Image: Seth K. Hughes
- Have family in for the weekend and they want to see the mountains
- Want to take a date on a beautiful picnic
- Are in the mood for a stunning, high-elevation day hike
- Would like to brutalize yourself via a 30-mile road bike ride with a 6,724 gain in elevation
- Need to climb or boulder some granite
- Are looking for nearby fishing opportunities
- Want to get out of Denver for a day
- Pack up your stuff and go drive up Mt. Evans
The highest paved road in North America, the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway is an ideal day trip out of Denver. An hour’s worth of driving gets you to the base, by way of Idaho Springs, where you can grab a bite, a drink or a soak before (but preferably after) snaking up this somewhat precarious drive.
Image: Jim Lawrence/Flickr
Laned and guardrailed at the bottom, the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway sheds protective barriers in favor of jaw-dropping views as it coils to the top of the 14,264-foot Mt. Evans. If you want to hike up the mountain, or at least along its base, park at Echo Lake and head for the Chicago Lakes Trail. There are also rainbow trout in the lake.
If you’re in a car, pay the $10 toll. It costs $3 if you’re on two wheels; a Golden Eagle Parks Pass also get you in. Meander up to the Walter Pesman Alpine Garden, where ancient Bristlecone pines, some of them nearly 2,000 years old, hug the flank of the mountain.
You’ll soon find yourself driving through a vast alpine tundra, speckled with wildflowers and the occassional mountain goat or Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
Park at the 13,000-foot-high Summit Lake, where you can view crystalline waters and sheer granite cliffs. There’s good climbing here too.
Images: F. Delventhal/Flickr
At the top of the mountain, park and take a quick stroll to what’s left of the Crest House. This souvenir shop burned down in 1979 and was never rebuilt. Today, you can crawl around the ruins and, if your blood oxygen is up for it, have a quick lunch as you take in views of mountain ranges hundreds of miles away.
To learn more about the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway, including where to stay, rafting opportunities and how to best prepare for your 14er adventure, check out the second edition of The Backroads and Byways of Colorado.