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Juniper Pass
(including the Mount Evans Summit Road)

There comes a time every spring, when Denver area cycling clubs - one by one - think the time is ripe for a ride over Juniper Pass. One recent write up of such a ride in the DBTC schedule went something like this: For breakfast we will have Lookout Mountain (a shoulder approach to the slightly more direct Mount Vernon Canyon shown in the profile), for lunch Squaw Pass, then for dinner Juniper Pass and for desert Floyd Hill. That just about sums up such a loop ride, the only thing to clarify is, that the I70-Chief Hosa exit shoulder summit is really the highest point and not Lookout Mtn.

Sometimes the time that such a ride appears in the schedule is May. Often a cold wind blows but the views are crystal clear and Mount Evans as well as the Continental Divide still seems covered in a long lasting blanket of snow. Sometimes the time is June. Then it can be hot already and the sun burns down relentlessly on the lower climb. But the altitude soon offers relief. And then sometimes the time is July, when often the monsoon has started, and the riders are caught by relentless downpours during the descent. And then, on other days during the same months, the weather is just perfect. You just have to pick your days.

Juniper Pass is the highest paved "home pass" with two separate climbing approaches that connect directly to Denver. Wherever you live in the Denver area, it is at least theoretically possible to leave from your house in the morning - and cross the pass, arriving back at your place by the evening, using for transport nothing but a bicycle.
Such a day long journey traverses along Chief and Squaw Mountains, far above the valley carved by Clear Creek, and on eye level with the mountains of the Continental Divide. It some ways it doesn't feel like a pass. It doesn't cross from one view shed into another, or at least you never get any far downvalley views when you are in the northern viewshed. The road that doesn't feel like a pass, really crosses one pass and just touches another. Just to add another paradox, neither pass is at the highest altitude of the road. That comes later.


click on profile for more detail
01.(mile00,5360ft) START-END EAST ALTERNATE: jct Clear Creek bikepath - Kipling Ave, Wheat Ridge
02.(mile07, 5800ft) jct:  I70 - Colfax Ave, Lakewood
03.(mile10,6400ft) jct: US40 - Mount Vernon Canyon
04.(mile16,7740ft) US40 joins I70 in Genessee
05.(mile18,7680ft) exit I70 to Co74 at El Rancho
06.(mile21,7800ft) START - FINISH town of Bergen Park, exit town onto Squaw Pass Road
07.(mile27,9190ft) Witter Gulch on left (dirt) connects with upper Bear Creek Canyon; another dirt road on right
08.(mile29,9810ft) Squaw Pass picnic area, dirt road turnoff on right leads to Idaho Springs
09.(mile31,10130ft) another dirt road turnoff on right leads to Idaho Springs
10.(mile36,11160ft) TOP
11.(mile36,11040ft) Juniper Pass
12.(mile40,10665ft) Echo Lake, turnoff to Mount Evans is on left
13.(mile45,8821ft) West Chicago Creek dirt road joins from left
14.(mile52,7561ft) START - FINISH WEST town of Idaho Springs\
15.(mile58,7200ft) START - END ALTERNATE: jct US6 - Floyd Hill

cycling Juniper Pass - Front Range -

From South East. Biking clubs often start their rides up Juniper Pass from Bergen Park. This is already 2440 above the lowest point on the profile : a convenient place on the Clear Creek bike path, still about another 200ft above downtown Denver at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the Platte River.

When starting from Bergen Park there is little time to warm up. The climbing starts right away. Squaw Pass Road starts with a mighty ramp up into the forested mountains. Using dirt roads there are many higher access points onto the Squaw Pass Road, making many shoulder summits. These are Snyder Gulch Rd from the north, then Witter Gulch from the south (now paved). The next access point is the Little Bear Road from Idaho Springs, and it marks Squaw Pass. The Juniper Pass Road does not cross Squaw Pass. Actually it barely touches it. The pass is located a few feet up a dirt road, opposite to where the Little Bear Road connects to Idaho Spring. There is even a sign located there, not visible from the main road.

