Continental Divide via Independence Pass

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Shaken_Bake on July 22, 2005

In the summer, visitors to Aspen can get to the town via Independence Pass, which is closed in wintertime. It’s an incredibly scenic--as well as a bit scary--road, especially for visitors who might not be used to mountain driving.

We drove from Denver through Leadville to reach Colorado Highway 82 West. Except for the tiny resort town of Twin Lakes, there isn’t much on this road except mountain scenery. About 20 miles after Twin Lakes, the road starts to climb; at first gradually, then starting into switchbacks to make the ascent to the top of the Continental Divide. On the east side, it doesn’t take long to get above treeline and arrive at the top of the pass, 12,095 feet above sea level. There is always some snow at the top, even in mid-summer. Some adventurous visitors were sliding down a steep snowfield with their dog when we arrived! A small trail takes you to the top of a hill where you can see in every direction. It’s usually cold there and a jacket is handy to have, even if it’s in the 80s down below.

The descent towards Aspen is a challenging drive, even for Colorado natives. The road is built on a pretty sheer cliff in many areas and sometimes there is no guardrail. The views are dramatic coming down, but if you’re the driver, you’d better just watch the road and use the pull-offs to enjoy the view. As you get closer to Aspen, there are two spots where the road is so narrow that there is no center line, about a lane-and-a-half width. You need to slow down and just hope an RV doesn’t come in the other direction. Also, watch out for wildlife; we saw a deer dart across the road in front of the car in broad daylight.

A point to stop would be about four miles down from the pass at the site of the Independence Ghost Town. It thrived in the silver mining heyday of the late 1800s, but when the railroad passed them by, it slowly dwindled down to the last resident who hung on until the 1930s. I can’t imagine how hard life must have been, especially in the winter. A donation is requested to tour the site, but you can certainly see a lot and read the placards from the parking area.

If you arrived in Aspen in the other direction, via Glenwood Springs, it’s certainly worth the drive to visit the top of the pass in the summer. Just take it slowly and hope you can switch off the driving chores with someone you’re traveling with!

Continental Divide via Independence Pass
Go East from downtown Aspen on Highway 82
Aspen, Colorado

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