Published with permission from the guide book: The Local’s Adventure Guide to Singletrack & Tarmac – Mountain Bike Trails and Road Rides in the Upper Arkansas River Valley by Nathan Ward.
Independence Pass Summit leads from the historic town of Twin Lakes to the summit of Independence Pass. Independence Pass is a tough high altitude ride, but absolutely beautiful. From Twin Lakes town, the road climbs steadily and then steeply past beaver ponds and through aspen groves. Then it just keeps going, leading you above tree line, switchbacking to the summit of one of the highest paved roads in the United States at an airy 12,095 feet above sea level. This is a stunning ride – cyclists in excellent shape can go for the summit and everyone else can simply turn around when they get tired. Be careful on the way down, it’s easy to reach speeds of over 50mph – don’t forget about the switchbacks.
Options: Turn around at mile 8.1 for a shorter and easier ride of 16.2 miles.
Trailhead Access/Facilities: Drive 20 miles north of Buena Vista on US 24, or 15 miles south of Leadville on US 24. Turn west on CO 82, following signs to Twin Lakes and Aspen. Drive 6.5 miles and park in Twin Lakes across from the General Store in the public lot.
Location: Roughly Half-way between Buena Vista & Leadville
Distance: 34.6 Miles – Out and Back
Riding Time: 4.5 Hours or More
Riding Surface: Good Pavement
Shoulder: Narrow to Nonexistent
Traffic: Light, except on Holiday Weekends
Aerobic Level: Difficult
Elevation in Feet: Low 9,236; High 12,095; Climbs/Descends 3,253
Notes: Ride this pass in May, after the snow melts but before they open the road to vehicles – you’ll have it all to yourself. The fall is also nice – in mid to late September the aspen trees along the road are golden. Toilets and food in Twin Lakes.
0.0 From the parking area across from the general store, turn left on CO 82 heading west up Independence Pass. The road skirts the west end of Twin Lakes and starts climbing right away.
3.8 Climbing eases a bit and the road rolls up and down for a few miles along Lake Creek past beaver ponds and through the aspen groves
8.1 Continue on CO 82 past the turnoff for the La Plata Peak Trailhead. This is a good turnaround spot if you want a shorter ride. After this point, the climbing begins in earnest.
12.0 Enter a high mountain valley with huge views, including a big switchback high on the mountain above you. This is where you’re headed – pretend it’s the Alpe d’Huez and you’re the next American champion.
12.7 Big sharp switchback. Steep climbing on a narrow alpine road.
15.2 Another big switchback – keep spinning!
16.0 Tree line! You are high now.
17.3 The summit at 12,095 feet! There are pit toilets at the top and a beautiful lookout spot. Put on more clothes and head down the pass back to Twin Lakes.
We want you to have a safe and enjoyable trip into Colorado’s backcountry. Be prepared it could be a long walk out. Be sure to read this list of equipment you should bring on your ride along with tips to make your biking trip more enjoyable.
The Colorado backcountry is popular – bikers, hikers, motorcycle riders, hunters and equestrians use the trail system in the Arkansas Valley, and everyone wants a private piece of heaven. Even if you don’t agree with everyone’s motives or methods of travel, please treat them in a courteous manner.
If you require search and rescue services, it can be costly. Buy a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card to protect yourself. Funds from the CORSAR program go into the Colorado Search and Rescue (SAR) Fund. If a CORSAR card holder becomes lost or injured in the backcountry, the Colorado SAR Fund pays eligible search and rescue expenses.
Bicycle riding is a physically strenuous activity with many risks and dangers. Hazards, natural or man made, whether noted in this book or not, can be encountered at any time under any situation. As a cyclist, we assume you know your personal abilities and limitations. This book represents nothing more than a guide to the trails and roads and is not meant to replace your common sense, your ability to navigate in the wilderness or in traffic, or your ability to ride a bicycle safely.
In addition, the mileages and routes listed in this text are only suggestions. There may be variances and you may get lost. We recommend everyone uses a GPS and topographical map to navigate. Most routes in this text are located on public land, but some trails pass through or adjacent to private land. Respect the land owner’s rights and obey all signs regarding trail use. The same goes for wilderness areas which prohibit mountain bike riding. Neither the author, nor the publisher, nor anyone else mentioned in this book are responsible or liable in any way for any accident, injury or any action brought against anyone traveling any route listed in this book. All cyclists and their companions assume responsibility for themselves. Ride at your own risk.
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