Want to get away from the heat in the city? Then it’s time for a drive up Mount Evans between Evergreen and Idaho Springs. Mount Evans is one of only two 14ers (peaks over 14,000-feet high) in Colorado that you can drive to the top of. (Directions below)
When it’s 90 degrees in the city, it’s 70 degrees or cooler on the road to Mount Evans. Why? Because the temperature drops 3 to 5 degrees for every 1,000 feet in elevation gain. So if it’s 90 degrees in Denver at 5,280 feet, it’s likely 18 to 30 degrees cooler at the Mount Goliath Research Natural Area at 11,540 feet.
This nature trail is the perfect walk for families and visitors. While it may only be a quarter mile in length, walking at this elevation can be difficult. The air is thinner, so it can be hard to catch your breath if you’re visiting from sea level.
In the parking lot, start at the Dos Chappell Nature Center. Signs here explain how plants and trees survive at this high elevation. There are also signs that name the colorful wildflowers that dot the landscape. Even at 11,540 feet, small wildflowers put on a show in the middle of the summer.
Now walk outside and enjoy the amazing, expansive views. Then it’s time to take a few steps to the trail. A sign gives hikers options. You can go either direction for the 1/4-mile Bristlecone Loop Nature Trail or turn right for the Pesman Trail which winds up the mountain for 1.5 miles to the Upper Mount Goliath pull-out/parking area.
For this walk, let’s go left. Quickly you’ll find yourself in the middle of a forest with colorful, twisted trees. These are Bristlecone Pine trees. Some of the trees are 1,500 years old. They’re short because the growing season up here is short. The road to Mount Evans is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year and sometimes it’s closed, even in the middle of summer, because of snow storms.
As you walk here, you’ll find two benches. This is a nice spot to sit and really look at these special trees. Notice that one side of the trees has very few branches? That’s because of the strong winds that blow here. Two interesting facts about the Bristlecone Pine: 1. Their branches bend in the wind, they don’t break. 2. Bristlecone Pine trees drop their needles every 10 to 15 years instead of every year to save energy.
Walk a few more steps and the trail begins to loop back. Here you’ll find yourself climbing a few steps. If your guests appear winded, then stop and point out the views. Look up and you notice “treeline.” That’s the spot where trees stop growing because of harsh conditions.
As you finish the loop, ask the kids if they know why the trees are leaning here? That’s because much like people lean into strong winds, so do the trees.
If the kids have more questions, let them ask the rangers who work here. Better yet, come for one of the programs here that are run by the Denver Botanic Gardens.
Details: The walk around the nature trail is about a 1/4 mile with 70 feet of elevation change.
Directions: From I-70, exit Evergreen Parkway. Drive 2.4 miles south to Squaw Pass Road and turn right. It’s about 18 miles on this curvy, mountain road to the entrance station to Mount Evans. There is a fee here, typically $10, unless you have a National Park pass. From the entrance station, it’s about 2.8 miles to the Mount Goliath Research Natural Area parking lot.
More to see: After visiting the Nature Center and walking the trail, continue up Mount Evans to see Summit Lake and of course, the summit of the mountain at 14,130 feet.
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