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Everything You Need to Know About Independence Pass

Independence Pass, part of Highway 82, passes over the Continental Divide between Leadville and Aspen. The highest paved pass in North America is a classic Colorado drive and offers access to excellent hiking, biking and more.

Ice Grottos on Independence Pass
Ice Grottos on Independence Pass
Independence ghost town
Independence ghost town

Driving Independence Pass

The summit of the Continental Divide is 12,095 feet above sea level, and Independence Pass is a 32-mile drive that takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Featuring many stops along the way to enjoy scenic views, it twists around stunning groves of aspen trees and hugs the Roaring Fork River. The road is steep, narrow and twisty with only a few guardrails but is completely safe. Drivers must follow the speed limit and proceed with caution.

Cycling

Road biking on Independence Pass is popular during the summer. The Ride for the Pass is a recreational ride and road-biking race that takes place every May and allows cyclist to enjoy the beautiful road before it opens to cars for the season.

When road is open to vehicles, be alert to all the traffic, which is especially heavy on summer weekends, since the route is extremely narrow in some sections. It is about 20 miles from Aspen to the peak of the pass, but riders can turn around at any point and head back to town.

Hiking

There are several trails to enjoy right off of the pass, ranging from easy to difficult depending on your interests and hiking level. Below are a few top picks:

Grottos (Easy)
This is a popular area for picnicking and exploring and for families. There is a waterfall, some interesting rock formations, an ice cave and numerous short trails. 

Ruby (Easy)
The old town of Ruby is an abandoned mining camp. Drive east on Highway 82 for 11 miles to the Lincoln Creek Road turnoff. Follow the dirt road 6 miles to Grizzly Reservoir. At this point the route becomes a four-wheel-drive road, where you can begin your hike. The road continues 5 miles to the ghost town of Ruby. 

Lost Man Trail (Moderate–Difficult)
The Lost Man Trail features some of the easiest access to an alpine wonderland of meadows and lakes anywhere in the area. Lost Man spans a diverse ridge between the Roaring Fork headwaters and Los Man Creek drainage. Views are outstanding, with hiking routes that branch off to Geissler Mountain and points on the Continental Divide.

For a complete list of trails near Independence Pass, check out Aspen Trail Finder.

Camping

Fee-based camping on the Aspen side of Independence Pass is available at Difficult Campground, Weller Campground, Lincoln Gulch and Lost Man Campground. Free camping can be found along Lincoln Creek Road.

Additional Attractions

Independence Ghost Town
Sixteen miles east of Aspen is the historic ghost town of Independence, once a thriving mining town with over 40 businesses and an estimated population of 1,500. Today you can view the remains of miner's cabins, the Farewell Stamp Mill, stables and a general store.

Continental Divide
The midway point between Aspen and Twin Lakes, the pass is on the border between Pitkin and Lake counties and is the dividing point between watersheds that drain into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Since you’ll be at an elevation of 12,095 feet, prepare for unpredictable weather. There is plenty of parking and a scenic overlook near the pass where you can take in the 360-degree views.

Grottos Ice Caves
Nine miles east of Aspen, pull into the day-use parking area on the right side of the highway. From there, you will see hiking trails that lead to waterfalls, rock formations, ice caves and popular picnicking areas.

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A version of these article originally appeared on Aspen Chamber’s website.