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  • Writer's pictureVien R. Guenther

Hiking in Mount Evans Wilderness – Colorado

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

One of the closest wilderness areas you can explore from Denver is the Mount Evans Wilderness. It is located 40 miles west of Denver - south of I-70 and north of Highway 285. This wilderness contains two popular fourteneers - Mt. Evans (14,264 feet) and Mt. Bierstadt (14,060 feet). Mount Evans is the highest peak in this wilderness. You don’t have to hike here! You can just drive up to the parking lot and then a short walk to reach the summit. That is one reason why it's a very popular destination for thousands of visitors, it's an easy access with no effort, if you can handle the drive to the top.


GETTING HERE


The Mount Evans Scenic Byway, the highest paved road in North America, is the the most popular access to this wilderness area. Of course the roadway is not part of the wilderness, and there is a fee to enter here. The road to the summit of Mount Evans is actually State Highway 5. The scenic byway starts as Highway 103 in Idaho Springs, the nearest town. It continues past Echo Lake and onward over Squaw Pass to Evergreen. Another popular way to access Mt. Evans Wilderness is via Georgetown to Guanella Pass (County Road 381). The pass can also be accessed from the south by following Highway 285 to the junction of the Guanella Pass/Geneva Road in Grant.


WILDERNESS ACT


Before the creation of Wilderness Act of 1964, there was the U-Regulations of 1939 which designated primitive areas within the national forests. They governed Forest Service wilderness policy for more than twenty years prior to the wilderness act. Before the Mount Evans Wilderness was created, the U Regulations designated 5,880 acres as the Abyss Lake Scenic Area in Pike National Forest in 1956. In 1980, Congress designated the area as Mount Evans Wilderness, under the Wilderness Act. It spans 74,400 acres today.


MOUNT EVANS


The famous western landscape painter Albert Bierstadt was the first to summit this mountain. He initially named the mountain after his wife-to-be, Rosalie, but it was officially named “Mount Evans” in 1895, after John Evans, the second territorial governor of Colorado. The name Mount Rosalie was then moved to a 13,575-foot peak, about three miles southeast.

Mt. Evans Scenic Byway

Driving here might not be for everyone since the road is quite a "hairy" drive. The road is narrow, meandering and with deep ravines at the edge. But if you do drive here you will be rewarded by the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. You might also get lucky to find mountain goats, or even bighorn sheep, along the way. I tell you, it's quite an experience.


Stop at the Summit Lake before continuing on the remaining meandering road to the top. You can calm your nerves while anticipating the view that awaits on top. Also, look out for wildflowers, they last only for about 40 days. High mountain wildflowers have a short window to bloom.


The mountains in close proximity to the city can become hectic at times, especially on summer weekends and holidays, so you might have to wait a while to find a parking spot. Come early or go on weekdays. If not, then look on the positive side, most visitors don't hang around here very long since it can be cold and windy. Once you reached the top and took some "selfies" with the wonderful view as a backdrop, you can now brag about it.

Looking down Lincoln Lake from the Mt. Evans road

- HIKING TRAILS -


So, if you are into hiking, there are approximately 120 miles of trails in the Mount Evans Wilderness. We hiked some of these trails, some of them more than once. You can check the list here: Cub Creek Trail, Indian Creek Trail, Lost Creek Trail, Beartrack Lakes Trail, Beaver Meadows Trail, Lincoln Lake Trail, Captain Mountain Trail, Chicago Lakes Trail, Hells Hole Trail, Roosevelt Lakes Trail, Resthouse Meadows Trail, Summit Lake Trail, South Chicago Creek Trail, Abyss Lake Trail, Rosalie Trail, Meridian Trail, Threemile Trail, Tanglewood Trail, Mount Bierstadt Trail.


ECHO LAKE – 1.3 mile


If you live in Colorado and you have out of town visitors, most likely you will take them to Echo Lake before driving up to Mt. Evans. We do! It's the closest beautiful spot to impress out-of-towners. In winter, when the lake is frozen and everything is white, this area is like a winter wonderland.

Echo Lake

In summer you can hike, or walk, around Echo Lake as it’s an easy loop trail even for flat-landers. Mind the elevation if you are not acclimated yet. The lake is at about 10,640 feet, so you might find yourself out of breath. This lake is a favorite among families with kids. You can do some fishing, picnicking or just enjoy the day by the lake. There are picnic tables and also camping sites nearby for a real wilderness experience.


Echo Lake is also the trailhead for some of the hiking trails in the Mount Evans Wilderness such as Chicago Lakes Trail, Resthouse Meadows Trail, and Captain Mountain Trail.


On the east end of the lake is the Echo Lake Lodge built in 1924, right on the corner of Squaw Pass Road (Highway 103) and Mount Evans Road (Highway 5/Mt. Evans Scenic Byway). This lodge offer food and souvenirs to take home.

 

BEARTRACK LAKES & CUB CREEK TRAILS – 5 to 10 miles round-trip


The Beartrack Lakes Trail begins within the Mount Evans State Wildlife Area. Take note though, public access is prohibited here from the day after Labor Day to June 14 the following year, except for hunting and fishing. To get there from Denver, take I-70 west to the Evergreen Parkway exit. After a few miles turn right on County Road 74/Upper Bear Creek Road, then follow County Road 480. It will take you to the Camp Rock campground, which is the trailhead.

On the trail
Just tasting some raspberries

This trail is rated difficult, but popular in summer months for backpackers, campers and hikers. The trail goes along Bear Creek for about a mile, then it’s a gradual ascent. Hiking uphill you will pass the burn areas in two locations. Wildflowers occupy these open burn areas today. In late summer, wild raspberries cover the hillside, right by the trail. I know they're for the bears, but we can't resist sampling some. They're small, but the sweetest we ever tasted. Make sure there are no bears lurking around when you are around in this area.

Cub Creek

We took a loop hike on this trail, not going all the way to the Beartrack Lakes, but it took us 10 miles to complete the loop. If you are camping or backpacking, fishing by the lakes is said to be good here.


NOTE:


  • Wilderness Areas have special regulations, check the U.S. Forest Service for information. Check with Idaho Springs Visitors Center or Colorado Department of Transportation for road conditions.

  • The Mount Evans Road and Scenic Byway (Colorado Highway 5) is usually open from Friday of Memorial Day weekend through the first weekend in October, depending on weather conditions. The road and access to the top of Mount Evans is closed at Summit Lake the day after Labor Day.

  • Weather conditions can change, even in summer, so come prepared. The best way is to dress in layers, it's easier to take it off when it gets warm or put it on when it gets chilly, hail, rain or extreme wind. Watch out for afternoon summer thunderstorms - they are common here and you don't want to be caught outside in one at this altitude.

  • Vehicles over 30' long are not recommended on Highway 5 (Mount Evans road) due to the steep, narrow, winding road.


 

OTHER NEARBY WILDERNESS YOU CAN EXPLORE:


Lost Creek Wilderness


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