A garden-variety high mountain offroad pass in Colorado, Weston Pass provides a convenient shortcut between Leadville and Fairplay. Weston Pass is just south of the infamous Mosquito Pass, another high mountain offroad pass. Mosquito pass similarly connects Leadville to Fairplay to the north, yet is much steeper and requires a more well-equipped vehicle than Weston Pass.
From Leadville eastbound to Fairplay via Weston Pass, the junction for Weston Pass is signed and just a few miles south of Leadville proper on U.S. Highway 24. The beginning of Weston Pass Rd./Lake County Rd. 7 passes through private property, and is paved.
It’s just under three miles for this first section of pavement through private property before reaching public lands. Weston Pass road climbs gently up the valley, following Big Union Creek for the entire western approach to the pass.
There are numerous dispersed campsites along Weston Pass Rd., and quite a bit more on the western side than on the eastern. On the eastern side, however, there is a USFS developed campground.
Most of the western approach to Weston Pass is a nice, mostly mild but sometimes rutted and bumpy gravel road, and there are a few steep sections that are likely to prove troublesome if snowy or muddy.
Despite being a relatively long road overall, over 26 miles long, there are relatively few spurs branching off the main road. It is ten miles from U.S. Highway 24 just south of Leadville to the pass summit, and there is only one notable spur; Forest Road #150 is the only marked spur on the Leadville Ranger District MVUM, and is a comparably challenging road which climbs to the site of an old gold mine, close to the pass summit.
Nearing the summit of Weston Pass, the valley opens up on both sides, and there are a few dispersed campsites, which would be great in the summer but freezing in late October when we drove the pass. It was also quite windy, at a brisk 11,000ft+ elevation, nearing the 11,921ft pass summit.
The Summit, 11,921ft
The marked summit of Weston Pass isn’t the highest point in the vicinity; the road actually travels through a depression in the ridgeline. Immediately to the north the ridgeline has several 13ers, and continuing further to the north, this same ridgeline is home to some of Colorado’s 14ers, including Mount Sherman and Mount Democrat. Mosquito Pass also traverses this ridge several miles to the north, directly out of Leadville. To the south of Weston Pass there are a few 12ers, as well as the Buffalo Peaks wilderness area.
The summit of Weston Pass also marks a jurisdictional boundary, both county and ranger district. Lake County Rd. 7 (western Weston Pass Rd.) turns into Park County Rd. 22 (eastern Weston Pass Rd.) Also at this boundary you leave the Leadville Ranger District and enter the South Park Ranger District. Obviously, vise versa if traveling westbound.
Also at the summit is the Weston Pass Hut, available for travelers of the backcountry, fellow “backwoods wanderers”, if you will. The hut can serve as a base for many activities, including cross-country skiing in the winter and hiking/backpacking in the summer. Amenities are offered, including space for up to 20 people, cooking supplies and equipment, pit toilets, warmth, and more. The hut is available for reservation, at a very reasonable rate. Weston Pass Hut is not affiliated with BackwoodsWanderers.com, but more information is available here.
Immediately on the eastern side of the pass is a nice little spur with some great dispersed camping along it. It is Forest Road 162, with FR 161 serving as a connector back to the main road. FR 162 runs parallel to the main Weston Pass Rd. and isn’t that technical, but steep in sections, especially near the easternmost end. FR 161 serves as a nice little bail point just before FR 162 drops steeply down the side of a mountain.
Weston Pass served as a historical access route from Denver to Leadville, in the mining hey-day of the area. Weston Pass is a lot more mild than Mosquito Pass, although the whole area feels like a testament to humanity’s arrogance. There is a famous story of “Chicken Bill” Lovell who tried to bring chickens over Mosquito Pass in the dead of winter just because he was sick of eating venison. He had to bed-in for the night on the pass due to weather conditions, and woke up to a bunch of frozen chickens. His plan was to bring the chickens back and make money by providing the early mining town with fresh eggs in the winter, but he ended up simply selling their meat because frozen chickens don’t lay eggs. Keep in mind, the guy was traversing Mosquito Pass in an era well before four wheel drive, heater cores, and snow chains.
There aren’t many more spurs other than FR 162/161, until you are essentially in South Park. Weston Pass Campground is on the eastern side, though, and is a developed campground open seasonally. There are pit toilets but no water or trash service. More information available from the Forest Service, here.
Although somewhat steep near the pass summit, the eastern approach is a wide, maintained gravel road all the way to U.S. Highway 285. Continuing down the mountain, you actually enter a residential area, and there is a signed junction for U.S. 285. Left here takes you towards U.S. 285 to Fairplay, right takes you to U.S. 285 to Buena Vista. There is a limited amount of public lands access from here on out, and continuing towards Fairplay ends you up at the highway just a mile south of the town limits.
At the end of the trip, we stopped in Fairplay at the South Park Brewery, which was a good decision. Fairplay is a nice little community, and makes a good pit-stop location for numerous adventures nearby. Mosquito Pass is just north of Fairplay, and takes you directly into Leadville. Weston Pass is south of Fairplay, and takes you just south of Leadville. This road is certainly a nifty little shortcut (distance-wise, not time-wise) from Fairplay to Leadville, and worth doing if you’re in the area and conditions are good.
Weston Pass was certainly a fun little excursion, and made for a nice late-season adventure in the Colorado high country.