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

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.

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).  Independence “Pass” is the highest paved actual pass in the US at 12,095’. Each of Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak, and 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, Independence Pass claims the prize for highest paved pass in the US.


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 confirm that Independence Pass during good weather is a gorgeous bike climb.

Cycling Independence Pass - trees and road during fall

Fall colors along the Independence Pass climb.

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.  

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 . . .

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: 12,127
  • 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’), Highway 143, UT (10,413’), and Highway 153, UT (10,308’).


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.

[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.