Hagerman Pass Info & History and a bit on Turquoise lake
Hagerman Pass is a high mountain pass near the Northern end of the Sawatch Range, at an elevation of 11,925 feet above the sea level, located near Leadville, Colorado. The pass crosses the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. The road is not difficult, but It’s one of the highest mountain pass dirt roads in Colorado.
The pass was named for James J. Hagerman. In the late 19th century, Hagerman was president of the Colorado Midland Railroad which built a rail line from Leadville to Aspen.
Hagerman Pass on X-Roads 2019
Today, Hagerman Pass follows his old train line, providing an adventurous way to get from Aspen and the Roaring Fork River valley near Basalt to the historic silver mining town of Leadville, where even more history awaits.
Near the top of Hagerman pass there are great views of the Turquoise Lake area to the east and the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness to the southwest.
Originally, the Colorado Midland Railroad traveled through this region to cross the Continental Divide. The railroad grade traveled south from Leadville along Turquoise Lake and originally went through Hagerman Tunnel at the Continental Divide.
Sign at the Hagerman Tunnel
West Portal of the Hagerman Tunnel today
In 1885 the Hagerman Tunnel was constructed as part of the Colorado Midland Railroad line (1887 to 1922) to connect Leadville with Aspen and Glenwood Springs. This 2,061-foot-long tunnel sits at 11,528 feet altitude just south of Hagerman Pass.
Hagerman Tunnel, circa 1880s (The dark areas are snowsheds over the railroad line)
Hagerman Pass Trestle
As part of the switchbacks to reach this altitude the Hagerman Trestle, the most elaborate and spectacular in Colorado, was constructed on the hairpin turn above Busk. The Hagerman Trestle was 1,084 feet long, 84 feet high, and 200 degrees in curvature.
Hagerman Pass Trestle
Hagerman Pass Trestle
In 1891 the Busk–Ivanhoe Tunnel built was a replacement for the Hagerman Tunnel at a lower, more direct route. The Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel was a 9,394 feet long railroad tunnel at an elevation of 10,953 feet.
The Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel was almost two miles long, but it eliminated 13 snowsheds and 12 bridges and trestles that were required to gain the 575 feet of additional altitude to the Hagerman tunnel.
Starting in 1921, while it was still a railroad tunnel, the tunnel was also used as a water diversion tunnel, moving water from Ivanhoe Lake in the Colorado River Basin to Busk Creek in the Arkansas River Basin.
Automobiles at the west entrance of the Carlton Tunnel in 1929
The Busk Tunnel was converted to auto traffic in 1922 and re-named as the Carlton Tunnel, a toll tunnel carrying then-State Highway 104. In 1943 there was a cave in on the west end and the Colorado Highway Department closed the tunnel and the state discontinued maintenance of the road. The tunnel collapsed in 1945.
The tunnel was permanently closed in 1943 after a partial collapse. Even with the collapse, water is still able to travel through the broken rocks to Busk Creek, which feed into Turquoise Lake.
Water Diversion Tunnel
The city of Aurora owns one half interest of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights and shares the system with Pueblo Board of Water Works. The water rights divert water from Ivanhoe Creek, Lyle Creek, Pan Creek and Hidden Lake Creek, all tributary to the Fryingpan River, for storage in Ivanhoe Reservoir. Stored water is transported under the Continental Divide to the Arkansas River Basin through the Ivanhoe (aka Carlton) Tunnel. Flows from the Carlton Tunnel are discharged to Busk Creek, a tributary of the Lake Fork Creek above Turquoise Reservoir where it is stored for further conveyance to Aurora. This water source provides an annual average of nearly 2,500 acre-feet to the City.
Hagerman Pass Road
On the west side of Hagerman Pass, the road follows the spectacular Roaring Fork River canyon to Reudi Reservoir and the town of Basalt.
Hagerman Pass is an epic way to get from Aspen to Leadville. It’s extremely scenic ride, so plan a fair amount of time for this trail, as it’s very long, and don’t forget your camera. The ride is definitely worth it. There are many excellent photo opportunities.
Towards the top of the pass, the road becomes narrower with some rock ledges. Expect a rough road surface; mud and rocks are possible but still easily passable. The road has occasionally been blocked by fallen trees.
This 4WD road is ideal for ADV and Dual Sport Motorcycles.
Five miles west of Leadville sits Turquoise Lake, one of Colorado’s favorite high-altitude recreation destinations. Dammed in the 19th century and named for the rare turquoise deposits found nearby, Turquoise Lake offers 1,800 acres or year-round recreational fun.
In the summer, when thermometers throughout Colorado rise, Turquoise Lake’s high elevation provides a great respite from the heat. With daytime temperatures hovering around 80°, visitors comfortably spend the day boating, fishing, biking, or simply relaxing on the beaches.
Turquoise Lake’s campgrounds are a treasure. Named for the nearby gold and silver mines and the mineral tycoons who owned them, they offer easy access to all of the lake’s amenities. Some campgrounds look out over the water while others are tucked in forests and meadows.
Turquoise Lake from near Mosquito Pass
Boaters can soak up the sun at 10,000 feet after launching from Matchless Boating Site, a boat ramp located on the southeastern shoreline of the lake. Sailboats catch the mountain breeze while canoers and kayakers paddle at a gentler pace. When winds kick in, the lake is perfect for windsurfing—just be sure to wear a wetsuit because this high alpine lake is cold!
Turquoise Lake is also an ideal fishing destination. While fishing from a boat in the middle of the lake is ideal, its rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brook trout can also be caught from an onshore fishing site at the dam. Although most of the fish caught at Turquoise Lake are under 20 inches, there’s a good chance of hooking larger, hard to catch species.
The land surrounding Turquoise Lake is lined with trails and low trafficked, paved roads.