West of Denver, Colorado, US Highway 285 climbs swiftly into the Rocky Mountains toward Pike National Forest.
Between the small mountain communities of Pine Junction and Bailey, County Road 43 passes through an autumn tinted valley of farm land, crops nourished by clear and lovely Deer Creek, toward Mount Evans Wilderness Area and Tanglewood Trail.
As the valley narrows and the road turns to dirt, beyond Pine Campground, follow directions to Rosalie Camp. Staying to the west of the cabins, the narrow road leads through a forest of ponderosa pine and aspen trees, ending at the trailhead just inside the southeastern boundary of 74,401 acre Mount Evans Wilderness Area.
Designated for protection by Congress in 1980, the Wilderness Act of 1984 states this land as an area “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The magnificent wilderness is to be lovingly enjoyed and preserved.
Quite limited parking indicates this fairly remote trail is not burdened with heavy traffic. Only a single other vehicle shares the space.
Tanglewood Trail begins with a footbridge crossing of tiny Tanglewood Creek at slightly over 9,000 feet elevation. With available oxygen reduced at this altitude, the steady incline burns lungs and challenges leg muscles, reaching 10,000 feet within the first couple of miles. To the west of the creek valley, 12,444-foot Bandit Peak soars into the deep blue high mountain sky.
Fall color highlights the forest, with gorgeous red, orange and yellow aspen leaves in sharp contrast to the dark green pine forest on the east flank of Bandit Peak. Near its summit, branches and needles lie smothered under a heavy dusting from the previous night’s snowstorm.
Though visible from Denver against the western sky, 14,264-foot Mount Evans lies hidden behind Bandit Peak early in the adventure. From higher elevations of the trail, views will open to majestic mountain wilderness views. With over 50 peaks in Colorado higher than 14,000 feet, Mount Evans ranks 14th, just 169 feet lower than Mount Elbert, highest in Colorado at 14,433.
Should fishing and overnight camping be the goal, high country Roosevelt and Beartracks lakes are accessed via Tanglewood and connecting trails.
Hiking in mid-October requires an awareness that hunting season is open. A single orange-vested person, rifle slung over shoulder, passes silently, focused on his objective. Unknown to this individual, a good sized herd of mule deer is safely protected down the road in the campground.
Though closed once snow falls, Mount Evans Scenic Byway (State Highway 5), the highest paved road in North America, delivers to the summit those seeking to easily bag a 14’er.
Reversing course and descending toward the trailhead proves to be an easy, swift activity. Thanks to the freezing temperatures of the previous night, short waterfalls up river from the footbridge are exquisitely decorated with ice sculptures, soon to disappear as the warming sun ascends into the cloudless sky.
With an English Springer Spaniel as a hiking partner, just two other hikers with their dogs and the lone hunter are the only others sharing this glorious adventure in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.