Only 35 miles from Denver and starting in the historic community of Idaho Springs, the 28-mile drive crests at Mt. Evans Peak.
Though a portion of the Byway (Highway 103) is open year round to Echo Lake, the road to the summit usually closes in
mid-September and opens Memorial Day weekend due to the 10 to 75-foot snow drifts on the summit road.
You can view the entire Front Range and the Continental Divide from Mt. Evans' 14,264-foot summit.
You'll also experience the same flora and fauna life zones you would find in the Arctic Circle. In addition,
you might spot herds of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Colorado's state animal.
During your climb up the Mt. Evans Scenic and Historic Byway from Idaho Springs, you will pass several mountain
lakes, including Echo Lake at 10,600 feet, Lincoln Lake at 11,700 feet and Summit Lake at 12,830 feet. There are trailheads from the road leading to the lakes. Overall, there are more than 100 miles of hiking trails on Mt Evans. Mountain and road bikers often traverse the Byway to enjoy the scenic magnificence as well.
There are three plant and animal zones along the Mt. Evans Scenic & Historic Byway.
The first, the montane zone, is the traditional forest environment you see at around 7,000 feet at the beginning of
the Byway. Here, you'll see ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir, along with deer, weasel, porcupine, fox, chipmunk, squirrel, black bear and beavers.
The subalpine zone begins at 8,000 feet. Vegetation varies here, but you still can see the bristlecone pines, dense thickets of
skinny lodgepoles, aspens and Englemann spruce. The lodgepole cones adapted to survive many fires by producing lots of seed,
which makes for a dense forest. Although you may get a glimpse of elk, the subalpine zone is home to smaller animals
like the yellow-bellied marmot, badger, ermines and pikas.
At 12,000 feet, you'll hit timberline. Here, intense solar radiation, high winds and freezing temperatures prevent
the growth of vegetation larger than a bush. Above timberline is the alpine zone where you'll see alpine tundra--wild flowers and
other small plants specially adapted to the short growing season at this high elevation.
Mt. Evans is one of the few areas below the Arctic Circle where alpine tundra is found. The rocky alpine zone
is a hospitable area for the sure-footed bighorn sheep and white mountain goat. Notice the horns on the male bighorn sheep--you can
tell the ram's age by the rings of growth laid in the curl.
But this is no petting zoo. Rangers caution us that these are wild animals that bite and ram with their horns.
There is a fine for anyone caught feeding the animals. Please keep a respectful distance.
The flora is extremely vulnerable. There are still areas along the road trying to re-vegetate years after clear-cutting
took place for the road construction.
Sudden changes in weather are not uncommon along the Mt. Evans Scenic & Historic Byway. Daytime temperatures often plummet with
the arrival of a cloud or the stirring of the wind. Expect at least a 15 degree difference between Idaho Springs and the summit
of Mt. Evans. Snow is possible at any time, and in summer thunder showers are frequent in the late afternoon.