If you visit Aspen, Colorado in the summertime, don't miss Independence Pass, one of the most scenic byways in the United States. Independence Pass reaches an elevation of 12,095 at the summit. Located halfway between Aspen and Twin Lakes, visitors to the top of the pass can get a firsthand look at the Continental Divide. (Independence Pass is the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the United States!)
This week our blog team takes a closer look at Independence Pass and all that it has to offer.
Independence Pass is accessible by Highway 82 in the summertime and is a very popular destination. Because of heavy snowfall, Independence Pass is closed during the winter, from approximately mid-October to late-May. Always be sure to check driving conditions before heading out.
- Important note: Even when the pass is open, not all vehicles may use the road. Oversize and overweight vehicles are prohibited from the pass, as are all vehicles or vehicle combinations longer than 35 feet, regardless of weight or size. This precludes use of the pass by tractor trailers, buses, and recreational vehicles.
- Another note: Driving the pass can challenging. At points, the lanes are very narrow and there are limited guard rails. Only experienced drivers are encouraged to drive the pass. Traffic can be heavy as many people pull off to the side to take photos.
Visitors to the top can park and walk up a paved path to a scenic overlook that offers views east to Mt. Elbert (the state's highest peak) and La Plata Peak (the state's fifth largest. Looking west, visitors can see more of Colorado's renowned "Fourteeners," peaks over 14,000 feet, including Capitol Peak, the Maroon Bells and Snowmass Mountain, among others. The scenic overlook allows guests to experience an alpine tundra environment that is completely above treeline.
The pass was originally formed by glacial erosion and was discovered in 1806 by Zebulon Pike. Originally, lands to the west of the Divide were reserved for Ute Indians. Prospectors crossed the pass in 1879, defying an order by then Governor Frederick Pitkin. The defiance gave the pass its current name.
Settlers set up a similarly named town just west of the pass. The Independence mining ghost town is still standing and is a popular stop along the pass. Most of its buildings were cannibalized for their building supplies, but a few log cabins remain. The Aspen Historical Society, in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, has built an interpretive trail with plaques for visitors.
Independence Pass offers a plethora of outdoor activities for the adventurous. Here's just a sampling of great outdoor activities enjoyed on Independence Pass:
- Camping is very popular in the summer. Difficult Campground, three miles east of Aspen, has lots of camping space. Campers also enjoy camping along Lincoln Creek Road in the summer, which is farther up the pass, just down Lincoln Creek Road.
- In late spring and early summer, Independence Pass is a popular backcountry skiing spot. Following heavy winters, backcountry skiing is possible into July!
- Rock climbers love all the bouldering opportunities!
- Independence Pass has been on the route of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge since 2011.
- At the Grottos, a short trail leads to an area known as the Devil's Punchbowl, with high stone cliffs on either side and waterfalls. It is a popular swimming hole because of its deep and cool water.
- The river is popular for fishing and fly-fishing, with anglers casting for lake and cutthroat trout stocks.