Mount Evans Scenic Drive and a Hike to the Chicago Lakes

During our trip the previous year Nancy and I had driven most of the way up the Mount Evans Scenic Byway but hadn’t made it past Summit Lake since the section to the top was closed for the season. Our hike from the lake up to Mount Spaulding (elevation 13,842) that day was absolutely however and whetted our appetite for exploring the high point of Mount Evans as well as seeing up close the alpine Chicago Lakes Valley that had been spread out below.

This time we completed the drive to the peak, joined by Tom and Nancy’s husband Tim, but our first stop was at Summit Lake where we picked up the trail to descend to the Chicago Lakes. And descend we did, dropping swiftly into the glacial basin towards the chain of lakes. The steepest descent was right before the we reached the first lake, and all of us did some skidding on the gravel strewn between the boulders. I remarked casually how much of a struggle this would be on the return (referencing the steepness as well as the poor footing and elevation) but I pretty seriously underestimated the difficulty. Still, it was worth it: seeing up close the sparkling cobalt water nestled in the lush alpine greenery felt like being in a movie.

Past the first lake we got up close with a waterfall we’d been unable to get a view of from above, and stood mesmerized as the clear, cold snowmelt tumbled into the lake below. We had a bit of a time schedule that day and we’d yet to finish the drive so we turned around here without continuing past the other lakes and into the lower valley but had we had the time I think we all were game. Maybe next time we’ll start from the lower trailhead though to avoid that descent.

After departing Summit Lake the sweeping vistas only increased as we gained altitude on the scenic drive. Above the treeline the sightlines across the surrounding peaks were completely unobstructed and us passengers gawked as Tom kept focused on the narrow switchbacks clinging to the mountainside. We suggested he make a few stops so he could look around but eventually we just decided I would just drive down and he could do his looking then. We did insist he stop however once we neared the clusters of mountain goats, because mountain goats (!!).

Upon reaching the top we briefly toured the remains of the Crest House, a restaurant and tourist stop that partially burned in the 1970s (I didn’t take photos of this for some reason), and then walked the path a quarter mile up to the peak at 14,271 feet. From here the views were predictably amazing, extending dozens of miles across the other Front Range peaks and beyond those mountains further south, north, and west. Looking down our gaze followed some of the glacial cirques that cut into the rock, picking out some of the lakes below from our perch on the rocks.