Independence Pass

12,095 FEET
(3,687 M)
Independence Pass

Independence Pass was originally known as Hunter Pass. The pass is halfway between Aspen and Twin Lakes on the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range. Due to heavy snowfall, the pass is closed during the winter season.

Suggested Route (Paved) 37.5 miles

Begin at White Star Campgrounds in Twin Lakes
Ride Top of the Rockies Byway (SH 82).
Independence Pass Summit--mile 18
Continue on and finish in Aspen--mile 37.5


A scenic overlook near the pass allows visitors to view the alpine tundra environment above tree line. It also offers excellent views to the east of Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak and the second-highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Since 2011, the pass has been on the route of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. When descending, hang onto those good brakes, keep your eyes up and watch for the dreaded tourist staring at something and going slow.


Aspen, 19.7 miles to the northwest
Twin Lakes, 17.2 miles to the east


Independence is the highest paved Colorado state highway on a through road and is the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide.


The Ute Indian people inhabited the Roaring Fork Valley and most likely roamed the pass during their seasonal travels and hunting trips. The Ice Caves near the Grottoes recreation site may have served as primitive refrigerators for the preservation of food.


The first recorded sighting of this Pass was in 1806 by Zebulon Pike. He was an American brigadier general and explorer for whom Pikes Peak in Colorado was renamed.


In 1873, Ferdinand Hayden surveyed the Roaring Fork Valley (Hayden Geological Survey) and praised it for its great mineral potential. Settlement in the region was limited because of the Continental Divide. The land to the west was reserved for the Ute people.


Independence Pass was called Hunter’s Pass until July 4, 1879 when prospectors from the Leadville area defied governor Frederick Walker Pitkin’s order and crossed the pass; ergo Independence. This is a legend by Billy Belden, an early prospector in the area, who struck a rich vein of silver on the Pass on July 4, 1879. About three miles west of the Pass’s summit, the town of Independence was founded and quickly became the main gateway into the Roaring Fork Valley.


The first real road over Independence Pass was built between 1880–81 by B. Clark Wheeler, one of Aspen’s most prominent businessmen. Using hand tools and manual labor, his crew established a toll road (25 cents for horses, 50 cents for wagons) along the route of the trail. The toll road was heavily used in the mid-1880’s year-round, since it was virtually the only ingress and egress out of the valley for ore, supplies and people. The road over the pass had multiple rest stops and inns in locations such as Weller and Lost Man that are now Forest Service campgrounds.


In 1887 and 1888, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad finally reached Aspen coming up the river from Glenwood Springs. That was the end for Wheeler’s toll road, which eventually was abandoned and replaced by a new road in the 1920s.