Mosquito Pass 4WD Road
Brave the Highway of Frozen Death
Leadville, Colorado, is known for extremes, and the four-wheel-drive (4WD) road over Mosquito Pass is no exception. With a high point of 13,185’, it’s the fourth-highest road in Colorado—with mountain weather to boot. Known as “The Highway of Frozen Death,” it is open from July through September each year, depending on snowfall. The route requires a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, good off-road driving skills, and steely nerves for those narrow ledges and airy drop-offs.
Planning Your Drive
This two-way road connects Leadville to Alma, another former mining town. You’ll want to allow two to three hours for the drive, and check the weather first. Rain can make the road muddy and slippery, and snow can fall there any day of the year.
Pack extra layers for the summit, which is often windy and cold. Plan ahead, as there are no bathrooms or other services along the route. Bring a spare tire and plenty of gas to this high, remote area. Prepare what you’ll need for the drive.
History of Mosquito Pass
As you might imagine, this desolate area once harbored its fair share of tough characters.
Perhaps the first famous traveler across Mosquito Pass was Father John Dyer, who crossed the frigid peaks on wooden skis in the mid-1800s. A preacher and mail carrier, Father Dyer ministered to the mining camps of Leadville and Alma. On one winter trip, his feet froze, and he nearly died. A memorial to him marks the top of the pass, and the Father Dyer Postal Route back country ski mountaineering race traverses these mountains every April from Leadville.
In 1874, the London Mine opened on the east side closer to Alma and churned out gold, silver, and lead. The mine’s ruins are still visible today. The road over the pass to Leadville was built during the height of the silver rush, by investors including the legendary Horace Tabor. They kept building the road even through the winter snows of 1878-79, as it was the shortest of the three roads across the mountain range. During those two years, Leadville mines are said to have produced $82,000,000 in silver.
When this dangerous toll road opened in 1879, it carried more than 100 wagons, freighters, and stagecoaches to Leadville each day. The crowds didn’t last long, though. The railroad came to Leadville in 1880, and the bustling road was abandoned. Ten years later, the building that had served as a stagecoach stop in Mosquito Gulch and fed cold and hungry travelers, was destroyed in an avalanche—testament to the rigors of this high mountain environment. Check out more history and photos of mining structures you’ll see.
The next journeys along the treacherous route didn’t come until 1949. But these travelers were perhaps better suited to it than the original ones: Sure-footed burros and their human companions began using the pass as part of burro races from Fairplay to Leadville.
Even now, the top of the pass is the turnaround point for the 21-mile course of the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation’s burro races, held the first weekend of August each year and part of the Leadville Boom Days heritage festival.
Each June, hundreds of people run to the top of the pass in the Leadville Trail Marathon and Heavy Half Marathon, part of the CenturyLink Leadville Race Series. And of course off-road enthusiasts come up in their OHVs, jeeps and trucks, and motorcycles all summer long, to get a taste of travel in the original wild, wild west.