Highway Tales - Favorite Drives
Article Date: April, 2013
Bighorn Sheep near Summit
If you're the kind of person who enjoys scenic mountain vistas, have I got a drive for you. Just 30 miles west of
Denver Mount Evans rises to a summit of 14,270'. In 1927 construction was completed on a road to the top of Mount Evans, the nearest 14er
to Denver, allowing tourists to drive their own vehicle to the top. It's the highest paved road in North America and views from the summit
encompass expansive mountain valleys and distant peaks.
The highway begins its climb up the slopes of Mount Evans
We begin our ascent on the Mount Evans Scenic Highway in Idaho Springs, right off of I-70. The first 14.1 miles are
an easy drive, passing through forested slopes as the road winds its way up into the mountain. At that point the road reaches Echo Lake
at 11,000' where the Echo Lake Lodge and a US Forest Service campground exist. This is as far as we can go with the RV. Smaller RVs can
camp at the forest service campground but the nearby Central City KOA offers larger full hookup sites. We found the Central City KOA to
be one of the best KOA campgrounds that we've been in and it's a great place to set up base camp while exploring the Idaho Springs
and Central City areas.
Echo Lake at 11,000'
At Echo Lake the Forest Service gate allows access to the summit over another 14 miles of paved road. However
this road is not RV friendly. The tight switchbacks and numerous dips and frost heaves make it impassable for large vehicles so plan
on taking your tow or towed vehicle the rest of the way. Continuing on up the mountain a whole new life zone unfolds. Heavy forests
give way as the timberline fades. Bristlecone Pine, some of which live up to 1,600 years, populate the next segment. These trees face
a tough life of high winds and extreme cold so they grow very slow and are distorted from the constant high winds but they have adapted
and survive in the high country.
Mountain stream in the mountain's lower forested region.
Bristlecone Pine survive the harsh conditions on the mountain.
Bighorn Sheep at the summit.
The next phase is alpine tundra where Mountain Goats and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep abound. They are often
seen traversing the slopes and cliffs between water and alpine fields where they can graze or feast on salts and minerals in the
rocks. In this section the road clings to the mountain's flanks, surrounded by steep slopes and dropoffs. Eventually the summit is
reached at 14,265'. A parking lot, pit toilets, and viewing area is located here. Marmots are always seen scampering around at the
summit and in the rocky slopes leading up to it and the elusive Pika is sometimes seen.
Winter is long at this elevation and the road generally closes due to snowfall October 1st so this is a
summer, late spring, or early September trip. Weekends are quite busy and Mount Evans is a favorite with local residents so weekdays
are a better choice. Early in the day is the best time. The morning sun warms the eastern flank of the mountain and wildlife will
be more active then as they move out of their dens in search of food.
Yellow Bellied Marmot
Mountain Goats on the Road.
On the way back down a stop at the Mount Goliath Nature Center, where the vast majority of Mount Evans' Bristlecone Pine
trees are located, is a good choice. Finally, no trip to Mount Evans would be complete without our mandatory stop at Beau Joe's Pizza in
Idaho Springs for one of their delicious mountain pies. And don't forget to tell your friends that you've driven higher than most of them have
ever walked or climbed.
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