Completed in 1931, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway runs 28 miles and gains a dizzying 6,590 vertical feet.
The road has many switchbacks on the mountain and terrifying drop-offs without guardrails. Clouds may obscure visibility and snow can occur at any time, but there are many pulloffs for foolhardy travelers to stop and take pictures along the way and if necessary, rest their brakes. On the way up the road travelers can also stop at the Mount Goliath Natural Area to see protected bristlecone pine trees, as well as Summit Lake Park to see Summit Lake, a pristine tarn in a cirque carved by glaciers.
The road ends at a parking lot with the remains of the Crest House, an observatory, and a trail so that travelers can walk the final 135 feet to the 14,265 foot summit of Mount Evans. The Crest House was a gift shop and restaurant until it burned in 1979, but the ruins are left today as a windbreak. On the summit, mountain goats and yellow bellied marmots may be seen in the rocks, and wide Rocky Mountain views and much cooler temperatures await the traveler. If it is a hot day in Denver on the weekend, locals will flock to the mountain where the temperature drops up to 5 degrees F for every 1,000 feet of elevation gained, and likely fill up the parking lot.
On the descent, travelers should heed the warning and descend on the road in lower gear so that their brakes do not overheat and lose their effectiveness. Also, yield to ascending vehicles in switchbacks so they too can drive their car or ride their bike on the highest paved road in the continent.
Know Before You Go
From Interstate 70 in Colorado, take exit 240. Follow the signs on Colorado Route 103. Turn right onto Colorado Route 5 at the Echo Lake Lodge to the payment kiosk. Drive or ride Route 5 to the summit parking lot. The road is only open Memorial Day-Labor Day, conditions permitting. Please note that the higher the elevation, the more important it is to stay hydrated - and be aware that the significant drop in air pressure makes exercise more difficult; some may not want to climb that last bit to the top.