Climbing continues uninterrupted. The road becomes more scenic and the contouring traverse starts in earnest. I seem to remember less of the climbing aspect of the road from this point onwards, and instead tend to remember the views, the clouds and the light. Let the pictures do the talking. Juniper Pass itself is located at the Picnic area with the same name. The highest altitude of the road is reached about half a mile east of there.

From North East.
(also described upwards) Rte 103 from Idaho Springs has none of the scenic thrills of the south east approach. Instead it starts as a pleasant forest ride through vacation cabins, mobile home parks and holiday campgrounds. Surprisingly it feels like there is more time to warm up, and the motivation is there too. In the early morning the air accumulated in the lower part of this valley is much colder than further up.

The turnoff to West Chicago Creek signals the beginning of a series of switchbacks. Glimpses of the Mount Evans Massif can be caught between the trees. Echo Lake marks the turnoff to the Mount Evans summit road. Alternatively you can eat lunch there too. It is still 500 feet below the highest point of the Juniper Pass road. Many riders from Bergen Park also us this as a turn around point, for an out and back ride.

Grey's and Torrey's Peak, both higher than 14000ft from highest point of Juniper Pass Rd

Sidetrip to Mount Evans:

Calling a ride to the top of Mount Evans a sidetrip from Juniper Pass is obviously an understatement. But I decided to group all one-way climbs with the nearest pass, and that is Juniper Pass.

After two switchbacks connected with long straight ramps the road climbs out of the forest at a large grove of Bristlecone Pine trees. A visitor center has been erected at this popular stopping place. The forest ends and the rock scape begins. The road ahead can be seen as a straight line slicing up the loaf shaped mountains. You suspect a saddle where the road cut ends. But this is just the point where the next view shed appears, and it the next view shed after that is also very similar. But now there is an added attraction, the oval shaped Lincoln Lake below. The road embankment forms a sheer cliff without a guard rail at the point The road was washed out here during the winter of 2015. Now the road is repaired with a flawlessly, smooth new surface. But so far there is nothing separating the road from the depths below. This is one place where descending on the left side of the road seems common sensical.

This next slice up the breadloaf is the last one. The road descends about 200ft to Summit Lake. The frost cracks approaching the lake are the worst here on the entire road. They cracks are curved like miniature canyons and their edges are rounded like a fluid substance. Here a short unpaved path leads to an overlook over the Chicago Lakes below. Foot trails lead up Mount Evans and down to Chicago Lakes.

The last part of the climb starts and surprisingly the road surface gets better again with more elevation. After two switchbacks the viewshed changes to the south, and by the time a cyclist makes it to this point the light has invariably changed to a flat frontal light, so that it's hard to make out distinct far features on this side

This point is identfied as Campion Pass in Helmuth's book "Passes of Colorado". The road crosses this saddle between Mount Evans and Mount Epaulet above the lowest point of the saddle. There is absolutely no downhill involved as far as the road is concerned. It is named for a surveyor who died here of exposure during construction of the road.

Nine more switchbacks and a couple of curves lead to the top. During my last ride up here, in October when the road was already closed to motor vehicles, I encountered many mountain sheep here, on the way up as well as down. The two middle switchbacks on the west side afford great views onto Grey's and Torrey's Peaks behind the cliffs of the Evans Massif.

The top comes up surprisingly and seems like it's not reaching the top of the mountain itself. Acutally it isn't. This 100ft pile of rocks, which is the real summit has no established track to the top and actually blocks the view to the north west. I imagine that was the plan because it also blocks the wind. Instead there are "pay-ruins" from a formerly magnificent summit house, located on a lower knoll of rocks to the east (more details in the historical notes below)  It is safe to assume that the "hang from the handlebars" type bike rack for 10 bikes in this parking lot is the highest bike rack in North America.

The best time for this ride is the very short period, starting after the fall closure of the road (for motor vehicles) and the first snow. All the pictures on the right and in the slide show were taken during that time.

