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A Guide to Independence Pass, Colorado

The Continental Divide is a series of ridges that split the rivers flowing east into the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico from the rivers flowing west into the Pacific Ocean.

Independence Pass, a stunning 32-mile mountain road in central Colorado, sits right on the Continental Divide and gives visitors incredible views of the nearby summits.

Here is everything you need to know about Independence Pass and the surrounding area. 

Independence Pass Guide

What is Independence Pass?

One of the highest paved places in the state of Colorado, this two-lane mountain pass is a road with an elevation of 12,095 feet.

When driving along Independence Pass, keep in mind that the road is narrow and winding, with steep inclines.

Drive slowly along this mountain road so you can take in the amazing scenery safely while navigating tight turns, and be particularly vigilant along the parts of this highway that narrow to a single lane.

While on the road, watch out for cyclists, who can be hard to see around blind curves. 

How to Get to Independence Pass

If you’re approaching Independence Pass from Aspen, Colo., head east on Highway 82 for about 20 miles as you wind through aspen and pine trees. Then, you’ll reach the summit of Independence Pass and take in panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. 

What’s Needed to Drive Independence Pass

You won’t need any special vehicles or equipment to drive Independence Pass, but there are some important restrictions to know about.

First, oversized and overweight vehicles are forbidden from using the Pass at any time of year because the road is so narrow and steep.

No vehicles over 35 feet in length, including a truck and trailer that together are longer than 35 feet, may use the Pass at any time. 

Finally, keep in mind that Independence Pass closes for winter around Nov. 7 and reopens the Thursday before Memorial Day in May, so plan to visit the Pass in the summer or early autumn months. 

What to Do Near Independence Pass

#1: Go Hiking 

When you reach the top of the pass, take the Independence Pass Scenic Trail for spectacular views of the nearby Elk Mountains. This 0.5-mile paved loop is dog friendly and easy to navigate. 

After taking the Scenic Trail, hike the 4.7-mile Independence Pass Ridgeline Trail for great views of snow capped peaks. This moderately challenging hike starts off easy and gets progressively more difficult as you climb, so plan for it to take about 2.5 hours. The trail is above the treeline and fully exposed, so it is often cold and windy. Bring along a hat, coat and gloves to stay warm as you follow this well-marked path. Since you’ll be hiking at an altitude around 12,000 feet, pack plenty of water and electrolytes to drink while you climb to avoid altitude sickness. 

#2: Go Camping

There are seven campgrounds in the Independence Pass area, so you have plenty of options to choose from. Difficult Campground is found along the banks of the Roaring Fork River and has 47 campsites, each with a picnic table and fire ring. Vault toilets are available on-site, and you can purchase firewood at the campground. Another option is Weller Campground, which has 11 campsites. This campground also has several outdoor activities — rock climbing, hiking, fishing and mountain biking — in close proximity. 

#3: Visit Leadville 

Independence Pass connects the Colorado cities of Leadville and Aspen, both of which have a variety of interesting attractions. Leadville , which is 10,152 feet above sea level, has the impressive distinction of being the highest incorporated city in North America. While touring this city, check out the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, where you can visit replicas of caves and learn about Leadville’s history of mining, geology and gold. 

Then, head to Leadville’s East Side Mining District to see mines that operated from 1860-1999 and produced ore, gold, silver, lead and copper. If you’re visiting in summer, you can hike and bike along the Mining District’s roads; in winter, the roads are open for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking and snowmobiling. 

#4: Tour Aspen 

After visiting Leadville, drive to Aspen, where the recreational activities are seemingly endless.

Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fly-fishing are all favorite things to do in winter, and if you want to see this beautiful mountain town from overhead, you can even take a hot-air balloon ride.

Aspen is best known for its Aspen Snowmass ski resort, which has four ski mountains and 5,600 acres of snowy terrain. Expert skiers can head to the resort’s Highland Bowl for some steep, double-black diamond runs through deep powder. 

#5: Explore the Maroon Bells Scenic Area

Located just outside Aspen, the Maroon Bells Scenic Area has a variety of hiking trails near Maroon Lake. If you want to visit Maroon Bells for a day trip, the scenic area is great for nature viewing and picnicking.

Keep in mind that a permit is required for overnight stays in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness permit zones, so make sure to get one in advance through

There are several campgrounds near Maroon Lake. The primitive Silver Bar Campground has four sites while the Silver Queen Campground has five sites near Maroon Creek.

Silver Bell Campground has 14 sites on the banks of Maroon Creek. Visit the Maroon Bells Scenic Area website linked above for more information about tent, trailer and RV campsites at these various campgrounds. 

The Bottom Line: Independence Pass

Bring your Colorado trip to a close when you visit the town of Twin Lakes, the eastern gateway to Independence Pass whose nearby glacial lakes are ideal for rafting and fishing.

This historic village is nestled at the base of Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, and it is the perfect last stop on your Independence Pass vacation.

Enjoy exploring Independence Pass, a beautiful part of Colorado with an abundance of scenic places nearby.



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