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Independence Pass 

The Sawatch Range south of Leadville appears like a massive bulk of gigantic proportions. This range is often said to contain the highest paved approach of any Colorado pass, the 4600 feet climb from Aspen to Independence Pass. Here are a few alternative points of view: the Trail Ridge Road passes, Grand Mesa summit(u). Whichever pass has the highest climb, Independence Pass offers one of the state's most extensive above treeline paved cycling experiences, second only to Trail Ridge road and the Mount Evans road.

click on profile for more detail
1.(9083ft,mile00) START-END EAST ALTERNATE: Balltown
2.(9238ft,mile06) START-END EAST town of Twin Lakes
4.(12095ft,mile24) TOP: Independence Pass
5.(10972ft,mile28) ghost town Independence is south of road
6.(7902ft,mile44) START-END WEST: Aspen
7.(7714ft,mile48) Aspen airport
8.(6886ft,mile59) Snowmass, road on left goes to Snowmass resort and Watson Divide. Right over birdge connects to Rio Grande Trail.
9.(6606ft,mile63) START-END ALTERNATE WEST: Basalt


From West. The profile starts in Basalt to show that there is some climbing involved while cycling the Roaring Fork Valley to Aspen. The profile shows the most direct route on the Highway. This involves a spacious shoulder on a busy highway for the first few miles and then a bikepath on the north side of the road. A longer alternative that also invovles more up and down  is the Rio Grande Trail on the north side of the Roaring Fork River. It is most easily accessed from Basalt or point 7 on the profile, the turnoff to Snowmass.

Soon after leaving Aspen with  a steep, steady climb follows the upper Roaring Fork River. Still below treeline, the road passes a very narrow section with overhanging rocks on one side, and an intermittent stone wall on the other, marking the precipice to the tumbling mountain stream below. This section contains places that are too narrow for two cars side by side, much less two cars and a bicycle. However traffic speed is limited to 10mph and tends to be considerate, and with a little attention to surroundings, perfectly safe. As the road nears treeline, the landscape takes on a grandiose scale and the road sweeps above treeline with a few far flung contours.

From East. (also described upwards) The profile starts at the junction of the Independence Pass road with US24 at Balltown. But coming up from Buena Vista, you can't help but notice that its been basically uphill for a long time. No wonder - the road follows the Arkansas River upstream, and all those rapids need some slope to develop.

Many cycling groups that cross the pass and back in a day start - or turn around - a few miles up the road in the small settlement of Twin Lakes. There cyclists also can stack up on fishing supplies, they may or may not want to carry over the pass. Soon after leaving the Twin Lakes, the road passes between two 14000 foot giants. Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest mountain, is to the north and its top can't be seen from the road. But La Plata peak to the south has been the predominant backdrop to the Twin Lakes for several miles already.

The road follows a large gentle curve of the north fork of Lake Creek, heading north. It finally breaks above treeline, amongst the meanders of the creek, heading straight for Mount Champion (13646ft). The wild, snake like meanders of the North Fork of Lake Creek look especially interesting after that first switchback is negotiated and the road has gained a little elevation above the valley. Next heading in a westerly direction the road climbs into a sweeping high tundra valley. Since rising above treeline the road only needs four switchbacks and connecting ramps to gain the last ridge. An interesting stop, besides the top, is the ghost town of Independence.

Rides with this summit as highest point:

A Day on a 15 Day Tour:


(<Mc Lure Pass|Fremont Pass>)
Independence Pass: Aspen > Independence Pass > several miles before Leadville: 68.1miles (mech Odo: m1.83.7.14).
Notes: This day ended at an impromptu campsite a several miles before Leadville



(< Stoney Pass | CR170 the Pines Ranch(sh) >)
Independence Pass x2 : Clear Creek Reservoir campground <> FR120 east <> US24 north <> Granite <> Co82 west <> Tin Lakes <> Independence Pass <> turnaround point at Linkin Lake trailhead ~550ft below summit due to light rain: 64.5miles with 4450ft of climbing in 5:01hrs (VDO MC1.0 r4:14.9.8)
Notes: the unpaved section is only the short part used to access the campground


The Leadville Boom (<Cottonwood Pass|Taylor Pass>): Independence Pass was the first and last pass to supply the Aspen valley. But there were others in between. It was a time when gold and silver seemed to be everywhere. From Leadville the boom had moved to Gunnison, Pitkin and Tincup. A case of glittering rocks was discovered far above Twin Lakes on July 4th 1879, at least that's how the story goes. Attaching the name "Independence" to the mine seemed like a natural.. In 1880 business men took advantage of the profit potential presenting itself and improved a trail across the ridge so that horses could use it, for a fee of course.

That first year only pack animal trains could use the road. But by 1881 wagons were crossing, taking 25 hours and five changes of horses from Leadville to Aspen, which is quite a bit slower than the same route today on a bicycle. Even while still arranging the financing for the Independence Pass road,  competition already arose from unlikely sources. The route to Aspen using Taylor Pass had the advantage of being already constructed for the most part, even though it was quite a bit longer. Pearl Pass, the most unlikely pass of them all, also had the biggest attraction on its other side, a railhead from which mining ore could be shipped out.

But Independence Pass finally won the competition. It was November 1881 when Leadvillians decided that their toll road would reign supreme over the Taylor Pass and Pearl Pass alternatives. 75 toll company men and the entire town of Independence worked on road improvements, attacking the pass from both sides. When it was done, traffic from both competing routes switched at once. Snow could not stop them. They just switched to sleighs. Due to heavy traffic, the following spring hairpin curves were banked so that stages could descend full speed. Specially trained dogs were sent ahead of the stages to warn of oncoming traffic, making this Colorado's first heavy traffic warning system.

The toll road's heyday lasted till something better came along. This happened in the form of a railroad tunnel under the same mighty Sawatch Range. Hagerman's Colorado Midland Railroad opened a tunnel under a rough pass to the north, all bearing Hagerman's name in 1887 and regular stage coach traffic plummeted.

Modern Highways: By the 1920s a fair road over the pass was available for the intrepid motorist. In the 1930s the road obtained a boost from another project. During the Twin Lakes Diversion water tunnel project the eastern side of the pass was dramatically improved.

Cycling - Ride the Rockies: (<Hoosier Pass|Juniper/ Squaw Pass>): The first pass ever crossed by the Denver Post's "Ride the Rockies" remains unrecrossed by the tour as of 2005.  Between 1986 and sofar (2005) Independence Pass was on the schedule one time, on day 3 of the first tour in 86. The stage led from Aspen to Leadville. On the route from Grand Junction no passes were crossed previous to this pass and the route continued over Fremont Pass.

Highest Point: 12095 ft

Eastern Approach: paved road
from Balltown (9083ft)
from Twin Lakes (9238ft)

Western Approach:

from Basalt (6606ft)

from Snowmass tunroff (6886ft)

from Aspen (7902ft)


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