Independence Pass West Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

8.4
FIETS
15.8 mi
DISTANCE
3,984 ft
GAINED
4.8 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

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

TOUR DETAILS & STATS
2021 Tour de France

INTRO

Climbing Independence Pass by bike is a unique experience.  The first part of the climb is along a narrow highway that roughly follows Roaring Fork River.  The scenery is very nice along the first half of the climb.  We come into view of the roadway cut into the mountain along a sheer cliff around mile 12 and then ride up a 2.6 mile hairpin and along the narrow road with the cliff to our right - the ride is not so frightening on a bike as it is by car.  The climb finishes at the Continental Divide at a popular spot for cars and motorcycles to stop for photographs at the sign. 
Average grade is 4.8%.  47% of the climb is at 0-5% and 49% at 5-10%.  The steepest quarter mile is 8.7% and steepest mile 6.7%. 

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button above.



Roadway:  The road is in excellent condition as of 2020.  There are two narrow sections around the 4-5 mile mark of the climb - there are warning signs.  There are also a couple of steep and sharp righthand turns between miles 6 and 10 where I felt I was briefly in a blind spot for traffic behind me.  The 0.6 miles of cliff to our right beginning in earnest around mile 14.4 is more distressing in a car than on a bike. 

Traffic:  Moderate but moving a reasonable speed during our two climbs. 

Parking:  There is parking at climb start (MapStreet View) or in Aspen if you prefer to ride the roughly five miles to the climb:  Google Aspen Parking Map.
Provisions:  None along the route.

Gear:  You will complete this climb above 12,000' and the conditions there can be much worse than the start of the climb 4,000' below.  Consult the PJAMM "Full Forecast" feature for the time you expect to arrive at the finish to assess what clothing to bring on your ride.
We stay in Aspen when riding Independence Pass.  Aspen has many hotels and lodges to choose from, in addition to outstanding villa and condo rentals in this popular ski resort area.  A challenging and scenic out-and-back is tacking Independence Pass East onto the climb from Aspen which makes for a  60 miles 6,700' out-and-back ride. 

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CLIMB SUMMARY

Cycling Independence Pass - summit sign, bike, Stacy Topping, pjamm

Cycling Independence Pass, Colorado -- Route from Aspen is a 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.

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, views along climb of stretches of two-lane road surrounded by snow-capped mountains, cyclists on roadway along lush greenery, national parks service sign for Independence Pass, Continental Divide

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).  

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike leaning against SAG vehicle on roadside, road sign for 35 MPH speed limit, road sign noting that vehicles over 35 feet are prohibited

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.)

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, views of wide single lane roadways with guardrails along mountainsides covered in dense forestation, bike parked along low rock retaining wall

Two sections of narrow, wide single/narrow two-lane road, miles 3-4.

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, views of road bike parked along different points along side of roadway guardrail along sheer cliff down the mountainside

There is 4/10’s of a mile along a sheer cliff . . .

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, aerial drone views of mountainside sheer cliff with roadway carved into it

. . . 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’).

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, aerial drone views of ride summit, Continental Divide, roadway leading up to summit

The summit is the second highest paved pass in the US.

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, Cyclist John Johnson wearing PJAMM Cycling jersey and standing with bike in front of national parks service sign for Independence Pass, Continental Divide, handlebars of bike with Garmin showing 12,085 feet of elevation

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, road sign covered in stickers, close up of PJAMM Cycling sticker on road sign

One of the few passes in the US with European-style stickers on the pass sign.

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked against road signs on side of road warning of steep descent

Warnings at the top, just before the descent along the cliff area.

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, sharp switchback in two lane roadway lined with pine trees, road sign for 15 MPH on switchback

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.  

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked in brush looking over the Target Reservoir and in brush and wildflowers along the roadway near Roaring Fork River

Top photo: Target Reservoir at mile 2.1.

Bottom photos:  Roaring Fork River -- near the roadway the first 13 miles of the climb.

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked in front of  sign for Point of Interest, against large boulder, and against two information signs at a viewpoint at mile 13.7

Wonderful viewpoint at mile 13.7.

Cycling Independence Pass - trees and road during fall

Fall colors along the Independence Pass climb.

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, Garmin showing 11,111 feet of elevation at mile 12.5, bike parked in front of old mining structure, stretch of two-lane roadway surrounded by gentle hillsides

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.  

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - view of valley looking across to roadway along mountainside

Looking across and up to the grade and sheer cliff side.

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - view from above looking down on roadway in valley below

Looking down from the sheer cliff to the roadway below.

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - stretch of two-lane roadway looking towards snow-capped mountains, roads lined with pine trees, mile marker 56

Mile markers keep us slow company on our climb . . .

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

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:

  • Cottonwood Pass, Buena Vista, CO: 12,129
  • Trail Ridge, Estes Park, CO: 12,183’
  • Independence Pass, Aspen, CO: 12,095’

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’), Highway 143, UT (10,413’), and Highway 153, UT (10,308’).

CONTINENTAL DIVIDE TOP 100 US BIKE CLIMBS

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - John Johnson and Stacy Topping, wearing PJAMM Cycling jerseys standing with bike in front of signs for The Great Continental Divide, Independence Pass

Wolf Creek Pass (top photo): southwest CO (Pagosa Springs)

Independence Pass: central CO (Aspen)
Cottonwood Pass: central CO (Buena Vista)

Cycling Independence Pass from Aspen, Colorado - standing in front of trail signs for the Continental Divide

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.


[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.