Updated August 2019
Serving as the eastern gateway to Aspen, Independence Pass has linked the Front Range to the Western Slope since the mining days when it was a rough wagon trail. Today, the roadway is the highest paved pass in Colorado, maintained and open during summer months (late May through mid-October).
Between Aspen and Twin Lakes, Independence Pass is bordered by White River and Pike-San Isabel National Forests and traverses the Continental Divide, reaching 12,095 feet at the summit. With hiking trails, swimming holes, a ghost town, and the awe-inspiring views atop the 12,095-foot summit, Independence Pass is a recreational playground that is a destination unto itself.
As we explore the points of interest along Independence Pass, we'll start this journey on the Aspen side of Independence Pass and detail our favorite stops on the way to the summit.
NORTHSTAR NATURE PRESERVE
Before you reach the winter gate to Independence Pass, pull off the road to explore Northstar Nature Preserve. Walkers can head into the Preserve on the James H. Smith Interpretive Loop and see herons nesting along the river. Stand-up paddleboarders and kayakers can float the slow-moving sections of the Roaring Fork River. While out on the water it's common to spot beavers and many types of birds.
If you enjoy the leg-numbing adrenaline when standing atop a 20-foot cliff and leaping into an icy river below, stop at the Devil's Punchbowl, just past mile marker 50 and before the Grottos Day Use area. The natural swimming hole has been carved out of rock by the rushing river over the years. There are a few different jump zones as well as viewing areas for spectators.
Use extreme caution. This is an unmaintained area with no lifeguards, and the water levels this year have been particularly high.
With a designated parking area, The Grottos are easy to access and a great spot for a quick walk around truly stunning scenery. The Grottos themselves are caves (sometimes covered with ice) that have been formed by pooling water and ice over centuries. The Roaring Fork River continues to carve away at surrounding rock formations with cascading waterfalls that add to the picturesque setting.
THE BRAILLE TRAIL
Established in 1967, Aspen's Braille Trail was the first of its kind. Located at mile marker 55, it invites blind visitors to leave the roadside and explore the forest along a 0.25-mile trail. There are 23 stations with Braille and text that detail local plants, animals, and geology.
INDEPENDENCE GHOST TOWN
Just past mile marker 57, the topography widens, and the ghost town of Independence comes into view. When this silver and gold mining town was at its peak in 1882, it had an estimated population of 1,500 as well as three post offices and more than 40 businesses. Pull over to explore the remaining miners' cabins, general store, mill, and other structures.
HIKING TRAILS ON INDEPENDENCE PASS
Surrounded by National Forest land, Independence Pass serves as the gateway to some of Aspen's best hiking. For a full-day adventure, hike the iconic Lost Man Loop, which passes by two high alpine lakes and many scenic, above-treeline vistas.
There are two access points for this hike, and it's best experienced as a single-direction hike with a second car dropped at the finishing point. Hikers either start at Independence Lake Trailhead or Lost Man Campground. The Independence Lake Trailhead offers a shorter, more direct route to the lakes, and the Lost Man Campground trailhead offers a more gradual climb to the same destinations.
For more Independence Pass hikes, speak to the Frias Properties Concierge.
THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE
At 12,095 feet and above treeline, the top of Independence Pass tempts nearly every first-time visitor to park the car and get outside to enjoy views of some of Colorado's highest peaks. There are several easy hiking trails that depart from the parking area, and visitors are encouraged to stay on the path to not disrupt the delicate high-alpine flora.
Start your Independence Pass adventure with Frias Properties
If you're embarking on an Independence Pass adventure, make sure to reserve your vacation rental with Frias Properties. Book online or contact our Aspen-based reservations team here. And for any other Independence Pass tips, speak with our concierge before you arrive!