Mt Goliath Natural Area, Mt Evans Scenic Byway, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado

Mt Goliath Natural Area - 2.8 miles

Mt Evans Scenic Byway

Ancient bristlecone pine forests highlight the Mt Goliath Natural Area

Ancient bristlecone pine forests highlight the Mt Goliath Natural Area

Round-Trip Length: 2.8 miles
Start-End Elevation: 11,540' - 12,132' (12,152' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +540' net elevation gain (+688' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy-Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Mt Goliath Natural Area - 2.8 Miles Round-Trip

The Mt Goliath Natural Area is located 16.5 miles south of Idaho Springs on the Mt Evans Scenic Byway. It protects the largest, northernmost stand of Bristlecone Pine trees in North America, and is internationally recognized as one of the purest locations to study alpine ecology.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The bristlecone of Mt Goliath are found in large quantities because of conducive conditions on dry, south-facing slopes over 11,000'. They include some of the oldest trees in Colorado, ranging from 1600 to 2500 years old.

Bristlecone pine have unique adaptations to survive the alpine tundra's persistent winds, high elevation, low moisture, cold temperatures and short growing seasons:

  • The bristlecone pine's short, twisted trunk facilitates nutrient flow, and stabilizes the tree in strong winds (vs. a long, narrow trunk that could snap).
  • Flexible branches bend in the wind, rather than break.
  • Slow growth rates: Bristlecones may take a century to add just 1 inch in diameter, and can become nearly dormant during a drought.
  • Trees replace needles once every 10-15 years rather than annually, which conserves energy.
  • Narrow growth rings create dense wood that's resistant to insects and disease. The tree's resin also combats insects and disease.
  • Strip-barking enables a small strip of bark to nourish large branches and needle clusters.

Lack of nutrient competition and the absence of fire also contribute to the trees' longevity.

While bristlecone pines highlight this area, it also supports localized micro-climates with plants found nowhere else below the Arctic Circle - one would have to travel 3,000 miles north to see the same plant communities.

The Pesman Trail runs 1.4 miles and climbs 592' through these distinct plant communities and the heart of the bristlecone pine forest.

The Bristlecone Loop and Alpine Loop offer short extensions through the forest and open tundra (respectively). Mountain goat, bighorn sheep, elk, marmot, ptarmigan and various raptors can be seen throughout the year.

Plants of the Alpine Tundra

Alpine tundra plants grow close to the ground to minimize wind exposure, have small fleshy leaves with waxy surfaces to facilitate water conservation, often have hairy leaves for additional warmth, and sometimes have red stems to prevent sunburn.

They're also perennials, which use the same root system each year. Some, like the Spring Beauty, entrench themselves in rocky crevices and grow a long, thick taproot to stabilize the plant and access moisture deep underground.

Lichens are comprised of two organisms: a fungus that gives it structure, and an algae within the fungus that stores water and gives it color. Lichens need only a rock, sunlight, and some water every few years to survive.

A one inch diameter lichen may be hundreds of years old; some lichens can live for thousands of years. Lichens help turn rock into soil by secreting acids that dissolve it into minerals.

Cushion and mat plants help build soil by capturing organic debris in their foliage, plots in which grasses and taller plants can eventually root. This turns fellfield into alpine turf, a process that can take centuries.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 38.554 W105 35.567 — 0.0 miles : Mount Goliath Trailhead
  • N39 38.281 W105 35.894 — .5 miles : Steady climb in bristlecone forest
  • N39 38.137 W105 36.212 — 1.25 miles : Alpine Loop Trail split
  • N39 37.974 W105 36.247 — 1.4 miles : Trail terminus on Mt Evans Scenic Byway

Worth Noting

  • Interestingly, there is no peak named Mt. Goliath. However, there is a Goliath Peak on the southwest horizon.

  • Above treeline, there is only 2/5 of the oxygen available at sea level.

  • World-renowned rock garden expert Zdenek Zvolanek designed and built Mount Goliath's alpine rock garden, thought to be the world's highest constructed rock garden.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Camping is not permitted within the Mount Goliath Natural Area.

  • However, dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the surrounding Pike National Forest, Arapaho National Forest and Mt Evans Wilderness Area.

  • Tents and fires must be more than .5 miles from roads, and 100'from any lake or stream. Campfires may be subject to seasonal and elevation restrictions.

  • If in the Mt Evans Wilderness , one member of each party is required to register at a Mt Evans Wilderness boundary board and carry a copy of the registration with them during their visit. There is no registration fee.

  • Camping is not permitted at Summit Lake, or the immediate vicinity. Summit Lake is managed separately by Denver Mountain Park.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted in Summit Lake with a valid Colorado state fishing license.

  • A total of four fish may be kept, minimum length 12 inches.

  • Summit Lake is known to hold fish that reach 18-30".

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $10 fee to park at the Mount Goliath Natural Area, Summit Lake, and Mt Evans Summit. Inter-agency passes (e.g. a National Park Pass) are accepted.

  • Dogs are permitted in the Mount Goliath Natural Area and must be leashed at all times.

  • Bikes are not permitted in the Mount Goliath Natural Area.

Directions to Trailhead

The Mt Goliath Natural Area is located 16.5 miles south of Idaho Springs on the Mt Evans Scenic Byway.

From I-70, exit #240 and head south on HWY 103 (toward Mt Evans). Veer right onto Highway 105 just past Echo Lake and continue to the parking area on the left. Note there's a fee station just past Echo Lake before you veer right onto 105.

Contact Information

Clear Creek Ranger District
101 Chicago Creek Road
P.O. Box 3307
Idaho Springs, CO 80452

South Platte Ranger District
19316 Goddard Ranch Court
Morrison, CO 80465
303.275.5610 (phone)
303.275.5642 (fax)
Office Hours:
Monday - Friday, 8 am - 4:30 pm (excluding National Holidays)

Denver Botanic Gardens
1007 York Street, Denver, CO 80206
720.865.3500 General Information : 720.865.3585 Information Desk

Trip Reports

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"This is an excellent hike, very beautiful with lots of flowers and wildlife. Its a pretty good family hike. We got there at about 8am, but by 10 the parking lot was almost full. Parking is $10 at the site, go before 8am and you wont have to pay to enter through the main gate."
John Vogt  -  Westminster, CO  -  Date Posted: July 24, 2016


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