Independence Pass, part of Colorado State Highway 82, passes over the Continental Divide between Leadville and Aspen, Colorado. In addition to being a scenic byway, Independence Pass is a favorite recreation location during the summer months, for those visitors willing to travel just east of Aspen.
At 12,095, the summit of the Pass is the highest paved pass in the state, and depending on snow accumulation the Colorado Department of Transportation closes the highway at the Winter Gate, 5 miles east of Aspen. Visit cotrip.org for up-to-date road closure information. Do not rely on your GPS for directions, we can not emphasize this enough!
Independence Pass Hiking Trails:
Green Circle (Easy):
Blue Square (Moderate):
Difficult Creek Trail
Grizzly Lake Trail
Lincoln Creek Road
North Fork Lake Creek Trail
Anderson & Petroleum Lakes
Tabor Creek Trail
Black Diamond (Difficult):
Linkins Lake Trail
Lost Man Trail
Midway Creek Trail
New York Creek Trail
Road biking on Independence Pass/Highway 82 is a popular route in the summer. The road climbs to the continental divide at the top of the Pass (12,095 ft.). The road is open to traffic and is extremely narrow in some sections. Be alert to all car traffic, which is especially heavy on summer weekends. From Aspen to the peak of the Pass is about 20 miles, but riders can turn around at any point and come back to town.
Fun Fact: USA Pro Challenge featured this climb in the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015 races.
Each spring the cycling season is kicked off with the Annual Ride for the Pass event which takes place every May.
Rock Climbing: Independence Pass Rock Climbing offers short approaches and a large variety of climbs, both trad/mixed and sport climbing is available.
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.
Points of Interest:
The Grottos Ice Caves: 9 miles east of Aspen (.9 miles past Weller Campground) pull into the day use parking area on the right-hand side of the highway. From the parking lot, you will see hiking trails for this popular family area for picnicking and exploring the waterfalls, rock formations & ice caves.
Devil's Punch Bowl: Located just past mile marker 50, this is a popular cliff jumping spot.
Independence Ghost Town: 16 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 the General Store.
Continental Divide: The midway point between Aspen and Twin Lakes Colorado, the Pass is on the border between Pitkin and Lake Counties and is the dividing point between watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean vs. those that drain into the Atlantic Ocean. You are at 12,095, so the weather can be unpredictable. There is ample parking and a scenic overlook near the pass where you can take in the 360-degree views.
North Star Nature Preserve:
The North Star Nature Preserve, Where the Roaring Fork Whispers, is a wonderful place to recreate, just east of Aspen and before you reach the "winter" gate to Independence Pass. You can explore this area on foot, or from the river, but please make sure to do so respectfully as it is a nature preserve that also passes through private land. Stand-Up paddling, kayaking, and tubing down the river are popular ways to cool off in the summer. Visit www.northstaraspen.com for information on how to enjoy responsibly.
Highway 82 is closed at the Winter Gate, 5 miles east of Aspen, around the beginning of November each year. However, visitors are still able to enjoy recreational opportunities on the closed, snow packed road.
Cross Country skiers will enjoy the groomed trail for both classic and skate skiing jaunts. Snowshoers and hikers can also enjoy the same access to the road.
Snowmobilers are also able to utilize the road, providing access to ski mountaineering adventures further from the parking lot.