The Mt. Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America, a 28-mile stretch of asphalt that gains 6,500 feet, topping out at 14,265 feet. Located 35 miles west of Denver in Idaho Springs, the lung-searing climb ascends through three different ecosystems – forest, sub-alpine, and alpine tundra – and offers some of the best mountain panoramas in the western United States, including six 13,000-foot peaks.
Half of the ride enjoys the shade of blue spruce, lodge pole pine, and aspen forests as you pedal past two crystal clear lakes and a half-dozen glacier-carved valleys full of wildflowers. The second half of the ride is above the treeline, where the vegetation turns to alpine tundra and thick-furred mountain goats stand on rocky outcroppings and watch as you slog your way up the road.
Don’t kid yourself: You need to be in shape for this ride. There is a solid four-hour chunk of steady climbing at altitude, which adds a quad-crippling, heart-throbbing oxygen deprivation to an already tough workout. The grade never goes much over 6 percent, but that still feels double the steepness at altitude. Likewise, the high-speed descent is not for the skittish, since it features a winding guardrail-less road where marmots have dug cyclist-swallowing potholes right through the pavement. Be sure you can handle a curvy 40-mph descent before you take this ride – so you can enjoy the views and really take the turns on this 28-mile-long, hair-raising descent.
To get there, park at Clear Creek Middle School, located at the start of the byway on the south side of Highway 103. Start early – around 6:00 a.m. – to make sure you’re off the summit before the afternoon lightning storms move in, and back down in Idaho Springs for lunch at Beau Jo’s – a local pizza joint that sells its mountain pies by the pound and offers 10 Colorado craft beers on tap.
More information: The Mt. Evans Scenic Byway opened for the season on May 25th.