If getting high without chemicals is something you like to do, then you’ll love Mount Evans Colorado. Tucked away in the aptly named Mount Evans Wilderness range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Mount Evans offers motorcyclists the opportunity to ride the highest paved road in North America. Be warned, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway will test even an experienced rider’s confidence as it climbs from 7,500 feet in Idaho Springs Colorado to a breathtaking 14,130 feet at the summit turn-around. Just one reason every serious sport touring motorcyclist should put this destination on their bucket list.
Colorado was made for riders!
The Colorado Rockies are jam packed with some of the best motorcycle roads in the world – period. Mile for mile, there’s no other place that offers a better combination of twists, turns, climbs, and descents through awesome vistas stretching for nearly 100 miles on well-maintained roads.
Mount Evans is one of the most spectacular peaks inside the Colorado Rockies collection. First of all, consider that the summit parking lot leaves riders a mere 135 feet below the mountain peak of 14,265 feet above sea level. Denver is visible on the horizon to the east, Pikes Peak to the south, and the Continental Divide to the west. It feels like being on top of the world. The air is thin, the views off the charts, and the ride itself something to remember for a lifetime.
An interesting bit of trivia; in 1863 Mount Evans was originally named for Rosalie Bierstadt, wife of famed western landscape painter Albert Bierstadt who was the first to summit the mountain. Unfortunately for Rosalie, some years later in 1895 the mountain was officially re-named Mount Evans after John Evans the second territorial governor of Colorado. Rosalie did get a mountain however. A nearby 13,575ft peak was named Mount Rosalie in her honor. And by the way, Rosalie’s husband Albert was himself recognized with Mount Bierstadt, a 14,065 ft peak, named in his honor.
There are three structures worth noting at the summit. The first, is the ruins of the Crest House built between 1939 and 1941 which until recently offered a restaurant and souvenir shop. It tragically burned to the ground in 1979. The other two buildings are maintained by the University of Denver; one the High Altitude Lab and the other the Myer-Womble Observatory.
Bring your A game to summit Mount Evans.
As for the road to the summit – not recommended for beginner riders. Construction on the road began in 1923 and opened to the public in 1931. Starting well below the tree line, the road looks and rides like most mountain roads. The climb is steep but not excessive with seemingly never-ending sweeping curves and tight turns. Then everything changes at the tree line – the road narrows and falls away steeply at the shoulders. Grassy fields, alpine lakes, glacial valleys and distant peaks come into view.
Forget about the false security of guard rails, there are none. The last leg to the summit is nothing but increasingly tight switchbacks requiring careful cooperation with opposing traffic. Oh but the views from the summit – worth every measure of road! And as an extra bonus you get to enjoy the views from both directions because the only way down is the way you went up.
A ride to the summit of Mount Evans starts in Idaho Springs Colorado. This little town less than 30 miles north east of the summit is at the entry point to the Mount Evans Scenic Byway. While Mount Evans is the destination you don’t want to miss, Idaho Springs provides a base camp to fuel-up and relax with a cup of coffee before heading out. The main road is dotted with name-brand coffee shops and fast food outlets, but the local mom & pop establishments are your best choice for a truly memorable dining experience. Lodging is also available in and near Idaho Springs ranging from ride-up motels to swanky but still inexpensive casino hotels. A stop at the visitor center offers interesting and helpful information including the latest summit road conditions.
Be prepared. Weather on Mount Evans can change quickly, including becoming winter-like and having low oxygen levels at elevations reaching over 14,000 feet. Load up with plenty of gas, good tires and tire pressure, and of course safe riding gear. This is one ride where full finger gloves, sturdy boots, and protective pants and coat are highly recommended. We don’t have to mention helmets – right?
Allow a couple hours for an unhurried non-stop ride from Idaho Springs to the summit of Mount Evans. Leave Idaho Springs on Colorado Highway 103 South toward Echo Lake. At Echo Lake, take highway 5 to the summit. It’s that easy.
Stop in at Echo Lake Lodge for snacks.
Echo Lake Lodge is located at the junction of CO-103 and HWY-5 and well worth a stop either on the way up or even better on the way down. This historic building was completed in 1926 as a lodge for park visitors. During World War II the lodge, at 10,600 feet, served as a high-altitude training camp for the military. Today the lodge is best known for its restaurant featuring amazing pies and the official Mount Evans gift shop with a wide selection of souvenirs. Ironically, the lodge does not offer accommodations, although campsites are available nearby.
A few more things to know before you ride.
- The scenic byway is typically open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day but may vary depending on weather conditions; check the US Forest Service site for Mount Evans seasonal alerts and warnings before setting out.
- The US Forest Service charges a recreational fee to use park amenities such as the Mount Evans Interpretive Center; however, there is no fee for riding straight through to the summit.
- This is a mountain road so expect the usual mountain animals like bighorn sheep to be lurking just off the road and sometimes in the road itself – stay alert.
If you plan to visit Mount Evans early enough in the day you may have time to ride to Bergen Park an approximately 19 mile, 45 minute, ride past Echo Lake Lodge on Colorado 103 and County Road 66. Or consider riding to the summit of Pikes Peak a do-able 150 mile, 3 hour and 30 minute, ride to the south. It really is true, almost any turn in this part of Colorado leads to another great ride.