Independence Pass West Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

Independence Pass West


Rugged climb out of Aspen to the Continental Divide.

Page Contributor(s): Ron Hawks, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA Bruce Hamilton/Stacy Topping, USA Christopher Jacobs, Byers CO, USA

Explore this Climb

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Climb Summary

Bike climb of Independence Pass - Continental Divide sign and PJAMM cyclist Stacy Topping

Cycling Independence Pass - Route from Aspen is a US 100 Bike Climb.

Ride 15.8 miles gaining 4,128’ to 12,095’ at 4.8% average grade.

Independence Pass is in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains and White River National Forest (established 1902 by President Teddy Roosevelt; 2,285,970 acres).  Indepence “Pass” is the highest pass in paved actual pass in the US at 12,095’. Mt Evans, Pikes Peak, Mauna Kea are higher but end at the top. Cottonwood Pass is a bit higher, but is not paved on one side.  Trail Ridge is slightly higher, but its high point is not marked as a “pass” (Iceberg Pass is down from the Trail Ridge high point at 11,827’).   Thus, Indepence Pass claims the prize for highest paved pass in the US.


From the West (Aspen)

We climbed Independence Pass September 4, 2014 and reached the summit in the snow!  

Bicycle ride up Independence Pass - Continental Divide sign and cyclist riding to it.

The scenery that I could see along the climb was wonderful and the rock formations were interesting, making this a gorgeous climb.   Photos provided by PJAMM contributors confirms that Independence Pass during good weather is a gorgeous bike climb.

Cycling Independence Pass - trees and road during fall

Independence Pass during the fall.

Bicycling Independence Pass - pond and flowers

Pond just before start of climb

 While the road is a wide highway there is minimal shoulder and  moderate highway traffic with some sheer drop offs over guardrails towards the top - chilling for  someone with height issues such as I.  You will get a very good sense of the climb by viewing our YouTube video.  

Bicycle climb of Independence Pass - cyclist riding up roadway in rain.

Independence Pass is the third highest paved pass in Colorado and one of only 6 Top 100 climbs exceeding 12,000' (5 of the 6 are in Colorado).   With traffic conditions (see below), altitude, and cliffs, this climb is an adventure for sure!

Steepest ¼ mile begins at mile 1.9 (8.8%) and steepest mile at 2.8 (6.8%)

Highest paved passes in Colorado, all cross the Continental Divide:

  • Cottonwood Pass, Buena Vista, CO - 12,127
  • Trail Ridge, Estes Park, CO - 12,183’
  • Independence Pass, Aspen, CO - 12,102’

These passes[1] are also the highest in the U.S., followed by Guanella Pass, CO (11,639’), Slumgullion Pass, CO (11,539’), Beartooth Pass, WY[2] (10,950’) Grand Mesa, CO (10,875’), Wolf Creek Pass, CO (10,857’), Hwy 143, UT (10,413’), Hwy 153, UT (10,308’).

Other Top 100 US Bike Climbs that pass over the Continental Divide are:

Cycling Wolf Creek Pass - Cyclist at continental divide sign.

Wolf Creek Pass #78

Cyclist at the Continental Divide Sign - Cottonwood Pass

Cottonwood Pass #83

Cyclist at Trail Ridge Continental Divide sign.

#52 Trail Ridge - stops 9 miles short of the Divide.

Roadway surface and traffic:  This is the primary vehicle access to Aspen and does have a  fair amount of traffic.  The roadway is in excellent condition, but the climb is a bit hair raising  with vehicles zipping by (at lower speed due to the narrow road and steep drop offs in  places) very close to you.  We rate this as a mildly treacherous ascent.

From the East

The eastern approach to the pass is less challenging and scenic than from the west, but finishes at the same high altitude as from Aspen, of course!  So the altitude alone makes this one a bit tougher than its pedestrian statistics suggest.


Steepest ½ mile begins at mile 12 (6.7%)

[1] Passes are distinct from “highest points” on climbs that do not continue over a summit (e.g. Mt. Evans and Pikes Peak).

[2] Starts in Montana, but the pass itself is in Wyoming.