Page Contributor(s): Ron Hawks, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA Bruce Hamilton/Stacy Topping, USA Christopher Jacobs, Byers CO, USA
Cycling Independence Pass, Colorado -- Route from Aspen is a Top US 100 Bike Climb.
Ride 15.8 miles gaining 4,128’ to 12,095’ at 4.8% average grade.
Originally called Hunter Pass, Independence Pass was built in its current location in 1927 but not paved until 1967.
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).
Before heading to Colorado on your cycling adventure, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.
Longer vehicles are prohibited at the two mile point of our ride.
“The west side of Independence Pass in central Colorado is one of the most spectacular climbs in the United States. A long ascent, the first several miles are along a two lane road through thick trees. Higher up the road narrows and hugs a cliff with great views. The grade is never steep on this hill but the altitude can make you work. Returning to a wider road, a very scenic alpine section takes you up through a few switchbacks to the exposed pass at 12,095 feet which is a nice place to spend some time on good weather days (closed in winter - San Isabel National Forest - 719-539-3591). Its descent is somewhat challenging due to the narrow road and turns.” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 172.)
Two sections of narrow, wide single/narrow two-lane road, miles 3-4.
There is 4/10’s of a mile along a sheer cliff . . .
. . . terrifying in a car, but it was no problem on a bike.
Independence “Pass” is the second highest paved actual pass in the US at 12,095’ (Cottonwood Pass at 12,126’ is the highest). Each of Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak, and Mauna Kea are higher, but end at the top. 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’).
The summit is the second highest paved pass in the US.
One of the few passes in the US with European-style stickers on the pass sign.
Warnings at the top, just before the descent along the cliff area.
There is one normal switchback at mile 10, and a Trail Ridge sized one spanning miles 13.5 to 14.9.
The scenery along the climb was wonderful and the rock formations were interesting, making this a gorgeous climb.
Top photo: Target Reservoir at mile 2.1.
Bottom photos: Roaring Fork River -- near the roadway the first 13 miles of the climb.
Wonderful viewpoint at mile 13.7.
Fall colors along the Independence Pass climb.
This area was originally developed for mining as can be seen
from the old mining structure in the bottom right photo (mile 11.4).
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.
Looking across and up to the grade and sheer cliff side.
Looking down from the sheer cliff to the roadway below.
Mile markers keep us slow company on our climb . . .
Independence Pass is one of only six Top 100 climbs exceeding 12,000' (five of the six are in Colorado). With traffic conditions (see below for more information), altitude, and cliffs, this climb is an adventure for sure!
Highest paved passes in Colorado, all cross the Continental Divide:
These passes are also the highest in the U.S., followed by Guanella Pass, CO (11,639’), Slumgullion Pass, CO (11,539’), Beartooth Pass, WY (10,950’), Grand Mesa, CO (10,875’), Wolf Creek Pass, CO (10,857’), Highway 143, UT (10,413’), and Highway 153, UT (10,308’).
CONTINENTAL DIVIDE TOP 100 US BIKE CLIMBS
Wolf Creek Pass (top photo): southwest CO (Pagosa Springs)
Independence Pass: central CO (Aspen)
Cottonwood Pass: central CO (Buena Vista)
Trail Ridge: Stops nine miles short of the Divide.
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: 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.
 Passes are distinct from “highest points” on climbs that do not continue over a summit (e.g. Mt. Evans and Pikes Peak).
 Starts in Montana, but the pass itself is in Wyoming.
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