At a summit height of 13,185 feet, Mosquito Pass (Lake County and Park County, Colorado) is the highest pass in our state open to motorized travel. The Forest Service recommends high clearance and four-wheel drive, which for off-roaders means a good time!! That, combined with historical gold mining sites along the trail, makes Mosquito Pass one for the off-road bucket list.
Because areas just shy of 14,000 feet essentially experience winter for 10 months a year, Mosquito Pass is only open for a few weeks, generally in August. So, on Saturday, August 22, a group of us caravanned Jeeps to Mosquito Pass in search of great heights and, just maybe, some gold.
The trailhead was 2.5 hours from Fort Collins. Because of other weekend plans, we made this a day trip and it was a pretty long day! Trail Damage gives good directions to the trailhead, or use GPS – Mosquito Pass is a popular trail.
At the start of the trail, after airing down our tires and disconnecting sway bars, we headed out on a dirt road that quickly became bumpier and rockier as it climbed. Overall the rocks were pretty small, however, and the trail continued until it reached the North London Mine. We stopped here to walk the dogs and take in the scenery.
The North London Mine was one of the richest gold mines in Colorado back in 1861, when gold was discovered and the Mosquito camp was established in the area. (Mosquito's name came from a mosquito smashed between the pages of a book at a town meeting). To connect the camp to civilization, a pass was cut over the mountain to the town of Leadville. This road, named Mosquito Pass, was aptly called the "highway of the frozen death" in the 1800's. Today, the mine is an historical site, and the pass is definitely better traversed with a sturdy motor vehicle.
The trail continued past the mine, heading toward the pass, and was more difficult in this area. Eroded rocky sections and large rocks required some careful negotiation. We saw a stock SUV trying to make it through – I’m not sure they did, but they definitely got points for trying!
At last we reached the summit! We paused for photos before putting on extra clothing. The temps were low 40’s F, and the wind was blasting. As luck would have it, the view was somewhat obscured by smoke from California forest fires which were ongoing at the time.
Apparently Mosquito Pass is a popular off-road wedding destination and we waited while a great number of off-road enthusiasts left a wedding celebration.
When the trail was clear, we backtracked slightly to find a lunch spot somewhat out of the wind. My husband and I were happy to share some of our gear, such as coats and blankets, with our friends who were still in warmer-altitude shorts and tees. After lunch, our son enjoyed playing in the snow!
Eventually we continued on the trail, past the summit at which we’d already stopped, and down the other side of the mountain, quite literally. The descent consisted of a pretty easy trail, but also contained several sharp switchbacks that were a bit of a challenge. Slow going was required because of sheer drop-offs beside the trail.
Further down we passed several lakes, then the Diamond Mine, and then we reached the town of Leadville. Having found no gold on the trail, here we paused for food and "liquid gold" in the form of some tasty Colorado brews.
Mosquito Pass is definitely a must for off-roaders because of its uniqueness. Do it once and check it off your list. Happy Trails!!