Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway

Top of the Rockies Scenic Drive

Top of the Rockies Overview
With altitudes rarely falling below 9,000 feet, Top of the Rockies is worthy of its name. Travelers cross the 10,424-foot Tennessee Pass en route to the booming mining town of Leadville, the highest incorporated community in the U.S. This historic town is the ideal resting place for mining buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Relive Leadville's flagrant history by visiting the abandoned mines where Tabor, Guggenheim, and May made their millions. Venture into the desolate Valley of the Ghosts, where fire ravaged three thriving Victorian towns. More physically adventurous travelers can choose from four-wheeling, mountain biking, horseback riding, or hiking on Colorado's highest mountains, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, both reaching over 14,400 feet. The national forests surrounding Leadville is a mecca for other outdoor activities such as snowmobiling, snowshoeing, fishing, golf, and more.

Downtown Leadville (CO) [2]
Leadville's history is spiced with stories of real people who made, and lost, fortunes. Andrew Carnegie, Susan B. Anthony, Doc Holliday, and the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown are just a few of the characters who crowd its past. With 70 acres of Landmark District brimming with Victorian charm and architecture, it's no wonder Leadville is one of the ten Prettiest Painted Places in America. Admire Colorado's heritage at the National Mining Hall of Fame, or brave the nearby ghost towns of Lake County.

Entrance to Copper Mountain Ski Resort (CO) [3]
As you explore this 75-mile route of towering peaks and broad valleys, keep your eyes peeled. Sharp eyes may spot robust wildlife, like the agile Big Horn Sheep, among the rocks. Slashes of gold, red, blue, and white wildflowers adorn the snowy mountainside each spring. Nestled at the foot of Mt. Elbert, the Twin Lakes area bursts with picture-perfect views of soaring peaks and lavish foliage around the state's largest glaciated lake. Natural beauty and rich history are showcased perfectly in this living landscape.

Special Considerations
This state-maintained paved road climbs from 8,000 feet to over 11,300 feet above sea level where snowfall can exceed 360 inches per year. Under these conditions you might expect significant accessibility limitations, but actually the roads are hardly ever closed. The only part that ever closes is the Vail Pass segment of I-70. When this happens, you can bypass it by taking State Highways 24 and 91, which does take a little more time to travel.

In May 2007, the byway acquired a new stretch of road that extends west from Twin Lakes to Aspen. Just over 40 miles, this particular part of the route is only state designated for now.

Due to the amount of snowfall along the byway, use normal winter precautions when traveling this route. Most facilities remain open year-round, with the exception of some of the pullouts and displays located at higher elevations. They disappear under plow-caused snow banks.

State Highway 82 over Independence Pass is a two-lane paved road maintained by the Colorado Dept. of Transportation (CDOT). Road widths average 22 to 24 feet with few passing zones between Twin Lakes and Aspen but at least 135 turnouts where slower traffic can pull off the road surface. Vehicles are limited to 35 feet or less which keeps semi-trailer traffic off the road but allows for all but the largest recreational vehicles. Prolific signage informs drivers of mountainous driving conditions and safety issues. Safety information is also available on CDOT and partner websites.

Please note:
Wildfires are an ever-present danger during the summer. Please obey posted signs regarding campfires, and do not throw cigarettes out of car windows.
Abandoned mines are extremely dangerous. Do not explore them.
Respect property owners' rights. Do not trespass or litter.
This byway traverses high mountain passes, so be prepared for all types of weather.
High altitudes bring increased sun exposure and reduced oxygen, so please wear sunscreen and sunglasses, and don't overexert yourself.
Temperatures are also cooler in the high altitudes, so be prepared for cold mornings, even in the high summer months.
Highway 82, the Independence Pass Road between Twin Lakes and Aspen, is closed during the winter months at a point some 5 miles beyond the southwestern terminus of the byway.

The route between Twin Lakes and the eastern boundary of the City of Aspen is limited to vehicles of 35 feet in length or less.

Summer is a pleasant time to drive the byway; it's filled with cool temperatures, thick stands of pine trees, shining mountain lakes, and numerous activities in Leadville.

Best Time to Drive
From late May to October, against a backdrop of vast snowcapped peaks, visitors conquer the ?Top of the Rockies? as they cross the Continental Divide.

High Season
Byway visitors attracted by the spectacular fall colors may experience higher traffic in September at the height of the annual fall color change.

Due to the 12,095-foot elevation at the summit of Independence Pass and heavy winter snowfall, this segment is open from Memorial Day weekend to when snow falls in late October or early November. Signs along the pass indicate if the road is open.

Road Conditions
To find up to date information about the road conditions along Top of the Rockies, please visit the FHWA listing of web sites for more information.


Driving the Byway
This byway branches out in three directions from Leadville.

Leadville to Eagle's Nest Wilderness Area
From Leadville take CO-91 north past Copper Mountain Ski Resort to the border of Eagle's Nest Wilderness Area, where this leg of the byway ends.
Leadville to I-70
From Leadville take on US-24 north to Minturn.
Continue north on US-24 to I-70 where this leg of the byway ends.
Leadville to Twin Lakes
From Leadville, travel south on US-24 and turn west on CO-82 (Independence Pass Road).
This road takes you to Twin Lakes, where this leg of the byway ends.