or so feet in elevation, the views from the Summit are spectacular. There are times when you’re above the clouds; this particular day happened to be quite sunny, and the clouds were higher up. The brilliance of the sun shining down through the clouds with mountains all around…views of the Continental Divide. These Rocky Mountains are where my heart truly feels at rest.
Wildlife on Mount Evans
Along the way, we happened upon Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (which we confused with mountain goats).
Marmots played here and there. And the Mountain Goats at the top were just gorgeous! They climbed up on top of the building, all around on the rocks…this was their home. Babies stole my heart when they pitifully bleated for their mamas.
It was such an awesome experience getting to enjoy the wildlife this time ’round, seeing so many different types of wildlife that call Mount Evans home.
Details for Your Trip to the Top of Mount Evans
Again, altitude sickness….My thoughts were that it would take a strenuous hike to get sick. Not so! The drive ascends rather quickly, and it’s easy to start feeling the effects right away. Drink plenty of water and take your time! You’ll want to take plenty of water and a few snacks with you. It also gets pretty cold the higher you go, so pack jackets, and maybe some gloves and hats too. It’s also important to note that just like any other mountain hike or mountain adventure, the weather can change in a snap. Make sure you’re prepared in case the weather should take a turn for the worse. And I think it goes without saying, but vehicles over 30′ long…not wise, just not good (shaking my head vehemently back and forth). Oh, and don’t feed the animals!
Wondering about facilities or accessibility? Vault toilets are available at 3 recreational stops along the way, including the Summit. Summit Lake does offer an accessible trail, as well. If you’re packing a picnic, Summit Lake is a great place to stop and enjoy a bite to eat. Again, though, pack your jacket!
There is a recreation fee to enter the Mount Evans Recreation Area, and you pay as you enter the gate to the road. A regular 3 day pass for 1-12 persons is $10/vehicle. Motorcycles are $3/person. A season pass is only $25. And if you’re like us and hold a Federal Recreation Passport or National Parks Annual Pass, you can enter for no charge at all.
The road does become quite narrow and parts of it are a bit intimidating, but it’s so worth the drive. We wouldn’t hesitate to do it again, and I recommend it to anyone I know who’s going to Colorado. It’s such a beautiful drive and something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.