Carbondale to Independence Pass

Beautiful Spring Creek camping near Cottonwood Canyon

Carbondale was our first stop after we left the isolation and beauty of coal creek. We were pleasantly surprised. It’s a small sweet little town. All the grocery stores etc are on the outskirts and the downtown area is lined with historical buildings, cool restaurants and cafes, and some pretty shops scattered among all of that.

On the road, outside of Carbondale

We stopped at the National Forest office for dispersed camping information and what an unbelievable coincidence. The ranger was from Maple Valley, WA, it really is a small world. We spent an hour talking to her about her travels and exchanged phone numbers and emails. We had to take care of some banking and post office business and then it was time for lunch.

Best burger joint ever-Fatbelly Burgers !


We headed straight to a little spot we had seen on our first drive through town- Fatbelly Burgers. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that Jim and I both agreed it was the best burger we had ever had. Locally raised, grass fed beef, no antibiotics or bad stuff. Topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese and their house sauce, oh my gosh, the best! And the fries were perfection too, skinny, crispy just a touch of salt, yummy.

We headed out of town pointing towards Aspen with the thought in mind we would find a Sani dump for our porta potty and a spot to refill our water tank. Unbelievable, couldn’t find either. Just before we stared to climb towards Aspen we spotted a little mom and pop station off the highway. They were so helpful and accommodating, we got the porta potty taken care of and filled our fresh water tank.
Back on the road to Aspen. We arrived at nightfall and knew there was no where to stay in town so we continued east bound . We accidentally stumbled on a campground by the name of Difficult Campground! It was appropriate as to how our evening had been going.

The next morning we decided to drive the 10 miles back to Aspen for breakfast. It didn’t take long to discover this is not where we wanted to be. After a 5$ muffin and a 4$ cup of coffee we hit the road.

5$ Muffin from Paradise Bakery, Aspen

Independence Pass here we come. We knew it was the highest paved pass in North America, but we had no idea how scary, hair raising and take your breath away it would be.







The drop offs were making my heart race but the beauty surrounding us, even in the rain was incredible. Before we got to the top we stopped off at a spot recommended by the ranger- The Grottoes.







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It was a nice hike along the Roaring Fork river and the water tumbling through the canyons and over the granite boulders was awesome.


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By the time we reached the top at the Continental Divide the weather had worsened. More rain, clouds mixed with fog and a definite chill in the air. As we came down off the pass the road turned into several hole your breath hairpin turns. When we started to level out we started looking for a spot for lunch.

And there it was, we almost missed it. It was just south off the trailhead for the North Fork of Lost Creek. We enjoyed lunch so much we decided to stay he night! We were camped at about 10000 ft and it got down to 32 degrees. Everything was covered with frost!



I braved the cold for a few night shots



We quickly agreed that freezing at 10000 ft was not something we wanted to do, so high ho high ho off in search of dispersed camping we go! What beautiful drive we had this day. Sunshine, blue skies, wide open vistas, Colorado is amazing.

We ended up in the town of Buena Vista. Perfect, it was at he entrance to Cottonwood Pass, our next adventure.

Lunch stop in Buena Vista. Burgers okay, 1927 Chevy awesome !

But fate was not cooperating. Cottonwood Pass was closed until 2019; they were working on the road and bike path. Okay onto plan B, what we didn’t have a plan B! We looked at our backroads map and saw just before the pass closure there was a forest road that looked promising- forest road 344.

It took a few Goldilocks moments , but we lucked out out and found a gorgeous, just right spot in an open meadow with plenty of sunshine and Spring Creek running along side our site. We loved it so much we stayed Thursday through Sunday.




Beautiful aspens changed to bright golden yellow before our eyes. Stars overflowed out of the dark night sky and sunsets knocked our socks off. So blessed and grateful. Each time we find these incredibly gorgeous spots we thank the Universe and think we will never find so beautiful again.

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But that’s what is so fabulous about Colorado-spots like these are just around the corner waiting to be discovered.


It’s both comforting and refreshing to sit among the Aspens and watch the season change right before our eyes. It rained most of the night. I love falling asleep to the sounds of raindrops on the roof. Waking this morning the smell of fall is definitely in the air.

Sitting in the sun after breakfast we both could feel a slight chill in the air. This is the reason I love traveling so much, you aren’t preoccupied with everyday life so you get to watch the earth around you change minute by minute. Every single moment is precious….


Safe travels and happy trails my friends.


4 thoughts on “Carbondale to Independence Pass

  1. Jean Harned Boyle

    Some of my old stomping grounds – worked at a ranch outside Buena Vista, spent a lot of time in Aspen, hiked and rode (horses) in the area, rafted the Arkansas River (I think), crossed Independence Pass many times! I can’t wait to get back there to explore again. Thank you for the amazing pictures!!!


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