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Length: A little over five miles
Difficulty: Ranked Class Two, but in simpler terms, intermediate if you’re a regular hiker
Why we love it: You can actually say you hiked to the summit for your Instagram photo, instead of cheating and taking the road all the way to the famous peak
When to go: Late spring into early fall, but make sure to avoid the trail if heavy snow arrives (unless you’re decked out with the proper gear, like snowshoes or skis)
Restroom: Yes, at the Summit Lake parking area
Dogs: Must be on leash at all times
Savor the last of summer in the High Country with a trek to Mt. Evan’s 14,265-foot-high summit.
One of the six Front Range fourteeners, the trailhead for Mt. Evans is located fewer than two hours from Denver (when we did the hike in mid-July, we left Denver at 5:30 a.m. and it only took us an hour and 45 minutes to get to the trailhead) which is an added bonus, especially if you’re looking for a hike that won’t eat up your entire Saturday. We completed the trek in about three and a half hours, too.
Starting at Summit Lake, you’ll find plenty of parking and bathrooms overlooking, you guessed it, Summit Lake, which you will later see from the peak of Mt. Evans. Head out of the parking lot (away from the road) and to the north, where you’ll find the trailhead.
Once on the singletrack trail, you’ll follow the ridgeline to the right of Summit Lake. Here, you’ll be climbing to the top of Mt. Spalding, (13,842 feet), so you can can say you bagged that, too. This route is called the West Ridge via Mt. Spalding, in case you’re looking to do more research.
You’ll be on the ridgeline for a while, as it’s the steepest part of the hike, but the wildflowers and tundra climate will distract you from the difficult ascent. The route, for about a mile or so, isn’t too technical, so following the trail (and abiding by Leave No Trace rules of course) will serve you best.
After about a mile and a half, you might think that you’re at the summit, but alas, this is just one of those mind tricks that fourteeners often provoke. The trail that you started on disappears slightly, but try to keep to the right, where you will encounter a large field of boulders that you’ll need to scramble over to get back to the trail (look for cairns to direct you). Not to worry: this isn’t as steep or as scary as it sounds. Once at the top, catch your breath and be sure to stay near the ridge, following it until the trail is back in sight.
Soon, you’ll drop down Mt. Spalding, following the saddle to the top of Mt. Evans. There should be a clear path, but if you can’t spot it, plenty of cairns should be able to guide you. The back side of the peak is quite rocky, but the boulders are large and easy to climb, even for novice hikers (but, to play it safe, take your time).
Once conquering the boulders, you’ll see the peak, where you’ll walk a rather flat and grassy portion of terrain below the summit. Follow the boulders, and the crowd of people that are usually making their way to the peak from the parking lot at the summit (there’s a road that’s popular among tourists to reach the top, but hey, that’s no fun) and you’re there. From the summit, you’ll be able to see your car, Summit Lake, plenty of the High Country, and even an abundance of adorable mountain goats.
After enjoying your feat (and maybe a beer and a snack), either follow the same route back down to Summit Lake, or hitch a ride with someone at the top who’s driving back, which will save you some time and bring you right back to your car, which might be wise, especially if the weather has turned.
Getting there: From Denver, head West on I-70 to Exit 240 for CO-103 towards Mt. Evans. From there, follow the road for about 20 miles until you reach the Summit Lake parking lot (there should be signs). Tip: Leave early to catch a spectacular sunrise on the drive up.