US 50 to Monarch Pass, Colorado


Driving east from Gunnison, US 50 won’t bore you to tears, but it won’t wow you with any amazing scenery, either.  The two-lane highway passes by some small hills and farmland, providing only distant glimpses of the mountain peaks that Colorado is famous for.

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Until I reached the big climb towards Monarch Pass, my only stop for photography was to shoot this panorama at the side of the road.

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Eventually the climb out of the valley begins, and so does the curves.  At times, the road travels on a hillside shelf.  Height-fearing travelers need not worry, there are guardrails to make you feel a bit safer.

The uphill effort pays off at Monarch Pass, 11,312 feet above sea level (3,447 meters).  Nestled in the Sawatch Mountains, Monarch Pass is Colorado’s 8th-highest paved pass.

If 11,312 feet isn’t high enough for you, consider catching a ride on the aerial tramway, that heads to the top of Monarch Ridge.

A sign at the tram station promises a 150-mile view at the top of Monarch Ridge, that includes 5 mountain ranges.  The tram runs May 15 through September 15, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and adult tickets are $7 (as of 2010).

The thrifty traveler inside of me decided that the view from the road was just as good as it would have been at the top of the hill, but truth be told, I was lying to myself.  I’m sure the unobstructed, 360-degree view at the top is much better.

The scenery on the west side of Monarch Pass may have been a bit ho-hum, but as soon as you pass over the divide, you’re treated to some beautiful mountain peaks, in the distance further east.

If you’d like to ski along the Continental Divide, drive about two miles east of the pass, and look for Monarch Mountain ski resort.  The ski area has 63 trails, with the longest running a mile.  Monarch Mountain receives more than 350 inches of snow, on average, every winter.

On the east side of the pass, US 50 drops down and passes through tiny Poncha Springs, then Salida, Colorado.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive from Gunnison, over Monarch Pass, to Salida, Colorado, via US 50:

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