Mount Evans may not be the highest peak in Colorado, that honor goes to Mt Elbert, but it does boast the highest paved road in North America. The 14 mile ascent – which terminates at the summit parking lot at 14,130′ – offers visitors spectacular views of the continental divide, a number of 14ers and the Mount Evans Wilderness Area.
If you’re traveling with kids there’s a neat nature center and a (very) short dirt hiking trail that meanders through the Bristlecone pines at the Mt. Goliath Natural Area (not suitable for strollers) which is usually not quite as chaotic as the summit parking lot on a busy day. If you’re looking for a longer hike then you can park at the trailhead at Summit Lake (12,830′) and hike to the summit of Mount Evans (an elevation gain of approximately 1,300 feet.)
The summit parking lot can be a bit of a zoo but it’s definitely worth the trip for the views alone. You’ll often spot Mountain goats here but you may not always see Marmots, Pika and Bighorn Sheep.
Where to eat:
Echo Lake Lodge – located 14 miles from the summit of Mt Evans – is a combination souvenir shop and restaurant. The latter offers a good selection of reasonably priced standard American fare from sandwiches and burgers to a range of homemade pies. Address: 13264 Chicago Creek Rd, Idaho Springs, CO 80452 • Tel: (303) 567-2138 •
If you’re a fan of brisket, pulled pork and ribs then the no frills Smokin’ Yards BBQ in Idaho Springs will be right up your alley. Address: 2736 Colorado Blvd, Idaho Springs, CO 80452 • Tel: (303) 567-9273 •
Located in downtown Idaho Springs, Beau Jo’s Pizza has a great up-beat vibe and serves up classic Colorado pizzas, regular pizzas and calzones as well as offering a great salad bar. Address: 1517 Miner St, Idaho Springs, CO 80452 • Tel: (303) 567-4376 •
Where to stay:
There’s no camping on Mount Evans, probably with good reason given the elevation. The closest location is Echo Lake Campground (open June 6 through September 7) a pretty, pint-sized, campsite alongside the lake with 4 tent sites and 13 tent/RV sites • 1 pull-through • Max vehicle length 34′ • No hookps • If you have a larger RV you’ll have to look further afield. You might want to consider the Denver West/Central City KOA. The campground has good amenities and is easily accessible via the Central City Parkway.
Mount Evans Information:
Address: Mount Evans Road, Evergreen, CO 80439 • Tel: (303) 567-3000 • GPS Address: 2 Mt Evans Rd. Idaho Springs, CO. 80452 Admission Fee: Motor vehicles $10 • Motorbikes $3 • Seasonal Opening Information: Open Memorial Day through the first weekend in October (weather permitting), the top five miles usually closes after the first snow •
Rocky Mountain Bighorn: The state animal of Colorado
Designated the state animal of Colorado in 1961, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis Canadensis) is just one of a number of animals to be found on the slopes of Mount Evans. A gregarious animal that can be found in small herds throughout the Colorado Rocky Mountains (including Rocky Mountain National Park and in a number of locations in Clear Creek County) the bighorn sheep remains threatened by a number of factors including; loss of habitat due to human encroachment and to competitor species like the Mountain goat, disease and poaching. This magnificent animal was beautifully described in the writings of the naturalist John Muir: “Eagerly I marked the flowing undulations of their firm, braided muscles, their strong legs, ears, eyes, heads, their graceful rounded necks, the colour of their hair, and the bold, upsweeping curves of their noble horns.”
Rocky Mountain Goat: King of the Mountain
Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus) populations can be found in Clear Creek, Eagle, Summit, Pitkin, Gunnison, Grand and Chaffee counties and, contrary to popular belief, the species is not actually indigenous to Colorado (the latter remains a bone of contention with bighorn conservationists.) Day trippers will find that Mount Evans remains one of the easiest and most accessible locations to view Mountain goats in the wild, though spotting them on every visit to the mountain is by no means guaranteed. Unlike bighorn sheep (where it’s easy to tell rams and ewes apart) male and female goats are surprisingly similar as both sexes have beards. The best way to differentiate between them is by comparing the horn size. In males the horns are thicker, have slightly more curvature and are larger than the eye. In females the horns are thinner, have less curvature and are equal to or smaller than the eye.
The American Pika: Mouse or rabbit?
Often mistaken for a rodent, the cute and cuddly American Pika (Ochotona princeps) is actually more closely related to the rabbit. Usually found at higher elevations in talus fields (rock strewn slopes) and sometimes in the detritus that man leaves behind (I once spotted a Pika colony making their home in a mass of concrete rubble on one of the 4×4 trails above Winter Park) Pikas can be located by listening for their squeeks, though this is not always easy in high winds at elevation. Once you’ve located them be sure to set a fast shutter speed (or use sport mode) because these tiny mammals move remarkably fast. One of the best times to photograph Pika is in late summer and Fall when they are busy prepping for winter. You can often see them running around gathering vegetation and carrying it back to their nest, a process called “haying.”
Usually found in Colorado at elevations above 6,500 feet (and more often above tree line), the yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris aka the Rock Chuck) is another popular inhabitant of the Mount Evans Wilderness Area (though the images on the left were actually captured in RMNP) and its environs. Often found in talus (boulder fields) or atop rocky promontories these outgoing and inquisitive mammals seem to spend most of their time eating, sleeping, reproducing, napping and sunbathing. Marmots,who are usually toned and sleek, can grow to a fairly prodigious size before they leave their summer burrow and relocate to a larger communal burrow where they hibernate over winter. During the summer months marmots can often be seen scampering across the rock fields near the summit car park in the shadow of the remains of the old Crest House (Gus Roehling’s “Castle in the Sky.”)
Mount Evans and Beyond
Take a trip with the Road Nomad from Denver through the Veterans Memorial Tunnel in Idaho Springs and passing Echo Lake before beginning the tortuous ascent to Mount Evans via the highest paved road in North America.
Mount Evans – Key Facts:
1. Highest Paved Road in North America (14,130′). Not to be confused with Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park which claims to be the highest continuously paved road in North America, reaching 12,183 feet at its highest point,
2. When the Crest House at the summit of Mount Evans was completed in 1941, it was reputed to be the highest building in the world, standing as it was at a staggering 14,260 feet at the highest point of the structure,
3. Mount Evans at 14,271′ is the highest of the mountains that comprise the Chicago Peaks range,
4. Mount Evans was originally named Mt Rosa but in 1895 was renamed Mt. Evans to honor John Evans, a former governor of Colorado,
5. The Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill climb is an annual bicycle race which has been run annually (with a few breaks) since 1962. The grueling 27.4 mile race to the summit of Mt. Evans begins in Idaho Springs at an elevation of 7,500′ and finishes at the summit of the mountain. An elevation gain of some 6,630 feet.