As the highest paved road in North America, Mount Evans Scenic Byway should be on every motorcycle rider’s bucket list. It’s a ride unlike any other.
The road starts at the juncture of Interstate 70 and State Highway 103 (SH103) in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Take SH103 southwest for 13 miles to the juncture of State Highway 5 (SH5). Turn right onto SH5, which is also known as Mt. Evans Road. From here, it’s a 15-mile drive on winding road to the summit.
Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., namesake son of the famed landscape architect, designed the road to provide incredible scenic vistas along the route. Your ride starts in town, then follows along a valley surrounded by pines and aspens. Soon, you’ll begin ascending until the pine trees and timberline give way to the rocky alpine region. Consider SH103 your warm-up ride.
Once on SH5, the road becomes as dramatic as the views, with numerous switchback turns. Shear drops, rock walls, and late-season snow banks define the side of the road. It will take about one hour to make the trip to the top—longer if you stop to enjoy the breathtaking views.
The Mount Evans Scenic Byway climbs 7,000 feet during the 28-mile ride from Idaho Springs. At this elevation, you’re as high as the altostratus and altocumulus clouds, adding to the feeling that riding a motorcycle is like flying. The air is thinner at this elevation, so take things slow to avoid altitude sickness. Once you hit the highest point that the road can take you, you’re 14,130 feet above sea level, almost to the peak of Mount Evans. On foot, you can reach the actual summit of 14,265 vertical feet.
The beauty of this road is owed to the natural state of the Arapaho National Forest and the Mount Evans Wilderness Area. You can see wildflowers, lichens, grasses, and bristlecone pine trees along the roadside. Expect to encounter wildlife—sometimes on the road—including marmots, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. You’ll experience nature in all its power and beauty during this motorcycle ride.
The weather can be unpredictable. Be prepared for strong winds and rapidly moving storms with lightning, rain, and even snow or hail. The temperature will also be much colder at the summit, so packing layers of gear is advised.
SH5 is closed to visitors during winter due to weather conditions. The summit is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The U.S. Forest Service collects a $10 fee from visitors for access to parking lot areas. And you’ll likely want to park and take pictures during this journey. There is also a separate $5 fee for accessing Summit Lake Park.
The area is popular with bicyclists, and the road can be busy on the weekends. Between the natural area, expansive views, switchbacks, and surprises (like the occasional road crew) on the road, it’s wise to stay alert. Take time to stop and snap pictures, creating memories to share. If you walk (or hike) the short distance to the top, you can claim to have climbed a 14,000-foot mountain!
Till next time, ride safe!
Check out some other places to visit across the country in our Rides section.
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