Mount Evans Scenic Byway
The highest paved road in North America
|Mileage||27 miles (44 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||57 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||Colorado Highways 103 and 5|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Black Hawk, CO▼, Central City, CO▼, Empire, CO▼, Georgetown, CO▼, Idaho Springs, CO▼, and North Colorado Springs, CO▼|
5.0 average from 6 votes
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If you like your roads squiggly and cliff-hugging with incredible views of mountains, alpine meadows and lakes, mountain goats and bighorn sheep — this is the drive for you. The highest paved road in North America climbs more than 7,000-feet in just 27 miles and every curve unfolds outstanding vistas. Plus, there’s no easier way to summit a 14er. Less than an hour from Denver, this is one incredible day trip.
The drive begins in Idaho Springs and travels to Mount Evans. Note CO-5 from Echo Lake to Mount Evans is closed in winter, and is typically open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Check road conditions before heading out. CO-5 is not recommended for vehicles over 30’ due to the steep, narrow, winding road. Besides precipitous drop offs, take it slow and pay attention while driving this road as it is shared with cyclists.
In Idaho Springs, stop at the Heritage Visitor Center and Museum (M4) for regional information and fascinating exhibits on its rich gold mining history, pioneer life, and Native American artifacts. Downtown Idaho Springs has been declared a National Historic District and makes a great base for exploring the area. Stroll the streets and admire the Victorian buildings, now restaurants, shops, breweries, and a whiskey distiller. Visit one of the outfitters and embark on a river rafting or tubing adventure on Clear Creek. The Underhill Museum (M5) preserves the history of Idaho Springs through artifacts, furniture, kitchenware, and garden. The first gold discovery was made by George Andrew Jackson in 1859 and these hills once produced 1.7-million dollars’ worth way back when the price of gold was $18- $35 an ounce. Learn more about the mining history by touring an actual gold mine. At the Argo Gold Mill and Tunnel (A5) explore the mine and mill both on the National Historic Register. Tours include a lesson in gold-panning and the chance to pan for gold or gemstones such as peridot, topaz, garnet, the state gemstone Aquamarine, and more. You can keep whatever treasures you find. Be prepared for walking outdoors, dress warmly and wear sturdy shoes. Open-toed shoes are not permitted. There is an admission fee. The Phoenix Gold Mine (A8) offers guided tours from an experienced miner. Pan for gold, other minerals, gems and metals and explore along with two hiking trails. There is an admission fee. After all the action, relax at the Historic Indian Hot Springs (A7). Spend time in the mineral water swimming pool, or soak in a geo-thermal cave, a sunken hot tub, outdoor Jacuzzi, or private bath. Overnight accommodations include unlimited use of the hot springs swimming pool. Rates based on which soaking option you choose.
The byway begins heading south on CO-103, following Chicago Creek before climbing a series of hairpin curves.
Echo Lake Park (H2) sits at an elevation of 10,600-feet. The lake is a popular destination for fishing, or just to relax, picnic, and walk the easy trail around the lake. The weather can change quickly up here, so wear layers and be prepared for wind, rain, lightning, snow and hail. There are tent and RV campsites, reserve in advance or try your luck snagging a site first-come first-served. Echo Lake Lodge was built in 1926 and today houses a gift shop and restaurant. There is no lodging anymore. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
To continue the last 14 miles of the byway to Mount Evans, you will have to pay a toll which is valid for 3 days. Do not miss driving the highest paved road in North America, the views are divine!
From here, an extension to the byway was added that heads east on Clear Creek County Road 103 over Squaw Pass to Bergen Park. Along the way, discover many picnic-perfect overlooks, and hiking and mountain biking trails. In Bergen Park, you’ll find services, and you’ll be close to the Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway.
We describe the rest of the byway leaving Echo Lake Park heading to Mount Evans. About six miles ahead is the Mount Goliath Natural Area (H3) which protects the largest, northernmost stand of Bristlecone Pine trees in North America. There are short trails that explore these tenacious trees that are 1600-2500 years old. Subalpine and alpine wildflowers including Moss Campion, Sky Pilot, and Rosy Paintbrush thrive in the tundra environment. Stop in the Dos Chappell Nature Center for more information on plants, birds, and wildlife, or join a free guided wildflower hike. Be aware of “altitude sickness” and drink plenty of water. Parking space is limited, so consider stopping on your way back down.
Carved by ancient glaciers, postcard-perfect pictures await at Summit Lake (W1). There are hiking trails that explore the alpine landscape offering good chances to see mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots and pikas.
At 14,130-feet the Mount Evans Summit (V1) will leave you breathless — literally. If you haven’t had time to acclimate to air at this high elevation, take it easy up here. Revel in magnificent views, and walk the short path to the tippy-top of the summit at 14,264 feet. The easiest hike up a 14er! The Mount Evans Crest House is now in ruins, destroyed by a fire in 1979, but one can appreciate the environmentally-thoughtful design and imagine the structure when it was built in 1940-1941. Summer weekends tend to be crowded and there is not a lot of parking space. If possible try to visit on a weekday, or arrive early. There is no public access to the observatory.
From here, backtrack to Idaho Springs or take the byway spur road to Bergen Park.