Which paved road is Colorado’s highest? And where does that leave Indy Pass?
When it comes to scenic high roads, the options in Colorado are numerous and the beauty staggering.
But which one is highest? And by what criteria are we judging these scenic high roads?
These somewhat tedious but important-in-a-Guinness-Book-of-World-Records-kind-of-way questions came across my computer screen recently after I wrote about the closing of Independence Pass last month, and the situation clearly demanded factual answers.
So, facts being my job, I ran it down and am prepared to put the debate to rest.
We begin with a story I wrote Oct. 28 for The Aspen Times about Independence Pass closing about a week earlier than normal because of snow. In the course of my reporting, I noticed that, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation website, Independence Pass — at 12,095 feet high — was the highest paved state highway in Colorado.
I included this fact in my story, though I omitted the word “state,” which made me wrong.
A sharp-eyed reader caught my mistake and politely pointed out in an email that the east side of Cottonwood Pass out of Buena Vista was paved last summer (the west side was paved in summer 2018), which made Cottonwood — at 12,126 feet — the highest paved highway in the state.
Unfortunately, that also turned out to be inaccurate.
Cottonwood Pass is, indeed, 12,126 feet high, and it was paved for the first time ever this summer and last summer. It is not, however, a state highway, said Bob Wilson, CDOT spokesperson. That road is a Chaffee County road on the east side and a Gunnison County road on the other, he said.
OK, point taken.
Independence Pass remains the highest paved state highway in Colorado, though it is no longer the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the state. That distinction now belongs to Cottonwood Pass, Wilson said.
However, Indy Pass is not the highest paved highway in Colorado.
That honor belongs to Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park out of Estes Park on the Front Range. That 48-mile road rises to 12,183 feet, though it is a federal highway — U.S. 34 — so it doesn’t spoil Independence Pass’ state distinction.
Again, it’s all a bit tedious.
The highest paved road in the state, by the way, is also the highest paved road in North America: the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, which rises to 14,264.