Look for birds in conifer forests, tundra, high alpine lakes, and other habitats along the highest paved road in North America.
By Chuck Graham | Published: 4/18/2016
Mount Evans, in central Colorado, is one of the most unique birding locales in North America. The byway tops out at 14,130 feet. A quick, steep climb from the parking area will take you to the summit at 14,264 feet — and stunning views. But for us birdwatchers, the journey itself, from Idaho Springs to the peak, is the reward.
The road zigzags through an array of ecosystems. After leaving behind the high plains of Denver, the drive ascends 7,000 feet through an ancient bristlecone pine forest and then into spongy tundra. Above treeline, the main attractions are mountain goats, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pikas, and marmots, which are easy to see from the road. And the birding is terrific. Use the many convenient turnouts to scan for birds and other wildlife.
Echo Lake, at 10,600 feet, is a good place to look for Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, Mountain Bluebird, Dark-eyed Junco, and Mountain Chickadee. Summit Lake, at 12,830 feet, is the most accessible water body above timberline, and to the east of it is Summit Flats, the only known area of permafrost in the United States outside of Alaska. It’s where to search for stocky, well-camouflaged White-tailed Ptarmigan. — Chuck Graham
Chuck Graham is a freelance writer and photographer (chuckgrahamphoto.com) who often writes about birds in California. He also wrote about Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, Hotspot Near You No. 116, Soda Lake, Bakersfield, No. 123, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, Guadalupe, No. 138, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, No. 151, Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, No. 154, Mendocino Headlands State Park, Mendocino, No. 167, Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, No. 185, Pinnacles National Park, No. 200, Agua Fria National Monument, Black Canyon City, Arizona, No. 203, and Ormond Beach and Wetlands, Oxnard, No. 227.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Mountains, conifer forests, tundra, permafrost, high alpine lakes, cliffs, ridgelines.
Paved road. Wheelchair-accessible at Summit Lake and at parking lot just below summit. Trail to summit is short but steep and strewn with granite boulders. Tundra is soft but uneven.
More than 110 species from Echo Lake to summit. Bald and Golden Eagles, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Swainson’s, Red-tailed, and Ferruginous Hawks, Northern Goshawk, Prairie and Peregrine Falcons, American Kestrel, Baird’s and Spotted Sandpipers, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Western Tanager, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned, Song, Lincoln’s, and Chipping Sparrows, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, Gray and Steller’s Jays, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, American Pipit, Red Crossbill, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, kinglets, vireos, warblers.
When to go
Typically open from the Friday of Memorial Day weekend through first weekend in October. Weather conditions can close road at any time.
At lower elevations: nature center, campground, drinking water, trails, picnic tables, restrooms. At summit: interpretive programs, picnic tables, restrooms.
National forest. Fees to access road range from $3 to $40 depending on size of vehicle. Season pass $25. No fees for those who travel non-stop and holders of Interagency Access Pass, Senior Pass, and other federal passes. Top five miles of road closed after Labor Day.
Be prepared for sun, wind, snow, lightning, and hail any day of year. Bring snacks and water.
For more info
Red Rocks Park, Hotspot Near You No. 117
21 miles east of Idaho Springs in Morrison. Popular concert venue is home to more than 200 bird species.
Bear Creek Regional Park, Hotspot Near You No. 140
On Bear Creek Rd. in Colorado Springs. Great in spring and summer for warblers, vireos, and buntings.