I have lived in Colorado for several years and there are still a number of destinations on my must-visit list that I haven’t gotten to yet. I checked one of those destinations off the list this summer when we visited Independence Pass. Independence Pass is part of Colorado’s “Top of the Rockies” scenic byway and that is just how it feels when you are up there.
At 12,095 feet Independence Pass is the highest paved through road in Colorado, and the highest paved road over the Continental Divide anywhere in the United States. Because of its elevation, it is closed in the winter, usually from some time in October until Memorial Day weekend. From the top of the pass, you can see Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest mountain and the second-highest mountain in the lower 48.
We started our journey over Independence Pass from Aspen, which is on the west side, and a beautiful town in its own right. The highway follows the Roaring Fork River up through the valley, and winds through stunning aspen groves and beautiful meadows, framed by stunning mountain vistas. Along the way, there are numerous hiking trails, as well as campgrounds and camping spots for the adventurous among us. I am already planning my camping trip for next summer.
Independence was founded on July 4, 1879, following the nearby discovery of gold. Once the mines played out, and the railroad came to Aspen, the town was just about abandoned by 1899. As you approach the top of the pass, you can still see some of the old cabins, and there are hiking trails through the old town. Please leave the cabins and any other artifacts you come across undisturbed. It is an active archaeological and restoration site.
Heading down the other side is a fairly steep descent into a series of gulches and canyons on the way to Twin Lakes and historic Leadville. You’ll want to stop for a visit in Leadville. Besides being the highest city in North America, Leadville has loads of historic buildings, many of which are open for tours, hiking trails, loads of winter and summer recreation, and The National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum, one of the coolest mining museum my rockhounding heart has been able to visit. The views heading down the east side of the pass are just as spectacular as the west side. We arrived at Twin Lakes just in time to see the last of the setting sun, which made a fitting end to our day of exploration.
The images in this post were all taken by me during our Independence Pass adventure, and many of them are for sale through my art gallery. You can find the purchase options by clicking on any image.