Mount Evans Scenic Byway

As usual, I am trying to catch up on sharing the wonderful experiences we have had here in Colorado this summer. On June 23rd, between visits from friends, and exactly a week after Eric & Pam so graciously delivered our motorcycles to us in Estes Park, we decided to break the no riding spell with a doozy! Mount Evans Scenic Byway has long been the highest paved road in North America, at 14,130′, and it is approximately 100 beautiful, curvy, and twisty miles from Estes Park!

We had a lazy morning, but about 11 AM, we headed south on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway which starts on CO 7, then dips east on CO 72, into the interesting little town of Nederland. At Nederland, we hoped to have lunch, but the combination of a bicycle ride and an art festival convinced us to keep moving. We turned onto CO 119 South into casino towns BlackHawk and Central City, which were quiet compared to Nederland, so we stopped for a quick lunch before jumping on the four-lane Central City Parkway down to Idaho Springs. This road can be deceiving: it is wide and has sweeping curves that make you want to roll on that throttle, but beware! The speed limit is between 35 and 45 MPH and it is heavily patrolled! We saw one unlucky victim on our way home.

At Idaho Springs, we took CO 103 south to Echo Lake Park, where Co 5, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway begins. Both 103 and 5 have plenty of amazing turns and scenic views to entertain you on the way to Mount Evans! Despite the incredible scenery on the way, we were on a bit of a mission, so no photos of the trip there.

Mount Evans Recreation Area is a US Forest Service site, and part of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, so there are fees to enter. A valid Interagency pass such as a Senior or Annual pass is honored there, but alas, we forgot ours! We happily paid the nominal fee of $3 per motorcycle to enter and were rewarded by the smiling ranger at the gate with a handful of stickers to add to the collection on both bikes! 🙂

Mount Evans is the highest summit of the Chicago Peaks in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, can be seen from over 100 miles away to the east, and many miles in other directions. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway was begun in the early 1900s and finally completed in 1930 as a joint effort between the City and County of Denver, the U.S. Congress, the State Highway System, the Forest Service, and a newly formed Federal Agency, the Bureau of Public Roads, overcoming great environmental hardships caused by the extreme altitude.

As you ascend on the scenic byway the terrain passes through evergreen-covered slopes, wide arrays of wildflowers, patches of quaking aspen, battered and twisted ancient bristlecone pines at the tree line, and then alpine tundra above. The tundra around Summit Lake (elevation 12,836′), particularly in Summit Lake Flats, the gently sloping area east of the lake, is often described as the southernmost area of arctic tundra in the world because it is water saturated and underlain by an extensive area of permafrost. This saturation causes a unique character to the roadbed in this area, turning asphalt into a motocross-style ride with whoops and bumps that was very entertaining for these GS riders! 😀

As you reach the summit, there is a large parking area surrounding a turnaround, and the ruins of the Crest House (1939–1942) sit nearby. A romantic gesture from a German immigrant who dreamed of creating a “Castle in the Sky” for his future wife, it once contained both a restaurant and a gift shop, and was the highest structure in the world at 14,260′, but it burned down on September 1, 1979, and was never rebuilt. The rock foundation and walls remain as a windbreak for mountain travelers, and the viewing platform is one of Colorado’s premier scenic overlooks.

Anyway, let’s get to the good stuff, the pictures!

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Jerry at the Summit sign in the parking area, with the Crest House in the background

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The Crest House Facade

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Interior view of the Crest House

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The view from the parking area looking east

The main attraction on most days, however, is not always the view! The mountain goats are everywhere, and they truly own the place. We were gobsmacked to see these wild creatures right on the path in front of Crest House, and on the rocks above!!!

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Peek-a-boo around Mom!

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Not so shy anymore!

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So incredibly close!

 

I just wanted to pick the little one up and snuggle it! But, I know better…we need to leave the wild things wild. I just hope everyone else knows that too… There were a couple of older gents climbing around on the rocks above, just checking things out.

 

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Dreamy sky contrasted with the ever-present rocks.

To truly reach the summit of Mount Evans, you must climb a moderate switchback trail to 14,265 feet above sea level. Darn if we didn’t forget our hiking boots and so we climbed in full riding gear! Off we went, only to be greeted at the top with these views.

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Or if you prefer video, I have those too! The first one is 21 seconds and the other two only about 4 seconds.

 

 

 

For perspective, here are a couple of shots from the summit looking back down to the parking area and Crest House.

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The Crest House is at Jerry’s left hand

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The Meyer-Womble Observatory, beyond the Crest House, is the highest one in the West

We descended from the summit after enjoying the views and walked around the parking area a bit more.  The views were still incredible, including a view towards our summer home and Longs Peak!

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The peaks in the view looking North

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Longs Peak in the distance to the north

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The peaks in the view to the South

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Southern peaks on the sign above were obscured by haze, possibly from fires

Ah well, time to suit up and get going. One last shot for perspective. The summit is above Jerry and the bikes at the top of those rocks!

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A few switchbacks down the mountain, and we hit the wildlife bingo again! I won’t go on about the IDIOT tourists who stop their cars in the middle of the road…pull over, you dolts! We pulled safely to the shoulder before capturing these creatures!

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Mountain goats to the left of me…

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Big Horn Sheep to the right…surveying his kingdom

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Nimble creatures on the rocks

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Posing on the edge of the world!

Can’t go without sharing a video of these majestic creatures!

 

We headed down the mountain as the sun was getting lower, but despite the late hour, we couldn’t resist one more stop for this view.

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Looking off the end of the world

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Jerry waiting patiently as I take “just one more pic”

It was a nice 100-mile ride home, easily worth the time and effort to experience one of the incredible fourteeners of the Rockies. I hope you’ll join us again as we make the most of our summer in Colorado!

19 thoughts on “Mount Evans Scenic Byway

    • Richard it is a spectacular ride! The 200 mile round trip must have had 500 curves, and it was wonderful to ride again after two and a half months! 😲 Just like riding a bike, you know. 😉

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  1. Wow. Such a cool spot. The remains of that house sorta blend into the landscape, so good thing you told us where to look by Jerry’s left hand. Did you know that “Nederland” in Dutch the Netherlands? You did indeed hit the wildlife jackpot there. The mom and baby mountain goats are great, but I think the Bighorn Ram is my favorite. Great job on the pics and explanations in your post.

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    • Kathy, we did this ride on our 2006 motorcycle trip, but it was every bit as amazing the second time…besides, I’ve slept since 2006, lol! I wish I could have seen the Crest House before it burned. Such a wonderful blending of architecture and nature, including the Mountain goats, who call the ruins home when all the pesky tourists leave for the day! I agree, the Ram surveying his domain is just the quintessential wildlife pose, isn’t it? Oh, and yes, I did know Nederland was Dutch for the Netherlands. I expected it to have a Dutch theme, but instead the town is all about a Frozen Dead Guy!

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