Search
Close this search box.
Berthoud Pass, Colorado

Berthoud Pass, Colorado: 9 Fun Things To Do & Explore

Berthoud Pass is a high mountain pass in Colorado and an ideal spot for outdoor adventures. Reaching an elevation of 11,306 ft above sea level, it is the eleventh-highest paved pass in the state. Open all year-round, Berthoud Pass is a popular destination for hiking, dispersed camping, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, and other outdoor recreation activities.

In this guide, I’ll detail the rich history of Berthoud Pass and its role in the development of Colorado. I also cover how to get to the pass, popular activities, safety info, and Leave No Trace tips. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

About Berthoud Pass

About Berthoud Pass, Colorado

Berthoud Pass connects Empire in the south with Winter Park and Granby to the north. It is also a popular route to get to Steamboat Springs from Denver. It is one of the most difficult mountain passes to drive over in Colorado due to its steep grade, multiple switchbacks, and regular winter storms and snowfall. 

Here are some more details about the pass.

History of the Pass

Berthoud Pass is named after Edward L. Berthoud, a military officer and engineer who discovered it in 1861 while searching for a railroad route to cross the Continental Divide. While the area offered a path across the divide for horse-pulled wagons, it was deemed too steep and rugged for a railroad.

The original Wagon Road, completed in 1875, took a different route than the modern road, which was first constructed between 1920 and 1923. The road was finally paved completely in 1938 as the first paved east-west connection in the state.

During this era, Berthoud Pass saw the development of the Berthoud Pass Ski Area. Once CDOT began providing winter maintenance and year-round access, the pass proved popular among the growing alpine skiing community. In 1938, the Rocky Mountain News reported more than 26,000 skiers used Berthoud Pass yearly.

However, skiing popularity waned in the 1980s and 1990s as new resorts opened with more terrain and amenities. In 2003, the Ski Area closed for good, and in 2005 the historic ski lodge was removed from the summit of Berthoud Pass.

Today, the summit area has been restored to appear more like it did 100 years ago before development. A large parking lot and warming hut serves those who still visit for backcountry skiing and snowboarding, while many others stop to enjoy the views and snap a photo on the summit.

Climate and Weather

Located near the tree line above 11,000 feet, Berthoud Pass has a variable climate with bitter cold in winter, warm summers, and heavy precipitation. Here is climate data for Berthoud Pass based on averages from 1950-1985.

MonthAvg. Max Temp (F)Avg. Min Temp (F)Avg. Total Precipitation (in.)Avg. Total Snowfall (in.)Avg. Snow Depth (in.)
Jan21.21.43.4949.842
Feb24.22.02.9042.452
Mar28.76.24.1157.963
Apr36.213.64.4354.667
May45.023.13.8537.253
Jun54.232.02.2311.817
Jul61.939.22.450.00
Aug59.938.02.630.30
Sep53.031.02.058.70
Oct42.420.92.3628.03
Nov30.49.83.3649.114
Dec23.23.23.6351.429
Annual40.018.437.48391.228

SOURCE: Western Regional Climate Center

Accessibility

Berthoud Pass is plowed and accessible all year-round. However, it does temporarily close for avalanche control during and following significant snowfall events. It is generally a good idea to double check and ensure the pass is open before you go for a visit.

The road over Berthoud Pass is paved and accessible for most 2WD vehicles. In winter and during bad weather, 4WD is recommended. Traction laws are often in effect for the pass, with snow chains required for commercial trucks and larger vehicles.

Directions

Getting to Berthoud Pass in Colorado is relatively straightforward if road conditions and the weather are cooperative.

From Denver: Take I-70 west until you reach Empire. Take exit 233 onto US Highway 40. Follow the road 14.5 miless until you reach the summit.

From Winter Park: Take US Highway 40 south and drive approximately 11 miles until you reach the summit.

