As a child visiting Colorado on yearly summer vacations with the family, my parents would often load me in the car and make me go on some sort of mountain drive. And honestly, I hated it. But now that I’m an adult and behind the wheel, I don’t mind mountain drives — in fact, I find myself searching for my next driving adventure. About a year ago, I bought myself a 2004 Toyota 4-Runner, an SUV perfectly capable of tackling technical mountain roads. Since then, I’ve switched my interest from paved mountain roads to putting the 4-Runner to the test on some “goat track” adventures that require me to put my vehicle in low gear. A couple of friends suggested that I drive Mosquito Pass from Alma to Leadville, which at 13,198 feet is the highest continuous road in Colorado that goes over a pass. I decided it was an adventure I was definitely up for. So, I loaded my two Collies in the back of my 4-Runner on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and went for it. My friend Tim, who has driven the pass before, was up for the adventure in his Toyota FJ Cruiser. It’s always best to drive a trail like this with someone else because if you break down, someone is there to help you — and Tim knew the road.
Getting to the Mosquito Pass trailhead is quite simple. If you’re coming from Breckenridge, take Highway 9 toAlma, then take a right on Park Hill Road. This turns into County Road 10 and takes you straight to the Mosquito Pass trailhead, which is about seven miles. From the trailhead, drive about 1.3 miles to the London Mine. There is plenty of parking in this area, and it’s a great spot for picture taking and eating lunch. This is where I put the 4-Runner in low gear. Once you pass the mine, the trail gets a lot more difficult and SUVs with low clearance have to turn around. Sections of the trail become very rocky, and I found it important to strategize my lines to avoid large rocks.
From the mine to the top of the pass is about 1.5 miles. The views at the top of the pass are phenomenal. Driving this trail was similar to hiking a Colorado 14er, except I wasn’t out of breath. From the top of Mosquito Pass, you can actually see several 14ers, including Mount of the Holy Cross, Mount Massive, Mount Elbert and Mount Sherman.
It was now time for me to make the drive down the mountain toward Leadville. There are many switchbacks on this side of the pass. This section is narrow and pretty bumpy, but not as technical as the east side. From the switchbacks, you can see the top section of Birdseye Gulch trail and beautiful views of Mountain and Diamond Lakes below. Soon the trail went right by the lakes and ended at an easy dirt road near Diamond Mine. From the top of Mosquito Pass to Diamond Mine is a total of 3.2 miles. From there, follow the road west into the town of Leadville. From Alma to Leadville, it’s a total of 17.2 miles.
If you’re up for a driving challenge, I highly recommend this trail. However, make sure you have a 4-wheel drive with good clearance and a driver with lot of confidence. Parts of this drive can be intimidating — but it’s a classic Colorado adventure!