Historical Notes

Modern Roads: The road from Denver to the summit of Mount Evans was achieved in steps, and most steps were preceded by a political battle. To get the ball rolling the Denver Parks system decided to build a series of scenic automobile loops for Denver residents. One of these was Loop G, and the first leg from Genesee Saddle (today's I70 Genesee exit) reached closeby Bergen Park in 1915. Subsequent political battles about a road that "starts nowhere, goes nowhere and never gets there" ( a quote from the Commissioner of Improvments WFR Mills) delayed the start of road construction  to Squaw Pass to the spring of 1918. The plan was to make Mount Evans a national park in order to get federal aid for road construction. This was a time of bitter animosity between the National Forest Sevice and the yet to be formed National Park Service, and the Mount Evans National Park never came into existence. In any case, it would have been the "Monte Rosa" National Park, named by the famous painter of Romatic American landscapes, Albert Bierstadt. Rosa was somebody else's wife whom he married subsequently. But it was also an allusion to the highest peak in the Swiss alps by the same name.

The road from Soda Pass (today named Squaw Pass) to Echo Lake was finally started in 1919 and took two years to cross Juniper Pass and reach Echo Lake. Instead of the National Park Service the newly formed "Bureau of Public Roads" picked up part of the costs.

The road to the summit from Echo Lake was surveyed again two years later, in 1923. It took another 7 years till the last switchback to the summit was completed by hand.

The ruins on the top look at first sight like something constructed by the Civil Conservation Corps after the Big Depression. They have that unmistakable solid look. But actually the Crest House was constructed much later, during 1940-41 through private initiative.

The story goes that a German immigrant, Justus Roehling, wanted to impress his girlfriend and future wife with a "castle in the sky". Financial backing came from the owner of the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and a future mayor of Denver. Roehling, his wife and workers lived in tents on the summit during the construction. During the winter of 1940, still in the construction stage, much of the glass and woodwork was destroyed. In 1941 the repairs took place and the building opened as a restaurant, gift shop, rest rooms, observation deck and emergency oxygen dispenser, which sounds much more practical than "impressing your girlfriend with a castle in the sky". The center piece of the building was a two story star-shaped glass and steel platform. The outside was completed with nearby rocks that fit perfectly into surroundings, because they were the surroundings. The original lease stated that the property reverts to the National Forest Service in 1969, and so it did.

After another 10 years, In 1979, the building burned down because an employee of an Evergreen propane company did not secure a safety valve. The National Forest Service only succeeded in getting less than 25 percent of the estimated 2 million dollars in replacement costs from the propane company.

Cycling-Racing: A bike race from Idaho Springs to the summit of Mount Evans was first held in 1962. It was first named the Mount Evans HIll Climb, and later renamed the Bob Cook hill climb, who won the race five times between 1975 and 1980 and later died of cancer. Up to 2015 the race was only canceled twice due to weather. The winner covered the 27.4~44.1km miles, climbing the 6590ft~2008m (not counting the roughly 200ft of "rolling hills along the way) in a time ranging from 2:28hrs in 1962 to 1:48hrs in 2015.

To compare this elevation gain with just one famous pass in the alps, Passo Stelvio: In order to loose 2000 meters from the summit you would be 40.5km down on the north side, somewhere between Schlanders and Laas, and 46 km down the south side. This seems comparable to the 44.1km from Idaho Springs. But the slope here is more uniform over the entire distance, while you have to reach well down into the valley approaches on Passo Stelvio to get this elevation gain.

Cycling-Touring:  (<Independence Pass|Nine Mile Gap Summit>): The Juniper/ Squaw Pass combination was once part of the Denver Post's "Ride the Rockies". Between 86 and 05 the tour crossed the passes on the last day of the 88 tour when returning from Idaho Springs to Golden.

The Triple Bypass ride is another organized ride (by Team Evergreen), that people have loved to use as an incentive to train hard for several decades. It ends in Vail and goes over Juniper Pass, Loveland Pass and Vail Pass.

typical October visitors