When it comes to epic driving tours of the state of Colorado, nothing tops the Independence Pass (Indy Pass) loop. This drive will take you through ghost towns, historic mining districts, up and over 11,000’ ft peaks, send you through the infamous town of Aspen and shoot you through one of the largest feats in United States construction history – the Glenwood Canyon.
Starting from our shop in Eagle-Vail, you will take Highway 24 through Minturn, past Red Cliff, and through Leadville. At Twin Lakes, you will hang a right (west) and cruise up and over Independence Pass and down into Aspen on highway 82. With Independence Pass only being open during certain months of the summer, this loop must be researched for road closures before heading out. From Minturn to the turn off at Twin Lakes, you are looking at a 90-minute straight shot. From Aspen to Glenwood Springs, you need to plan for at least an hour and from Glenwood Springs to our shop, again, you are looking at an hour. As a straight drive, the entire loop takes at least 4.5 hours so plan your stops according to your taste and what you hope to see.
#1. Ghost Town of Gilman Lookout point.
Above the town of Minturn and just before Red Cliff, you will come to a lookout point where you can view the town of Gilman Colorado and the Homestake Canyon. The town was built in 1886 during the Silver boom and later was a source for Lead and Zinc mining. In 1984 the EPA forced a town evacuation due to toxic pollutants including contaminated ground water. The town of Gilman is currently on private land and is strictly off limits to the public. The Ginn Company currently owns the property and once had lofty goals of creating a private ski area nearby – those plans were put on hold during the 2008 recession. To learn more about the ghost town of Gilman, you can visit the Wikipedia page at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilman,_Colorado
#2. Red Cliff Colorado
Red Cliff Colorado is currently known for its access points to the Vail Pass Recreation Area. It is also home to the very popular Mango's Restaurant which is a great place for lunch and dinner. The drive into Red Cliff offers some amazing views of the Green Bridge, Vail Pass, and Homestake Creek. In early June, Red Cliff Colorado and Homestake Creek plays host to the GoPro Mountain Games kayak event. It is worth the drive through if you just follow the map above for the best loop.
#3. Camp Hale and the World War ll Memorial.
As you make your way to Leadville, you will pass the site of Camp Hale. During world war ll, Camp Hale was home to about 15,000 soldiers known as the 10th Mountain Division. Constructed in 1942 and later decommissioned in 1945, soldiers at Camp Hale were trained in Alpine and Nordic Skiing, Mountain Climbing, and Cold-weather Survival. There are multiple plaques along the highway and at the entrance to Ski Cooper stands a memorial dedicated to soldiers at Camp Hale. Though not actively in use by the Armed Forces, on occasion you will see the special forces units running drills in the area for backcountry travel techniques in the winter months.
#4. Historic Town of Leadville.
Leadville is an interesting place and ideal for history buffs. at the 300 block of Harrison stands the Tabor Opera House and the location where Doc Holliday shot (but didn't kill) his last man - you can still walk in and see the bullet hole. The Tabor House and Museum will take you through the Tabor fortune and you can learn more about the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” from the Titanic. The National Mining museum is without a doubt, one of the most interesting museums you will ever step foot in. Aside from all of the history, Leadville also offers massive views of Colorado’s tallest peak “Mt. Elbert.” For those of you looking for a museum tour while in town, we have provided a printable walking map of the area that outlines the locations of each museum.
#5. Summit of Independence Pass
The summit of Independence Pass stands at just over 11,000' ft above sea level with nearby Mt Massive and Mt. Elbert reaching the 14,000' mark. The road up offers great views of the Twin Lakes region and both the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain Ranges. At the top, you will have the option of hiking the peak trail to go to the actual summit. There is also a restroom at the top which can be an added convenience at times. The way down into Aspen is a quick descent with many hairpin turns. There are also a series of one lane approaches where the adjacent cliffs make a two-lane road impossible. It’s advised that you take your time heading into Aspen to avoid conflict on the road.
Aspen is Aspen. Movie Stars, Gazillion dollar two-bedroom homes, and an endless variety of great restaurants and shops. If you’re thinking about having lunch in Aspen, we highly recommend Hops Culture and Meat & Cheese… Aspen is a place you need to experience for yourself so I will just shut up.
#7. Glenwood Hot Springs & Glenwood Canyon
Glenwood Springs will bring your historic tour of Leadville full circle as Glenwood Springs is the final resting place of Doc Holliday. His grave site is marked on the map above. Glenwood Springs is also known for their Hot Springs and Vapor Caves. Glenwood Canyon is where the driving tour really culminates. The Canyon is a 16-mile stretch of interstate that winds its way along the Colorado river. You will pass the famous Shoshone rapid, Grizzly Creek rapids and both Upper and Lower Death rapids. There is the highly popular Hanging Lakes Trail Head which has become overused due to the many lazy travel websites and publishers that seem to think that Hanging Lakes is the only hiking trail in the state of Colorado. There are numerous picnic and rest areas throughout the canyon so it is highly recommended that you pull off and snap a few photos. The Canyon itself is an engineering feat and PBS recently created one of the more interesting documentaries on the construction of the canyon – worth viewing before heading out on your trip.
From Glenwood Canyon, you will head back to our shop in Eagle-Vail. You have two options depending on time. You can stay on Interstate 70, or you can pull off at any exit and take Highway 6 all the way in. Highway 6 follows the Eagle River and you will pass through the towns of Gypsum, Eagle, Wolcott, Edwards, Avon (Beaver Creek), and into Eagle-Vail. For scenic purpose, we have mapped the way home through Eagle and Wolcott. Just know that if you choose to take Interstate 70, you need to exit at the Minturn Exit.
The Independence Pass Loop is easily one of the prettiest and most complete tours you can take in the state. To do it right, you need a full day but it is a day that you will talk about for years to come.