Mount Evans Wilderness: High Altitude, High Adventure
At 14,264 feet, Mount Evans is one of Colorado’s most well-known peaks and is part of the vast Mount Evans Wilderness, whose boundaries start about 35 miles west of Denver. With 74,400 acres stretching from Echo Lake to Grant, the wilderness is a great place to forget about the city and enjoy some high-altitude trails.
Above 14,000 feet, alpine tundra covers the ground and bristlecone pine trees struggle to grow to their peak height. Hardy mountain enthusiasts share these high elevations with the sure-footed mountain goat, which lives here year-round. The Mount Evans Wilderness is also home to wildflowers, flowing creeks, colorful birds and plenty of trails for hiking.
Trails are open year-round. If you go in the winter months, be sure to pack your snowshoes. Hiking season in this area is from June to September, depending on the elevation of the trail. Snow on the higher trails can take until late June to melt off.
Be aware that Highway 103 – which accesses main trails – can sometimes become closed due to snow and harsh weather. Mount Evans Road, which begins at Echo Lake, is closed to motor vehicles during the winter season. Any road closures may be found posted at www.dot.state.co.us/.
Chief Mountain Trail on the way to Mount Evans is a great place to start. Chief Mountain is less than 1.5 mile (one way), beginning at 10,800 feet and ending at 11,710 feet. The hike is short but steep.
To access the trail, take Highway 103 (near Idaho Springs) from Interstate 70 and pull over near mile marker 18. The trailhead is on the south side of the road. It is not marked as a trailhead.
Despite the high elevation of Chief Mountain, it is considered a foothill because of its distance from the mountains that make up the Front Range. This also makes it a convenient mountain to hike because of its proximity to the Denver area. The mountain juts up from the surrounding valleys, offering spectacular views near the top.
One can see the towering Mount Evans, which seems to dwarf the climb to the top of Chief Mountain. Views of Bear Creek Basin, Mount Goliath, Roger’s Peak and Rosalie Peak can also be seen.
If you manage to conquer Chief Mountain Trail and are seeking a larger challenge, Chicago Lakes Trail is a good place to climb next. The trail is a little less than 4 miles and a 1,200 foot climb in elevation, although the trail descends for the first mile, where Chicago Creek becomes Idaho Springs Reservoir. The rest of the trail is all uphill.
Hikers will pass through an old burn area that was scorched in 1978. Nature springs from ash where black and charred trees, standing and fallen, mix with wildflowers that grow on the fertile soil beneath them. Parts of the trail can be steep and narrow.
Forest rangers ask that you avoid the upper lake during May through June, as mountain goats are giving birth to their young.
The trail offers excellent views of many peaks and lakes and is a sure attraction for moderate hikers.
Journey to Hell’s Hole Trail, a name that doesn’t seem to capture the essence of the scenic beauty that is to be found at the end of your 4-mile hike — a lush alpine willow grove.
The trail starts at 9,500 feet and ends at 11,200 feet.
Hell’s Hole Trail is also located on Highway 103, 6.5 miles south of Idaho Springs. Take West Chicago Creek Road for another 3 miles. The trail starts where the road ends.
The trail becomes steep immediately and hikers trek through an aspen grove. The second and third miles offer much rockier scenery with less growth. It ends at the base of Gray Wolf Mountain, the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic.
Hell’s Hole is also a popular snow shoeing destination in the winter.
If it’s a long hike with plenty of exercise that you crave, head to Abyss Lake Trail. This trail starts at 9,600 feet and ends at 12,600 feet, a 3,000 foot rise in elevation. This is an extremely long trail and requires two cars, or a very determined hiker.
From Grant, take U.S. Highway 285 to Park County Road 62 for 5.5 miles toward Guanella Pass. The trailhead is located south of Burning Bear Campground on the east side of the road.
The trail follows Scott Gomer Creek. Mount Bierstadt can be seen to your left after the first crossing of the creek. Prepare to head up steep switchbacks as Abyss Lake Trail comes in conjunction with Rosalie Trail and crosses several smaller streams that are easily crossed. The trail then goes above treeline, with a changing landscape of alpine tundra before ending at Abyss Lake.
When hiking, always pack comfortable hiking boots, water, snacks, a hat and a watch. Mount Evans Wilderness is a high-elevation area with cooler temperatures most of the year. It can provide hikers with the exercise and mountain views that Colorado so generously offers.
If You Go
Clear Creek Ranger District
101 Chicago Creek Road
Idaho Springs, Colorado 80452