Cycling Independence Pass is an iconic Colorado road ride, and not for the faint of heart. The steep grade, starting at 8,000 feet, burns both your legs and lungs. The road is narrow, the elements potentially unforgiving.
But the adventure-minded cyclist who conquers this pass will be rewarded with stunning views, unsurpassed pride, and a post-ride high like no other.
Here is your guide to cycling Independence Pass.
Independence Pass Quick Facts
Open/Season: Independence Pass is open for cycling from Memorial Day Weekend to about November 1, depending on the weather.
Distance: Aspen to Independence Pass: 18 miles (28.9km), Aspen to Twin Lakes: 35 miles (56.3km)
Elevation: Starting elevation: 7,951 ft. (2,423 meters), Ending Elevation: 12,130 (3,697 meters), Gain: 3,617 (1,102 meters)
When to Start the Ride: 6:30 am
As mentioned earlier, start early, for two reasons.
The weather in Aspen (and the entire Rockies) is unpredictable, so it’s always best to start your route early before the valley floor heats up. As the valley floor heats up, thunderstorms roll in with potential lighting hazards. A general rule of thumb is to be off the top of the pass by noon.
Second, expect cars to come from both directions as tourists drive up and down the pass. If you start early, you can avoid the heavy traffic. The only way to avoid cars completely is to register for Ride for the Pass, which takes place the Saturday before Memorial Weekend.
Other than getting an early start, always ride single file and stay on the shoulder or white line. Wear a helmet, bring plenty of clothing layers and use proper reflection technology or lights to alert cars of your position.
There is a section from Aspen to Independence Pass referred to as the Narrows. This slim one-mile stretch of State Highway 82 has neither shoulder nor guardrails so make sure you’re alert and focused. If you don’t feel comfortable allowing a car to pass, hold your ground in the middle of the lane.
Finally, it nearly goes without saying the top of the Pass will remain cold, with possible snow through July. Be sure to pack appropriate clothing if you plan on pausing at the top.
The general climb up Independence Pass will go from flat to steep, then moderate to steep.
The first four miles from Aspen towards Difficult Campground serve as your warm up. These first miles peacefully follow the Roaring Fork River at an average 1% grade.
Over miles five to eleven, you start the true climb. This section of the route provides cyclists with an average of 6% grade. During this section, you’ll pass The Grottos trail and campground on your right. If you need a rest before tackling the rest of the route, this is a great spot to pull off, take photos, and refuel.
From miles 11 to 16, you’ll be able to relax (a bit) before the final haul. This section of State Highway 82 is just before the treeline ends, so take in the amazing scenery and keep an eye out for the Independence Ghost Town on your right. Once you see the town, you’ve got two more grueling, yet rewarding miles til the top.
Those last two miles are brutal, hitting upwards of 7.8% grade with thinner and cooler air than below, but the views are unforgettable.
At the top, be sure to snap a picture in front of the iconic Independence Pass sign.
There are many pull-offs where you can rest, perform any needed bike maintenance and capture the scenery at the top. There is also a bathroom.
For proper nutrition and preparation on this famous Colorado climb, be sure to take these items with you while cycling Independence Pass:
- 64 oz of water
- Additional water bottle in reserve
- 2-3 energy bars
- Peanut butter sandwich or the like
- Patch kit
- Spare tube
- Tire level
Before you leave for your ride, eat a nutritious meal and apply high-SPF sunscreen.
When you arrive back in Aspen, reward your accomplishment at the base of Aspen Mountain at Ajax Tavern. Bask in the sun, order decadent truffle fries, and propose a toast. You’ve earned it!
The Little Nell has complimentary road bikes for guests as part of our fleet from Scott. These are available via the concierge.
To rent a bike for cycling Independence Pass, contact Four Mountain Sports. They can outfit you with the latest road bike and safety gear.
For other opportunities to cycle in Aspen, view The Little Nell’s Clip in with Christian cycling camp. This end-of-summer event allows you to ride with professional cyclists over Aspen’s famous biking routes.