The easiest 14er you'll ever climb
While Mt. Evans is the 14th highest 14er in Colorado, it is the #1 easiest. It's an incredible summit, as you drive up the highest paved road in North America. From the visitors station where you enter and pay your per car fee to head up, it is a gorgeous, 14 mile trip to the top.
History: Since opening in 1931, the Mount Evans road has given easy access for hikers and wanna-be hikers to the incredible beauty of a tall mountain peak and its surrounding views. In the 7 years the road was built, workers actually used ropes to pull themselves and their equipment up and down the steep cliffs. Ten years later in 1941, the Crest House was completed on the top of Mt. Evans, making it the highest structure in the world at that time, with large windows overlooking Denver. It had a restaurant and souvenir shop. In 1979 Crest House operations abruptly came to an end, when a propane explosion left only a shell of the house, but in 1992 the Arapaho National Forest began to stabilize the remains and convert it into an observation platform. Today, in addition to the shell of the Crest House, the Denver University Observatory is at the peak and remains the world's highest observatory.
The drive: The drive is paved all the way, but it is not for the faint of heart. Guardrails do not exist on this road, neither do road shoulders, and drops of hundreds of feet can be at places a foot from the road's edge. The last 5 miles due to weather conditions is more rough, but still passable by car, as long as the weather isn't causing the road to be icy. It is commonplace to drive up this road through thick clouds that makes driving very slow, but that's ok because the views are jaw dropping (driver, keep your eyes on the road!). On the way up, travelers can stop at the Mt. Goliath Natural area (at 11,540 ft) and Summit Lake Park (at 12,830 ft). Summit Lake is the incredible in its own right, as its environment mirrors the arctic, with permafrost unique to dry alpine tundra is present, along with rare plants usually found above the Arctic Circle. Bighorn sheep are also common on Mt. Evans, so keep your eyes open for one.
The hike: The summit trail is a short, quarter-mile trail to the top. There is a warning sign at the bottom, as monsoon season (which is mostly when this area can be open to traffic) can cause unexpected lightning strikes. Lightning is frequent here, so go at your own risk and watch the skies. Also bring a jacket with you, as it is cold even in the summer, with average daytime summer temps on top at 42 degrees. But weather permitting, it's nice for even a non-hiker to do, if for no other reason so you can tell all your friends: "I climbed a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado on my vacation!"
For those who would like to do Mt. Evans more on foot, the Chicago Lakes Trail #52 starts at Echo Lake and goes to Summit Lake. From Summit Lake, you can take Mt. Evans Trail #51 to the top, passing Mt. Spalding on the hike up.
Final info: There are public restrooms at Mt. Goliath Natural Area, Summit Lake & at the Mt. Evans summit, but no food, picnic areas or other real services past Echo Lake. So if you want to grab something, get it at the restaurant/souvenir shop at the intersection of CO 103 & CO 5 before coming to the welcome station.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.