Top of the Rockies: Independence Pass


Say goodbye to Lake Creek, as Highway 82 begins its climb to Independence Pass.  You’ll have to leave this tranquil valley behind, and gain a couple thousand feet, to get up to one of Colorado’s highest paved passes.

At one of the sweeping switchbacks in the road, you can pull off and look into the valley below.

I think that’s Mount Champion, on the other side of the Lake Creek Valley.  Mount Champion tops out at 13,628 feet/4,154 meters.

After a couple more switchbacks, you’ll have an even greater view of the valley that leads back to Twin Lakes.  That’s Highway 82, down below.

This is the last big hairpin curve you’ll go around, before reaching Independence Pass.  This is the view to the south.

Give your engine a break, and step out into the thin air at Independence Pass.  If you’ve made it to this sign, you’ve reached the highest paved pass on a Colorado state highway.

Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road is higher, but it’s a US Highway. Colorado Route 5 is higher, too, but it isn’t a through-road — it runs to the top of Mount Evans.

You just can’t trust a topographical map painted on the door of an outhouse.  In reality, the hike to the door handle is much steeper!

There are trails to hike here, but you probably won’t want to hike them on a windy day.  The gusts were nearly strong enough to knock me over, so I just looked out onto the trails, and promised myself that I’d return, someday.  (I did find another good trail to hike, just a bit further west, beyond the pass.  I’ll talk about it on the next page.)

The chilly wind barely allowed me to walk out to this viewpoint, which looks towards the east — back in the direction from which I had just come.

Beyond that dirty snowdrift (still hanging around in June), you can see Highway 82 slicing up the mountainside.  That hairpin curve is the one I mentioned, earlier on this page.

Click to view a larger version.

A wider view reveals dozens of peaks on the horizon.

Just over the pass, looking west, Highway 82 begins its descent to Aspen.

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