Colorado 14ers You Can Drive Up: Two Amazing Peaks
There are more than fifty 14ers in Colorado, each offering spectacular views from their summits. However, the vast majority of them require a long hike, scramble, or climb to reach the top. If you are looking for a way to experience the summit without a long and tiring approach, you have a few options! There are two 14ers you can drive up in Colorado, including Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs and Mount Evans near Denver. If you want to experience these 14ers for yourself, here’s everything you need to know about the only two 14ers you can drive up in Colorado.
Which 14ers Can You Drive Up?
There are 58 peaks in Colorado that rise above 14,000 feet. However, the only two that have roads to their summits are Mount Evans near Denver and Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs. There are some big differences between the two 14ers and their summits, so here is an in-depth guide to both of the 14ers you can drive up.
Mount Evans: A Denver 14er Experience
Mount Evans is clearly visible on the horizon looming over Denver, and is the closest 14er to the metro region. The road to the summit leaves I-70 in Idaho Springs at Exit 240 and climbs more than 4,500 feet to reach the summit. The road is usually open from Memorial Day until Labor Day, but you will need a reservation and permit to drive up to the summit. They cost approximately $17 and are good for a three-day period. It is my favorite of the two 14ers you can drive up.
Along the 14-mile one-way drive up Mount Evans you pass several historical or recreational sites of interest. Echo Lake and Lodge at the road base is a great place to stop for some food or a drink. Further along is the Mount Goliath Natural Area, which protects hundreds of rare Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine trees, some of the oldest trees in the world. Just below the peak itself is Summit Lake park, a great place to fish, picnic, or take a short stroll. When you finally reach the summit itself you can explore the remains of an old lodge, enjoy the 360 degree views, and hike up the final 50 feet to the summit itself.
Pikes Peak: The 14er of Colorado Springs
There are few mountains as famous as Pike’s Peak. Known as America’s mountain, this fourteener looms over Colorado Springs and is the most developed of all the fourteeners. A large, brand new summit hut features exhibits, food, and a gift shop. The road is open all year round (weather permitting), unlike Mount Evans which closes during the winter. It is also pricier, with a $50 fee per car – or $15 fee per person (whichever is cheaper).
As you wind your way up the road towards the summit you’ll pass the Crystal Reservoir area and Visitor Center, which is home to fishing and great picnic areas. Higher up on the mountain you will see the remains of the Pikes Peak Ski Area, which operated into the 1980s before closing down for good. Just above treeline you’ll see the Devil’s Playground trailhead, home to spectacular hiking options. At the summit itself you can explore the brand new Summit Hut, and try some of their world-famous donuts – made on-site!
Planning to Visit the 14ers You Can Drive Up
These two mountain highways are the highest in North America, with wild weather conditions and significant exposure, so you need to do your due diligence. This is not a drive you should just show up for. A little planning and research will help make your trip a safe success instead of a colossal failure. Here are a few good tips to keep in mind as you plan your visit.
1. Get your permit and reservation far out in advance for the 14ers you can drive up.
Both of the 14ers you can drive up require a permit and reservation well in advance. Don’t plan on showing up and buying your ticket at the entry station as you will most likely be disappointed and sent back home. If you don’t want to pay to visit, check the registration website to see when the next Free Day is. These happen once or twice a year usually, but they fill up quickly.
2. Check the weather forecast before you start your trip.
While it might be warm and sunny in Denver or Colorado Springs, there could be wildly different weather conditions up on the summits of the 14ers you can drive up. Check the forecast a few days before your trip, and again the morning you head out to ensure you dress appropriately. If snow is forecast, consider bringing a shovel and some blankets and food with you – just in case.
3. Get in your car and descend if there is lightning.
Storms are very unpredictable in the mountains. They may develop very quickly, even on days where no rain is forecasted. If a thunderstorm breaks out while you’re visiting the 14ers you can drive up, return to your car immediately and begin descending if it is safe to do so. While you may see others ignoring the risk, remember that lightning is one of the most significant risks on a 14er. There’s no need to put your life unnecessarily at risk.
4. Stay off the tundra on the 14ers you can drive up and give wildlife plenty of space.
The alpine tundra above treeline is incredibly fragile as it has a short three-month growing season and a tiny bit of soil to cling to above the bedrock. Trampling on alpine plants can quickly kill them and scar the landscape – damange that takes more than 100 years to heal and grow back completely. Never drive or park on the tundra, and whenever possible stick to trails instead of hiking directly on the tundra itself.
5. Get your car tuned up beforehand if necessary.
Driving a car at high altitude puts more stress on your engine than at sea level as it must work extra hard to get the same energy output (less oxygen = less combustion). If your car is older, I highly recommend you get it checked out before attempting to drive up Pikes Peak or Mount Evans. While you can get towed, it will be expensive getting it all the way back to Idaho Springs or Denver. Better to avoid that problem if possible.
14ers You Can Drive Up: Now You Know!
Colorado is lucky to have not one, but two 14ers you can drive up. This ensures that everyone can experience the magic of standing on a 14er summit. However, these trips require advanced planning and preparation, including permits and reservations and several weather checks. If you do your homework and plan ahead, the drive will be amazing, and the views from the top incomparable to anything else. I hope this guide helps you plan a trip to either of these amazing 14ers you can drive up. Safe travels on the trail!
Additional Resources About the 14ers You Can Drive Up
Still looking for more information about the two 14ers you can drive up? I found these resources about Pikes Peak and Mount Evans while researching and writing this article. If you have a suggestion for more resources to add, please add a comment below and it might just get added in our next article update!
Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit
Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.
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