Exploring Independence Pass from the Tyrolean Lodge can be a day filled with adventures. Allow plenty of time to stop and have short walkabouts anywhere that strikes your fancy. As part of Highway 82, Independence Pass crosses over the Continental Divide between Leadville and Aspen and is considered one of America’s most scenic drives. It is the highest paved pass in North America, 12,095 feet above sea level, and offers access to hikes even more amazing than the drive. Driving the pass is an experience all on it’s own with incredible views, twisting around stunning groves of aspen trees and hugging the Roaring Fork River. The road is steep and narrow with few guardrails and although safe to drive, cycling is very dangerous as there are no shoulders and lots of blind turns. Before leaving the lodge for your adventure, be sure to ask at the front desk for personal favorites and recommendations.
North Star Preserve
The trails at North Star are relatively smooth and flat making for easy walking. The gravel East of Aspen Trail runs the length of the Preserve connecting with downtown Aspen. The James H. Smith Interpretive Loop penetrates the interior of the Preserve. Floating the Roaring Fork River through North Star is a wonderful experience, as well.
Weller Lake Trail is an easy 1.2 mile out and back trail in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness that features a lake and is good for all skill levels. The trail has some slight ups and downs, gaining only 200 feet or so in elevation as it meanders through the forest to the lake. All in all, this is a lovely walk and a great option to stretch your legs if you're coming in from the pass. Access from HWY 82, approximately 7.5 miles out of town.
Difficult Creek Trail
Camp Difficult is about 4.5 miles from town and offers hiking trails and fishing sites along the Roaring Fork River and neighboring beaver ponds. Difficult Creek Trail is a 9.8 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail. In the winter, its a beautiful place for a snowshoe adventure.
The Grottos and Ice Caves
For picnicking and exploring with cascading waterfalls, sculpted granite, ice caves and short trails, look no further. About 8.5 miles east of town, pull into the day-use parking area on the right side of the highway. From there, you will see hiking trails which meander around. A small sign marks the trail to the ice caves...definitely worth exploring!
For the brave, there is cliff jumping at Devil’s Punchbowl just before the Grottos.
This moderately long hike has a few steep sections. Pass by three alpine lakes with views of the Continental Divide, nearly making a loop. This local favorite is a classic alpine hike. Drive 13 miles east of Aspen, highway 82.
This short hike leads to a glacial cirque with an alpine lake, tundra and magnificent views of the Continental Divide. Drive 13 miles east of Aspen on the last switchback before the top of Independence Pass. Not mentioned in trail guides is a path up the ridge which will lead to an old mining cabin perched on the rim. Talk about a room with a view!
The midway point between Aspen and Twin Lakes, the pass is on the border between Pitkin and Lake counties and is the dividing point between watersheds that drain into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Since you’ll be at an elevation of 12,095 feet, prepare for unpredictable weather. There is plenty of parking and a scenic overlook near the pass where you can take in the 360-degree views and either short or long walks to stretch your legs and breathe the thin mountain air.
Aspen Leaves. Aspen Gold.
During the fall when the aspen trees illuminate the drive with their golden leaves, you'll need to pay attention. Car and people congestion is mind-boggling as everyone tries to capture the perfect picture. Evening hours are stunning if driving west into town as the light shines through the leaves.
Ride for the Pass
The Ride for the Pass is a recreational ride and road-biking race that takes place every May and allows cyclist to enjoy the beautiful road before it opens to cars for the season.