Monarch Pass, a mountain road in Colorado

Monarch Pass
Monarch Pass

Monarch Pass is a scenic mountain pass located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, United States. Known for its beauty, it offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the southern end of the Sawatch Range from its summit. The pass, located at an elevation of 11,312 feet (3,448 meters) above sea level, connects the towns of Salida and Gunnison. It became a popular route for tourists and recreational drivers.

Where is the Monarch Pass located?

The Monarch Pass route is located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, approximately 250 kilometers (160 miles) southwest of Denver. It takes about 3 hours to drive to the pass from Denver.

It also goes through the Monarch Pass ski resort. The pass is located on the famous coast-to-coast US highway 50. The Pass is situated on the Continental Divide at the southern end of the Sawatch Range. It is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Salida town.

You can locate the road on the map below:


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General information about Monarch Pass.

How high is Monarch Pass in Colorado ?

The pass is at 3,448 meters (11,300 ft) above sea level, making this one of the highest in the United States. The Monarch Pass is one of the most spectacular mountain routes in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It is an asphalted road in good condition.

The road that ascends to the Monarch Pass from Maysville has an average gradient of about 5.5% and is 17 kilometers (10 miles) long. However, there are some portions of the road with gradients greater than 7% and the highest point of the pass is at 11,312 ft (3,448 meters) above sea level.

View Monarch Pass
View from Monarch Pass

History

The Monarch Pass has a long history, beginning with the construction of a road over the original pass in 1880, connecting the towns of South Arkansas City (later Salida) and Gunnison.

Then, in 1922, this road was improved and rerouted to become Old Monarch Pass (today an unpaved FR237 road). This old road is accessible from Highway 50 on the east side of the summit of Monarch Pass, or from White Pine Road (CR 888) on the west side.

Monarch Pass Road, we drive today, was built in the 1920s. The new road was designed to reduce tight turns, increase safety, and shorten the distance.

How to get to Monarch Pass?

If you drive from Salida, you should head west by taking highway 50 in the direction of Montrose. On the other hand, if you are driving from west to east, you will want to take highway 50 in the opposite direction, towards Salida.

Also, if you are looking for a road trip in Colorado, we also suggest you drive to the Million Dollar Highway, the Loveland Pass, or the Black Bear Pass (if you have a good 4×4 car) to enjoy the amazing landscapes of that state.

You can easily find an example of an itinerary from Denver to the Million Dollar Highway on this map:

What to do near the Monarch Pass?

The Pass is located in an area when you can practice many activities, hiking during summer, and skiing during winter.

For example, you can, in the winter, ski at Monarch Mountain ski resort. That is a small family resort.
Opened in 1939 with a tow-rope and improvised means, the station really developed in the 1950s.

Today, the resort has 5 chairlifts which serve 63 fairly straightforward pistes between 3,290 and 3,650 meters above sea level.

The station is open every day between mid-November and early April. It is possible to buy a Monarch ski pass online (you can also choose the Monarch season access). Also, you can have a view of the slopes with the Monarch Pass webcam.

During the summer months, you can take the Monarch Crest Scenic Tramway to the summit of Monarch Ridge. From there, where you will be greeted with panoramic views of the Sawatch Range.

A preview of the drive:

Either if you are planning to drive the Monarch Pass or not, you can watch this video to discover that scenic drive:

Is Monarch Pass open?

The road is typically accessible throughout the year. However, as it is a high-elevation mountain road, it may be closed during the winter months due to snowfall or inclement weather.

During wintertime, it can be mandatory to have snow tires or to have snow chains. For two-wheel drive cars, this rule is more important.

While the road is not inherently dangerous, it is important to be mindful of speed limits and to exercise caution when encountering ice or snow on the road.

Also, as it is a tourist road, you should avoid the high season or at least try to come early before the traffic increases.

If you are looking for accommodation, you will find some lodges near Monarch ski resort. Camping is available on Old Monarch Pass as soon as you start the drive on the eastern (Salida direction) side of the road.

Ultimately, the Monarch Pass provides a magnificent and scenic trip in Colorado. With its diverse landscapes, it’s a great choice for those looking to explore the state. However, keep in mind that the road might be hazardous, especially during the winter months with rapidly changing weather conditions. So, plan beforehand and stay safe while admiring the breathtaking views from the Monarch Pass.

Pictures credit: By The original uploader was Nationalparks at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5767514 / By Hogs555 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35715199


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