Cycling Mt. Evans, Colorado: The highest paved road in North America
Ride 27 miles gaining 6,740’ to 14,130’ at 4.5% average grade.
Last hairpin to the top.
You cannot cycle any higher than this in North America.
There are not many rides you will do where you can say, "This is the highest . . ." but this is one of them. Mt Evans, Colorado -- the highest paved road (therefore the highest paved climb by bike) in North America! For all that strive to climb the hardest, the longest, the steepest, the highest, this is a must-do!
Last five miles to the top.
Mile markers correlate to the start of Mt Evans Road at mile 13 of the full climb.
You will encounter unique wildlife as you climb this mountain, including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain goats, deer, and marmots. The marmots in particular seem very curious and you likely will encounter them staring at you along the side of the road towards the very top of the climb.
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, deer, marmot, mountain goat.
Our climb begins in Idaho Springs, Colorado with a four mile warm up at 3.1%. Colorado is a mecca for climbing, particularly high altitude climbing, and routes across the Continental Divide. We travel along Colorado State Highway 103 for the first 12.9 miles before making our only traffic turn on the route onto Mt. Evans Highway.
START TO ECHO LAKE
Ride 12.9 miles, gaining 3,090’ to elevation 10,632, at 4.5% average grade.
The climb begins in Idaho Springs, Colorado.
Just off I70 on Highway 103 (Mt. Evans Scenic Byway).
There is public parking on the left at the beginning of the ride . . .
. . . but . . .
. . . you gotta finish in 12 hours . . .
First couple of miles.
These 12.9 miles are the least scenic of the trip, but the last half of this segment is through heavier forest with much less traffic than at the start and is very pleasant.
We ride in Arapaho National Forest most of the climb.
Highway 103 -- a pristine roadway for the first half of the climb.
You’ll know you are near the lakes because just before Echo and Summit Lakes there is a brief descent.
Echo (mirror?) Lake at mile 12.9.
Mt. Evans Summit center photo.
This is close to the half-way mark.
This is a beautiful shallow glacially formed lake. At the junction of Highway 103 and Mt. Evans Road (mile 12.9) is Echo Lake Park and the 1926 Echo Lake Lodge and Gift Shop where you can get supplies and/or a meal.
Echo Lake Lodge, Gift Shop and Restaurant
Open seven days a week from 9AM to 6PM.
Enter the Recreation area at mile 12.9 (No charge for bikes as of 2017).
In August 2020, due to the pandemic, the road from Echo Lake to the Summit was closed . . .
. . . for motor vehicles, not bikes. 👍👍
ECHO LAKE TO SUMMIT LAKE
9.2 miles gaining 2,246’ to 12,870’ at 4.4% average grade.
From Echo Lake to the summit it is 14.5 miles/3,622’’ gained at 4.5% average grade.
View down to Echo Lake from four miles up Mt. Evans Highway.
First few miles after turning onto Mt. Evans Highway.
We go above the tree line around mile 16 and from there to the top are striking, unobstructed views of the Rocky Mountains and several natural and beautiful lakes along the way.
Just about to go above treeline here at mile 15.9.
No need to guess where treeline is!
The four points plotted above correlate to the next four photos/collages below.
From each of these points you view the first mile up from Summit Lake to the top (elevation 12,839’-13,142’).
Six miles from the middle of the first segment up to the summit from Summit Lake.
. . . 3.7 miles . . .
. . . 3 miles . . .
. . . and 1.2 miles -- just about to the most challenging part of the ride.
This is the highest high-altitude cycling you'll ever get on a road bike in North America, so be prepared. 3% less oxygen for every 1,000' of climbing (42% less oxygen at 14,000' than at sea level). It is highly recommended that you climb a few of the "lower" peaks in the area before tackling Mt. Evans. I was a bit light headed and wobbly towards the top my first of three trips up Mt. Evans. I had climbed several 8,000' peaks in California the week before the trip, but that didn't sufficiently prepare me for another mile of climbing after 8,000'!
Summit Lake mile 22.5
To the summit is 5.4 miles, gaining 1,460’ at 4.6% to elevation 14,150’.
Miles 21-22 just before Summit Lake.
Mountain goats (top) and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (bottom) in August 2020.
SUMMIT LAKE TO SUMMIT
5.3 miles gaining 1,376’ to elevation 14,130’ at 4.7% average grade.
Be aware that the top 5.3 miles of the climb are limited to foot and cycling traffic after Labor Day (as of 2014) and closed to cyclists/hikers whenever weather dictates. You will have no SAG support after Labor Day from mile 22.1 (Summit Lake Park) to 27.4 (summit).
Aerial view of the hairpins at the top of the climb.
Last of ~12 hairpins between Summit Lake and climb finish.
The highest paved road in North America - 14,130’.
Bottom middle photo - ultra cyclist and trekker Penny Fink.
Penny was 71 when we met her at the top on August 16, 2020.
Bring something other than cycling shoes if you plan to hike to the peak (14,265’).
When to cycle Mount Evans: “The Mount Evans Road and Scenic Byway (Colorado Highway 5) is typically open the 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. For the latest information about the road visit [this website]” (Forest Service - Mount Evans).
How to Cycle Mount Evans: Train as much as you have ever trained for any climb. This is an extremely challenging road bike climb due to the altitude we ride to (there is 42% less oxygen at the summit than at sea level). We suggest at least a compact chain ring and 28 to 30t cassette. The climb begins 2/10's of a mile southwest of the intersection of Highway 40 and Chicago Creek Road in Idaho Springs, Colorado, 55 miles west of Denver International Airport (39.73919, -105.52242 latitude/longitude).
Photo: Bicycle Race
Each July cyclists race from Idaho Springs (7,560’) to the end of the pavement above 14,000’ in the Bob Cook Memorial Bicycle Race. This ride is named after Bob Cook, who died of melanoma at age 23 after having won the race an unbelievable six times in his young life. The race has been held every year (except three) since its inaugural in 1962. Professional (or soon to be professional) cyclists have won the race over the years, such as: Alexi Grewal 1981, 1984, 1990; Ned Overend 1985-1986; Michael Engleman 1991-1995; Jonathan Vaughters 1997, 1999; Scott Moninger 1998, 2000-2002; Tom Danielson 4004, 2007, 2009; Peter Stetina 2010; LeRoy Popowski 2011-2013; Christopher Carr 2013; Lachlan Morton 2015; Chris Butler 2016; Chad Haga 2017; and Gregory Daniel 2018.
Roadway and Traffic: Miles 0-13 are along Highway 103 (Chicago Creek and Squaw Creek Roads). The highway surface is a smooth two lane road with no bike lane, but minimal traffic, particularly along the last several miles before the Mt Evans Road turn off. Traffic is mild for the entire climb on Mt. Evans Road (14 miles) and the roadway surface good, although a little rough for the five mile descent from the top to Summit Lake. Additionally, as of summer 2020, there are expansion ruts (linear gaps) in the roadway along the top section of the climb which make descending uncomfortable and potentially hazardous.
Great summaries of Mt Evans are found at Steep Climbs and Mt. Evans.
That’s a wrap!!