As one of the area’s premier attractions, Independence Pass is visited by thousands of people each year who make the 32-mile drive from Aspen to Twin Lakes, CO to take in the breathtaking views, explore the grottos and ice caves, and even rock climb around the area.
During the summer months, the pass can be bogged down by swarms of tourists flocking to the beautiful vista overlooks and viewing stations. But as the summer crowds begin to subside, and fall’s cool embrace creeps through the mountains, the aspen trees come alive in a beautiful and vibrant display of gold, orange, and yellow.
THE DRIVE AND THE VIEWS
As you drive up the pass (away from Aspen and toward Twin Lakes), the road eventually reaches the Continental Divide, which stands 12,095 feet above sea level. At the Divide, you’ll find a parking lot that offers access to incredible views of the surrounding mountain ranges filled with peaks over 14,000 feet tall. South of the parking lot is the old jeep trail, which offers a popular intermediate hike that brings you to the Mountain Boy Ridge. This majestic vantage point offers exceptional panoramic views of the Rockies that are not accessible from the Pass.
If you make the trek to Mountain Boy ridge, just keep in mind that the air is very thin and precautions should always be taken if you are not yet acclimated to the higher altitude. Here are a few tips to get adjusted to the altitude.
GOLDEN LEAVES, HIGH ALPINE VIEWS, AND MINING HISTORY
Aside from the incredible mountain views and golden leaves, the drive up Independence Pass takes you for a cruise along a bit of area history. Connecting Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley to the more developed mining towns east of the Continental Divide, the first road over the pass was completed in 1881 as a toll road. Along this first official road were several rest stops and inns, whose remnants can be seen along the way and now are home to summer campgrounds. Structures from the pass’s mining glory days and the ghost town of Independence remain sprinkled through the woods and meadows of the pass. On your way up the pass, be sure to stop and read the “Points of Interest” stations to learn even more about Aspen’s mining history.
INDEPENDENCE PASS LOCAL INSIDER TIP
For a brisk and invigorating autumn dip in the cool mountain snowmelt, head to the Devil’s Punchbowl near mile marker 51 off Highway 82. This distinctive deep pool was naturally created by the raging water of the Roaring Fork River and is calmer during the fall months, allowing swimmers to relax by the water’s edge or dive off of the cliffs (for those adventurous types). This is a favorite hangout for locals, so expect to see some friendly faces.