How to make the most out of trip up Independence Pass
Independence Pass offers a variety of activities for those who want to make the drive east of Aspen to the 12,095-foot summit
This feature was originally published in the 2021 edition of “Summer in Aspen/Snowmass,” which is on newsstands now around the Roaring Fork Valley. It as well as other 2021 visitor guides are available anytime at http://www.aspentimes.com/magazines.
Independence Pass, aka “Aspen’s backyard,” is blessed with abundant natural beauty and rich human history. It is also graced with one of the highest paved roads in North America, topping out at over 12,000 feet. This makes it possible for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to experience the high alpine.
The Pass is probably best known for the classic, 10-mile Lost Man Loop Trail and for the Grottos day-use area, with its artfully carved cascades, swimming holes and ice caves. For those seeking a quieter or different experience, however, the Pass has a number of options described below.
To best enjoy the Pass, aim for midweek, and have a Plan B in mind if your destination’s parking area is full. Also, turn the cellphone off and drive the vertiginous road like you’re passing through a residential neighborhood. You’ll be sharing the road with bikers and many animals — including elk, lynx, bighorn sheep and marmots — who call the Pass home.
Look no further than the Discovery and Braille Trail day-use area. Kids and the young at heart will love the Braille Trail. The first of its kind when built in 1967 and now replicated throughout the world, the Braille Trail allows visitors to experience a forest hike with eyes closed, awakening the other four senses. The Discovery Trail is a handicap-accessible loop with fun and informative signs about the trail’s animals, trees, river and local history. It is also the perfect place to escape the crowds and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Whether it’s in a 1924 Bentley, on a motorcycle or in the family station wagon (do they make those anymore?) Highway 82 over Independence Pass is the perfect road for experiencing Colorado’s magnificent mountain scenery. Interpretive signs throughout the corridor bring to life the human and natural history of the Pass. Scenic Twin Lakes on the east side of the Pass is the perfect destination for lunch and a stroll.
Weller Lake Trail, which at 9,500 feet is one of the lower elevation trails on the Pass, is a good place to start for young ones and those still acclimatizing. Enjoy a gentle, 1-mile climb through a cool, evergreen forest to Weller Lake. There, views of the mountainsides seared by a 1980 fire, caused by an improperly snuffed campfire, serve as a stark reminder of fire’s long-lasting impacts on the landscape. As Colorado enters yet another summer with below-average snowpack and drought conditions, please be vigilant about keeping any potential sources of fire contained.
North Fork Lake Creek Trail, on the east side of the Pass, follows a picturesque creek through subalpine and alpine meadows filled with wildflowers and bounded on both sides by 13,000-foot peaks. For those seeking 360-degree views and a true alpine experience, a hike along the Continental Divide south of the summit parking area is the place to go. Start early to avoid thunderstorms and strong winds.
CITIZEN SCIENTISTS AND STEWARDS
Want to be part of a statewide study of pikas, the adorable, potato-sized wildflower-gatherers who live above tree line on the Pass? Or burn some calories doing trail work in a magnificent setting? Or help restore an old mining site to its previously pristine, wilderness condition? The Independence Pass Foundation offers opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to get involved and give back on the Pass.
Karin Teague is executive director of the Independence Pass Foundation. Learn more about volunteer opportunities and the nonprofit’s work at independencepass.org/volunteer-opportunities
The Aspen Chamber Resort Association has joined Pledge for the Wild, a member organization of mountain towns aiming to support responsible tourism. Its nonprofit partner for 2021 is the Independence Pass Foundation. To support, text WILD4ASPEN to 44321 or visit aspenchamber.org where you can also sign The Aspen Pledge.
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