Independence Pass, originally known as Hunter Pass, is a high mountain pass in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado in the United States. It is on the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range. The pass is midway between Aspen and Twin Lakes, and on the border between Pitkin and Lake counties.
It is traversed by State Highway 82, making it the highest elevation reached by a paved Colorado state highway on a through road.[Note 1] After Cottonwood Pass to the south, it is the second-highest pass with an improved road in the state, the fourth-highest paved road in the state and the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the U.S. Because of the heavy snowfall at its elevation, it is closed in wintertime, isolating Aspen from direct access from the east during the ski season.
At the pass, the main ridge of the Sawatch Range, and thus the Continental Divide, turns from running generally south to more southwesterly. North of the pass slopes rise to an unnamed 13,440-foot (4,100 m) peak a half-mile (1 km) away; a ridge of about the same length connects it to the nearest named summit, 13,711-foot (4,179 m) Twining Peak. To the south the ridge rises more gently around Mountain Boy Gulch to an unnamed 13,198-foot (4,023 m) summit 2 miles (3.2 km) distant; the first named summit in this direction is Grizzly Peak, Colorado's highest thirteener.
The terrain is level enough, and the ridge broad enough, to allow for a 500-foot (150 m) parking lot along the south side of Highway 82 at the height of land, which splits it evenly between Pitkin and Lake counties, as well as White River and San Isabel national forests. Boundaries of the former's Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and the latter's Mount Massive Wilderness are near the pass on the south and north respectively; the Hunter–Fryingpan Wilderness is also nearby.
The pass comes roughly in the middle of a 32-mile (51 km) stretch of Highway 82 between the two winter gates, a corridor that is sometimes referred to in its entirety as Independence Pass. Aspen is 19 miles (31 km) to the west, with Twin Lakes 18 miles (29 km) to the east. Beyond Aspen the highway continues down the valley to the mouth of the Roaring Fork at Glenwood Springs. East of Twin Lakes Highway 82 continues a short distance to its eastern terminus at U.S. Route 24, 15 miles (24 km) south of Leadville.
The Alpine biome of the pass extends below it on either side to an elevation of approximately 11,500 feet (3,500 m), or about the altitude of the Linkins Lake trailhead on the western side, Highway 82's uppermost crossing of the Roaring Fork. Below it is a subalpine zone where lodgepole Pine, Englemann spruce, subalpine fir and aspen dominate the forest. A few patches of those trees persist above that elevation, but they are mostly stunted krummholz.
Tree growth above those patches is curtailed by the alpine climate of the pass. It is characterized by severe changes in temperature, high winds and the deep winter snow that has forced the closure of roads over the pass during that season since 1886. The resulting short growing season is further attenuated by the thin soil.
The most predominant plant species in the alpine zone around the pass are the grass species adapted to the harsh climate. Other alpine flora, such as moss and lichens on the rocks, and wildflowers in season, make appearances. Shrubs that survive among them include strawberry, snowberry, willows and bog birch. Animals in the alpine zone include ptarmigans, small burrowing species like pika, marmots, and pocket gopher, and mountain goats.
Visitor attractions :
Many of those from outside the region who drive through Independence Pass stop at the parking lot and walk the paved path to the scenic overlook. In clear enough weather it offers views east of Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest peak at 14,433 feet (4,399 m), and La Plata Peak, the state's fifth-highest at 14,336 feet (4,370 m). To the west more fourteeners—the Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak—stand out among the mountains. A trail with Braille interpretive plaques is available for visually-impaired visitors.
Other outdoor recreation opportunities exist at and near the pass. The Roaring Fork Valley between it and Difficult Campground, 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Aspen, has many popular rock climbing areas, some with grades up to 5.12 under the Yosemite Decimal System. The Grotto Wall across from Lincoln Gulch campground is the most popular. Closer to the pass itself are Instant Karma Cliff and Putterman's Dome. A pair of rocks along either side of Highway 82 on the east approach to the pass have also become a popular bouldering spot.
Elevation: 12,095 feet (3,687 m)