June is here, a time when the Food and Wine Classic comes to town, the crème-de-la-crème of culinary festivals, bringing in the top Foodies and wine aficionados to share their stories and recipes with the culinary elite. As I engage with many of them and salivate over their social media feeds I realize that many of these professionals rarely get the chance to sneak away from the pillowy white tents to bust out a hike in the wilderness while they are here. And so I am here to lure them away for a bit, and the rest of you in town for the Classic, and help you to get your Colorado on your palate with the sweet crisp scent of sage wafting through the Colorado breeze.
For many of you heading over Colorado State Route 82, Independence Pass, give yourselves enough time to stop and explore as you travel over the highest Colorado Highway thoroughfare, a windy and narrow road that travels from Leadville to Aspen through the San Isabel and White River National Forests.
Independence Pass Hikes in June
1. Independence Pass Summit Trail
According to the Independence Pass Foundation Executive Director, Karin Teague, there is still a fair amount of snow at the top of the pass and a local’s favorite hike, Upper Lost Man, is still totally under snow. But she does recommend taking the easy hiking trail at the summit at 12093 ft., about 20 miles east of Aspen and 24 miles west of Highway 24. Ms. Teague states that the summit trail has been blazed of snow for your walking convenience and leads to an overlook with views of La Plata Peak (14,360 feet) and several peaks that are above 13,000 feet. La Plata Peak is one of the 15 peaks of the Sawatch Range. Located in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area it is the 5th highest of the more than 50 peaks in Colorado that are called 14ers. While there check out the informative wilderness interpretive & peak finder signs. There are also clean restrooms to freshen up in before heading down the other windy side of the pass.
Independence Pass Ghost Town
via AspenHistory.com: Legend has it that prospectors discovered the Independence Gold Lode on July 4, 1879. A tent city sprang up that summer, and by 1880 there were 300 people living in the camp.
During the winter of 1899 the worst storm in Colorado’s history cut off the supply routes to Independence. The miners, who were running out of food, proceeded to dismantle their homes to make 75 pairs of skis and to escape en masse to Aspen. They made light of their adventure by making it a race of the Hunter’s Pass Ski Club—entry fee: one ham sandwich.
The skeleton-buildings remaining today make a great picnic site, and the Aspen Historical Society has an interpretive display and an information center in a restored general store. Brochures for a ghost town walking tour, picnic tables, and an outdoor privy are also provided.
Location: 16 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82
June 14 through Labor Day, daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: Suggested donation $5. Children 12 and under are free
2. Weller Lake
Weller Lake is one of the quickest hikes off of Independence Pass, just .5 miles, with a gradual 200-foot elevation gain. The lovely trail winds through Aspen and Spruce forests to Weller Lake, a forested mountain lake below treeline. This is a great excursion for the whole family, including your fit children and grandparents. Bring your fishing rod.
3. Climbing on Independence Pass via IndependencePassRockClimbing.Com
4. Ice Caves on Independence Pass
The Grottos Trail divides into three distinct areas which begin at the Grottos Map on the west side of the parking lot:
- The shortest trail, about 30 yards, crosses the bridge to your left and travels in the woods near the river over a smooth gravel path to a magnificent waterfall and picnic area containing large boulders. This trail is wheelchair accessible.
- A slightly longer trail to the ice caves is accessed by crossing the bridge on the right and following the rocky path where a trail sign indicates the ice caves to the left. The trail continues through the woods to a series of large boulders on the left. The ice caves are behind the boulders.
- The longest trail, Old Stage Road, is accessed by crossing the bridge on the right and continuing to follow a path for 1⁄2 mile until it reaches the banks of Lincoln Creek.
To access the trailhead Drive 9 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82. Continue 0.9 miles past Weller Campground to a trailhead on the right, turn and drive about 200 feet to the parking area. It offers a picnic area next to the Roaring Fork River and a gentle path up the former Leadville to Aspen stagecoach route.
*If you can, head to the “Class on the Pass,” a classic car tour over Independence Pass that will pass through Aspen between 9:30-10am on Saturday, June 18th.