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Kenosha Pass

Today Kenosha Pass is the highest point on US285 between Denver and the Arkansas Valley. The profile starts in Bailey. The road between Bailey and the junction with Guanella Pass Rd has no shoulder, heavy traffic that is not disposed to slowing down, and is very dangerous, even though it is open to bicycles. US285 as a whole seems to bring out the worst in drivers. But connecting Guanella Pass with Kenosha Pass is more feasible - more below.

click on profile for more detail
1.(7740ft,mile00) START-END EAST: Bailey
2.(8580ft,mile12) Grant, dirt road on right
3.(9020ft,mile15) Webster and junction with Hall Valley on right
4.(10001,mile15) TOP: Kenosha Pass
5.(9540ft.mile19) junction with Lost Park dirt road on left
6.(9500,mile24) START-END WEST: Jefferson


From East. I already mentioned the terrible, horrible, deplorable, unmentionable, unciviliced conditions between Bailey and the junction with the Guanella Pass Rd.

But surprise, maybe 100 yards west of this junction a fairly spacious shoulder starts. I still wouldn't call this a "scenic climb", even though having a rear view mirror helps helps. On the profile the road does not appear very steep, but the noise from all the passing cars having their gas pedals floored may make it seem so.

The shoulder disappears once to make room for a climbing lane, but then reappears again. There are no switchbacks on this major highway. At the top the Colorado Trail crosses, and a sign hints at the immense historic importance of this crossing

From West. (described downwards). The first impressive view of the immense soup bowl that makes up South Park appears at the beginning of the descent. The descent on this side is barely 500ft high and only consists of two sweeping curves. There is an acceptable shoulder on this side also, though not as wide as the upper eastern side.

Dayrides with this pass as intermediate summit are on pages:

Argentine Pass
Webster Pass


In a way Kenosha Pass is Denver's first I25 - it's first traffic thoroughfare into the mountains.

Colorado Gold Rush of 1859/60(<Guanella Pass|Ute Pass>): Kenosha Pass was already a Ute Indian Trail. After gold had been discovered west of Denver in 1859, prospectors arrived from Guanella Pass on the east side of Kenosa Pass. In their frenzy, they prospected themselves right over Kenosha Pass into South Park. Here they were happy. Here they located a major find. The diggings along Tarryall Creek developed into a rush as big as the one in existence already along Clear Creek.

As consequence of the traffic generated to South Park, Ute Pass (from Colorado Springs) also played a role in the gold rush, as early major supply route to the Tarryall fields. But already the next year, an extensive toll road system was in existence over Kenosha Pass. Through the foothills east of Kenosha Pass, miners could choose between three toll roads, all of wich would funnel traffic into the single crossing of Kenosha Pass. All of the lower access roads avoided the unnavigable canyon of the South Platte. Ute Pass was still free, but also a lot further from Denver.

The Civil War Years: (<Guanella Pass | Georgia Pass>) By 1861 Kenosha Pass was well traveled. Jim Bridger and the Denver engineer Berthoud ascended from Empire over Guanella Pass and Kenosha Pass to inspect Georgia and Hoosier Pass as possible pass roads to Salt Lake City, as well as for the possibility to carry mail to California over it. In the end this resulted in developing the Berthoud Pass crossing.

Leadville Boom(<Wilkerson Pass|Weston Pass>): When the Leadville mining boom was heard around the state, DSP (Denver South Park and Pacific Railroad) rails reached up towards Kenosha Pass as far as the current town of Bailey. The remaining 20 miles of wagon road were improved to handle the increased traffic.

Railroads(<Raton Pass|Trout Creek Pass>): The race was on. The finish line was in Leadville. That's where the big pot of silver was waiting. That's where the mining boom was happening, and on the way there - railroads had to cross mountain passes. Some railroads opted for the high routes, others for the low routes.

The previous instance of a railroad laying tracks over a Colorado pass was the Santa Fe railroad (SF) over Raton Pass. After that the Santa Fe was done in the pass department. Now there were three participants in this race to lay tracks over Colorado passes, General Palmer's Denver Rio Grande (DRG), Evans's Denver and South Park (DSP), and Loveland's Colorado Central (CC).  As if that wasn't enough to remember, there is another player worth mentioning, Jay Gould's huge Union Pacific (UP).  Jay Gould had made his empire through bribery, stock manipulation and alleged embezzlement.  He wrecked the Eeire railroad back east and ruined thousands of investors. He also controlled the Kansas Pacific Railroad, and he had his eyes on Colorado.

Here goes the alphabet soup. DRG was caught up in a war with SF at the base of the Royal Gorge for two years, delaying progress to Leadville from that part of the Front Range. UP was so large and influential that CC became its pawn. Emperor UP intimidated the only remaining player, the DSP, with outlandish statements, publicized in newspaper propaganda by leaders of CC. Sofar pawn CC had reached as far as Georgetown. From there, CC would swoop over Loveland Pass with a rig combining the best features of a tram and a ferris wheel. If that doesn't cede the race for Leadville to the UP and its CC, UP would reach a tentacle down from its Wyoming line, through North Park, Middle Park and across Tennessee Pass, something that sounded altogether more realistic.

Undeterred by these threads the DSP started building from its terminus in Morrison, up Platte Canyon towards Kenosha Pass. This was railroad pass building on on a new larger scale, as far as Colorado was concerned. Kenosha Pass was 600 feet higher than North La Veta Pass. But that doensn't even begin to describe the difference. The total rise of the DSP line to the pass was 4711 feet. The line ran up the Platte River all the way (1879), something that no road ever managed to do. This provides a more appealing definition for the term "Kenosha Pass" than the one provided by the current Highway 285. The most difficult part of the route was a dynamited shelf route through Platte Canyon, an area very close to Denver, a canyon thankfully still without a highway and with great dirt road bicycling.

The DSP reached the top of the pass, still along South Platte waters in 1879. The altitude gain of the narrow gauge tracks, 4711 feet is impressive - but not the most impressive. Rather it is the speed with which they were constructed, their transience, and the fact that they ran at all, even if it was for just a short time.

Once across the top, the gaily painted narrow gauge trains happily chucked across South Park, looking very much like a toy railroad, with their diamond shaped smoke stacks, their huge headlights emphasizing the tinyness of the engine itself. In a way they not only looked like toy trains. They were toy trains, toys that earned money for their owners. But the DSP would not win the race to Leadville, more details on the Trout Creek Pass page.

Modern Highways (<Molas Divide|Fall River Pass>): Between the two world wars, the US engaged in a road building frenzy. Kenosha Pass became part of the "Hard Pan Triangle" touristic route connecting Denver with Fairplay.

Kenosha Pass

Elevation/Highest Point: 10001ft

Eastern Approach:
from Bailey (7740ft)
from Grant (8580ft)

Western Approach:

from Jefferson (9500ft)