Located east of downtown Aspen on Highway 82, Independence Pass is a 12,095 foot mountain pass crossing over the Continental Divide. Today, the Independence Pass area is great for hiking, camping, fishing, and sightseeing. However, Independence Pass wasn’t always a place for outdoor recreation. The pass was once home to massive glaciers, a Native American tribe, silver miners, a small mountain town, and a toll road.
Over thousands of years, glaciers cut through the Rocky Mountains, leaving behind a valley that today makes up the Independence Pass area. Fast forward, and the Ute Native American tribe summered there, living in the Independence Pass area and the Roaring Fork Valley, using it as their summer hunting grounds. Then, beginning in late 1879, silver miners came over Independence Pass and began to seek silver in the area.
During the short-lived silver boom in the late 1800s, Independence Pass was a busy roadway. In fact, it was a toll road, and travelers on horseback paid 25¢, while wagons paid 50¢. In today’s money, that would be about $6 for horses and $12 for wagons.
The US Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893, which brought a swift end to the silver boom in Colorado. Gradually most miners and settlers left, and Independence Pass was no longer a major route. Independence, a small mining settlement located near the top of the pass, became the ghost town it is today. According to the Independence Pass Foundation, the last full-time resident moved out of Independence in 1912.
Things to Do
Driving up Independence Pass is a fun, unique, only-in-Aspen experience! Starting in Aspen, the drive is 20 miles to the top of the pass, located at 12,095 feet. At this elevation, even in the dog days of summer, the pass may still have patches of snow here and there. From the top, enjoy the incredible 360-degree views, take a picture next to the Independence Pass sign, and feel like you’re on top of the world!
Lost Man Reservoir
As you drive back to Aspen, you can enjoy a short hike, about 1.5 miles round trip, to Lost Man Reservoir. This is a popular and beautiful area for a picnic and relaxing by the water. The trailhead parking lot is just under 6 miles from the top of the pass.
The Grottos are another popular place off the scenic byway. You’ll see the immense power of water and ice to shape granite. You’ll also have the chance to walk on the old Independence Pass road. It’s not marked as the old toll road, but the trail is flat and wide in sections. Enjoy this part of history, and not having to pay a toll! The Grottos parking area is 10.4 miles from the top of the pass.
As you continue down from the pass, Weller Lake is another great spot for a short hike, about 1 mile round trip. When you get to the lake, sit on the shore and enjoy the view! The Weller Lake parking lot is 11.7 miles from the top of the pass.
Or, you can simply enjoy the drive because it’s a beautiful one! This stretch of Highway 82 is a scenic byway after all. Take your time driving back to Aspen, and take advantage of the many areas where you can pull over and enjoy the spectacular views and changing scenery.
Staying with Us?
Our guests can contact the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel concierge with questions about Independence Pass by calling 1-866-285-7876 EXT. 3515, or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Not Staying with Us?
Non-guests can contact the Aspen Chamber Resort Association for more information by calling (970) 925-1940.