Kenosha Pass is traversed by US 285 between the towns of Jefferson and Grant. It provides key access routes to South Park and dramatic views of the surrounding Rockies. At the top, a large granite batholith known as Kenosha Batholith forms the spine of the Front Range along the eastern side of South Park. (Partner pass: Red Hill Pass)
Begin in Bailey
Ride west on US 285 to Kenosha Pass Summit--mile 18.8
Stay on US 285 to Red Hill Pass Summit--mile 35.6
Continue on US 285 and finish in Fairplay--mile 39
The pass never reaches above the tree line and has easy, negotiable curves along a relatively wide highway. Ascending from the east, by the town of Grant, the approach is considered average. The west ascent of the pass is less steep and winds up from the town of Jefferson. The top of the pass is nearly flat and surrounded by the Pike National Forest. The 469 mile Colorado Trail crosses the summit of Kenosha Pass.
Fairplay, 20.9 miles to the southwest
Bailey, 18.8 miles to the east
Grant, 7.5 miles to the northeast
Jefferson, 4.3 miles to the southwest
In the South Park episode “The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers” (season 6, episode 13), as the boys walk from South Park to Conifer to the video store there is a sign for Kenosha Pass.
In the “Prehistoric Ice Man” episode (season 2, episode 18), a man who has been frozen since 1996 goes back to his wife, and she says he was lost on Kenosha Pass.
The pass was used by the Ute Tribe to reach hunting grounds in South Park. In the 19th century, white trappers used it to travel back and forth to the Front Range. Prospectors heavily used Kenosha Pass during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of the 1860s as they headed to the gold fields at the headwaters of the South Platte near Fairplay. The increasing use of the trail by stagecoaches led to it’s widening into a wagon road.
The pass was named for Kenosha, Wisconsin, home of an early stagecoach driver. The word Kenosha was derived from the Great Plain Native Americans (Potawatomi) and means ‘place of the pike’.
During the Colorado Silver Boom, the Pass was one of the main routes of entry for immigrants to Leadville, Breckenridge, and Aspen. In 1879, the Pass was traversed by the narrow gauge railroad (Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad) that provided the first rail link between Denver and South Park. The tracks were dismantled in 1938, but the old road is still visible as you follow the highway today.
In 1879, the poet Walt Whitman crossed the Pass and described its summit with these words, later published in Specimen Days:
“I jot these lines literally at Kenosha summit, where we return, afternoon, and take a long rest, 10,000 feet above sea-level. At this immense height the South Park stretches fifty miles before me. Mountainous chains and peaks in every variety of perspective, every hue of vista, fringe the view…so the whole Western world is, in a sense, but an expansion of these mountains.”
Whitman, Walt. “America’s Back-Bone”. Specimen Days; from Complete Poetry and Collected Prose. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library.