Riding a Motorcycle on Mount Evans Scenic Byway – Motorcycling Guide
“Bagging a 14er,” as the locals say, isn’t as easy to do when you’re not on foot. In fact, only two paved roadways in the state reach elevations above 14,000 feet: Mount Evans and Pikes Peak. If you’re headed for the Colorado Rockies on a motorcycle trip, summiting North America’s highest paved road should be on the itinerary. Here’s a quick rundown on everything you need to know before planning your trip along the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
About the Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Colorado is home to 26 Scenic Byways, but the Mount Evans Scenic Byway just might be my favorite ride in the state. (I know, I say that about all of the Byways in Colorado.) With this one being so easily accessible from Denver, it makes it a common ride for me to choose in the Summer months.
The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is a 49-mile roadway that encompasses Highway 103 (Squaw Pass) and Highway 5. Squaw Pass is my go-to portion of this ride, as it twists and turns through the mountains, offering beautiful views of the Continental Divide between the towns of Evergreen and Idaho Springs.
Highway 5 begins at Echo Lake, and is the 15 mile, seasonally open roadway that leads to the summit of Mount Evans, the highest paved road in North America. Here, the road ends at 14,130 Feet above sea level, where you’ll have to descend the numerous hairpin switchbacks and narrow roadway back down to CO Highway 103.
A little historical tidbit for you: Mount Evans Scenic Byway is a part of the original Denver Mountain Parks system. The city of Denver began to build a series of automobile “scenic loops” that wound their way through the front range and other nearby areas to promote tourism to the mountains. The entire 49-mile roadway, from Bergen Park to Idaho Springs, officially opened to the public in 1931. At the time, Mount Evans Road (Highway 5) was the highest in the world.
What is it like to Ride a Motorcycle on Mount Evans?
While I personally am significantly more comfortable riding my motorcycle on this roadway in comparison to a car, this is not a ride for a novice. You will need to maneuver along very rutted out roadways in some areas, as well as be able to tackle numerous hairpin turns towards the summit. Some of these turns are so tight, that two cars cannot make the turn simultaneously.
Most of the roadway does not have paved pull-off points. If you feel the need to stop, you will need to be comfortable pulling off into rugged dirt areas. You’ll also need to be comfortable riding along sheer cliffs with no guardrails for the entire 15-mile section of roadway to the summit. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
Fees & Reservations
While a ride over Squaw Pass is completely free, there is a fee required to ascend the final 15 mile stretch of roadway to the summit of Mount Evans. If you have an America the Beautiful Interagency Pass, your fee is covered. If you don’t, you will have to pay a fee and potentially have an online reservation handy. There haven’t been any announcements regarding a 2022 Timed Entry System made at this time, but it something to be aware of for next season. In 2021, Mount Evans utilized the same permitting system as Rocky Mountain National Park did for Trail Ridge Road and general park access.
Get an Altitude Adjustment
If you’re flying in and renting a bike to go on this adventure, keep in mind that you’ll gain over 7,000 total feet in elevation in just 49 miles. Consider giving yourself at least 24 hours in Denver before heading into the mountains. If you’re on a time crunch, take it slow, and drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated can greatly decrease your chances of altitude sickness. It isn’t unheard of for people to feel lightheaded and woozy at these elevations, but it’s not ideal on a motorcycle.
There is no water at the Summit of Mount Evans. Bring your own in case you need it.
Best Time to Visit Mount Evans
While Squaw Pass (CO 103) is open year round, CO Highway 5 that travels to the actual summit of Mount Evans is only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day every year, weather permitting.
Additionally, the snow melts fast atop Mount Evans. If you want to enjoy it in all of its freshly plowed winter glory, prepare to be on standby for news reports of the roadways grand opening in late May or Early June. If you’d like to see it on the more barren, alpine tundra side, a late season ride will work fine.
Lastly, if you want to stand atop North America’s highest paved roadway, plan an early morning trip to beat the crowds, and the potential summer storms that roll in in the afternoons.
Weather on Mount Evans
A good rule of thumb to consider is if the weather is 80 Degrees in Denver, it’s likely 40 Degrees colder at the summit of Mount Evans. The later in the day you plan to arrive, the more likely your chances of encountering bad weather will be. The weather can go from calm winds and sunny, to lightning, snow, hail, and strong gusty winds in minutes.
You’re bound to encounter wildlife of some sort while traversing Mount Evans and Squaw Pass. At lower elevations, deer and elk are more common to find along the roadways. Once you get closer to the treeline and into the alpine tundra, keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and plenty of yellow-bellied marmots.
Points of Interest
- Mount Goliath Natural Area: This visitor center has great info boards about the geography and history of Mount Evans, including a small exhibit on the construction of the road in conjunction with Denver Mountain Parks
- Summit Lake: The highest city park in North America. It is also provides a habitat that is typically only found in the Arctic Circle.
- The Crest House Ruins: Originally built in 1942, the Crest House was once the highest structure in the world, serving as a restaurant and gift shop. In 1979, it burned down in a fire and has since been preserved and utilized as an observation platform at the summit.
Where to Eat Along the Mount Evans Scenic Byway
This list could get a little lengthy, so here are a few of my favorites in the area:
- Bivouac Coffee (Evergreen, CO): Stop and grab some caffeine before heading up Squaw Pass to Echo Lake (CO 103). They’re riders themselves, and are serious about their bean juice.
- Evergreen Brewing (Evergreen, CO) A little hidden and right off the parkway, this brewery has great sandwiches and craft beer.
- Little Bear Saloon (Evergreen, CO): One of those “biker friendly” spots you’ll likely see bikes lined up in front of on the weekends.
- Echo Lake Lodge: While it hasn’t been a lodge since the 1980’s, this historical log cabin was built in 1926 and still serves food 7 days a week.
- Tommyknocker Brewing (Idaho Springs): These guys have been crafting up tasty suds for over 25 years and have won 100+ awards for their beer. The food is pretty great too.
- Vintage Moose (Idaho Springs): No frills bar that offers bare bones brisket sandwiches and a bag of chips, and of course, cold drinks.
- Beau Jo’s (Idaho Springs): If you’re a pizza head, you gotta go to Beau Jo’s. “Colorado Style Pizza” is their motto, and you can decide if you like it or not with your own taste buds.