Is Driving On The Independence Pass Scary?

independence pass scary

Independence Pass is a 32-mile stretch on Colorado’s Highway 82, which winds through the Rocky Mountains and reaches 12,095 feet at its summit, making it the highest paved pass in North America. It begins in Twin Lakes and ends in Aspen’s world-famous ski resort village. 

The highway provides some of the most breathtaking views in Colorado, and the scenic lookouts are strategically placed so drivers can stop and see miles and miles of Colorado’s famous Aspen trees and the Roaring Fork River.

Dotted along the highway are three marked hiking trails, multiple biking paths, geography that’s perfect for rock climbing, and plenty of land for camping. 

Despite the incredibly scenic views, many people have commented that Independence Pass is incredibly scary to drive on.

There are breathtaking views, which you will not be able to enjoy as you are clenching your teeth and gripping the steering wheel for dear life praying to make it through alive.

Lets explore this stretch of highway and see whether or not you’ll be white knuckling the steering wheel while traversing the pass.

Is Independence Pass Scary to Drive On?

Driving on Independence Pass may be scary for some inexperienced and timid drivers. There are steep inclines, steep drop-offs, tight winding roads, including tight switchbacks and narrow stretches that can fit only one car at a time.

While driving on the inside lane provides some sense of security, driving on the outside lane can be a little nerve-racking as there are a couple of spots where there are steep drop-offs and no shoulder or guard rails.

is independence pass scary
(Narrow stretch that can only fit one car at a time)

Is Independence Pass Dangerous?

Independence Pass is perfectly safe and not dangerous, however it can be challenging to the novice driver who does not have experience driving on narrow roads.

Ironically, one of the most dangerous thing about it are the people who are terrified of it and drive down the middle of the road into oncoming traffic and don’t let others behind them pass.

Another danger to be aware of is oversize and overweight vehicles. While absolutely no vehicles over 35 feet in length may use the road at any time, there have been instances of truck drivers disregarding the rule and driving the pass anyways, which puts everyone on the road at risk.

Most of the death cases in Independence Pass have nothing to do with drivers, and more to do with the recreational activities you can do there. In 2014, 2 skiers were killed in an avalanche that occurred in a back country ski location not far from Independence Pass. The last recorded driving related death is from 2002, when a drunk driver veered off of Highway 82. Since then, no fatal accidents have been reported.  

When Does the Pass Close?

Independence Pass closes every year from October to May due to heavy snow accumulation. While the highway is completely safe in the summer, snow and ice make the highway incredibly dangerous in the winter.

The official closing dates fluctuate every year based on unpredictable factors like city events or weather, but the highway usually closes around November 7th

Independence Pass opens back up when all the snow and ice is melted and summer officially begins with Memorial Day. 

Safe Driving Tips for Independence Pass

Ultimately, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not only driving the speed limit but driving a speed that will be most comfortable for you.

  • Follow all posted signs. On tight hairpin turns, the posted speed limit is 10 mph, and everywhere else, it’s 25 mph.
  • Put away your phone. The tight curves and single lane portions of the highway requires your full undivided attention.
  • There is a section from on Independence Pass referred to as the Narrows. This one-mile stretch the highway has neither shoulder nor guardrails so make sure you’re alert and focused.
  • Check the weather. This road should be avoided by those unfamiliar with it in snowy, icy and wet conditions.
  • There are a few guard rails dotting Independence Pass, but not along the entirety of the highway. It’d be in your best interest if you drove carefully the entire way and not rely on guardrails. 
  • Independence Pass is a popular destination for cyclist, so be cautious and remember to share the road.
  • Uphill traffic has the right-of-way – If two vehicles are on a steep road where neither vehicle can pass, the downhill-facing vehicle must yield to the uphill-facing vehicle.
  • Sometimes, snow falls as early as October, and due to the high elevation, it’s not an uncommon occurrence. Keep your eye on weather forecasts to plan accordingly!
  • As beautiful as the view is, always keep your eyes on the road. There are plenty of pulloffs where you can pull over and enjoy the scenery.

independence pass narrows
(The Narrows)

Is It Worth Driving? 

People who have stumbled upon Independence Pass would answer this question with a resounding “YES!” It is absolutely worth the drive. As long as you take all necessary precautions and drive carefully, you’ll will be rewarded with one of the most breathtaking views in North America. 


Related: How Dangerous Is The Million Dollar Highway?

million dollar highway

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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