Map of Berthoud Pass

Once you make it to the mountain pass, a map is helpful for navigating and identifying opportunities for hiking, skiing, and safe exploration. 

Check out this great map of Berthoud Pass from FatMap to plan your activities and adventures in and around the summit.

Safety Tips for Berthoud Pass

Even with all the right experience and planning, things can still go wrong. Berthoud Pass is located at a high elevation deep in the mountains, with many hazards. Here are some best practices to stay safe while visiting the region.

  • Check the Weather: Always check the forecast and plan accordingly.
  • Know the Avalanche Forecast: Know the current level of avalanche danger in the area.
  • Drive Slowly and Carefully: Stay in the right lane and put your hazards on if driving slowly.
  • Keep an Emergency Kit with you: Food, water, blankets, first aid kit, and medication.
  • Share Your Plans: Always leave your itinerary with someone back home.
  • Acclimatize if Possible: If you plan to hike, camp or ski, spend 1-2 days acclimatizing to reduce your risk of altitude sickness.

9 Fun Things To Do at Berthoud Pass

There are many fun things to do at Berthoud Pass and the surrounding wilderness areas. Here are nine suggestions to start planning your next adventure in the mountains.

1. Hiking Trails

There are dozens of hiking trails and routes that begin at Berthoud Pass. You can park in the summit parking lot or at one of the lower pull-of areas along US 40.

Here are four of my favorite hiking trails near Berthoud Pass to consider:

Butler Gulch Trail - 5.5 mi

This hike takes you up Butler Gulch, starting lower along US 40 and south of the pass itself, closer to Empire. Read More

Second Creek Trail - 2.3 mi

This short hike is excellent for families and kids and begins on the north side of the pass closer to Winter Park. Read More

Colorado Mines Peak Trail - 3.9 mi

This trail begins at the summit and follows a road to the top of Colorado School of Mines Peak. It’s a quick hike that will provide spectacular summit views. Read More

Continental Divide Trail

For those looking for a longer hiking trail for backpacking and overnight trips, consider the Continental Divide Trail! It crosses the pass and runs all the way from new Mexico to the northern US-Canadian border. Read More

2. Skiing or Snowboarding

People have been skiing and snowboarding for nearly 100 years, ever since the road started to stay open during the winter in 1930 (and most likely even before that). Today, there are dozens of backcountry ski routes accessible at the summit, along with Winter Park Ski Resort just north of the pass.

NOTE: Avalanche danger is very high at Berthoud Pass: Know before you go!

3. Scenic Drive

Berthoud Pass Scenic Drive

Berthoud Pass is an ideal scenic drive, especially for those traveling west or north to Steamboat Springs from Denver. As you ascend from Interstate 70, you will pass through several different biomes and have opportunities to view elk, moose, eagles, black bears, and other wildlife. There are numerous pull-off areas where you can stop to enjoy the views.

4. Nature Photography

Keep your camera close! Berthoud Pass offers great options for photographers. Whether your focus is landscape photography, wildlife, dramatic weather or adventure sports, there is no shortage of subjects along US Highway 40 and the mountain pass.

5. Visit a Mountain Town

There are multiple mountain towns near Berthoud Pass worth visiting, both to the north and south. These are my three favorite places to spend an afternoon or grab a bite to eat.

Winter Park, Colorado

Winter Park Berthoud Pass

Winter Park is the most well-known town near the pass, 11 miles north along US 40. Home to a large ski resort, it has many shops and places to eat along the highway. Check out Deno’s Mountain Bistro and the Winter Park Winery, my favorite spots in town! 

Empire, Colorado

Empire, located south of the pass, is much smaller than Winter Park, with only a few small stores and restaurants scattered along the main street. While your choices are more limited, it has a lot of small-town charm and a rich history to explore.

Idaho Springs, Colorado

Idaho Springs is just past Empire along Interstate 70. It is the largest of the three mountain towns near Berthoud Pass, with dozens of places to eat, locally owned breweries, and attractions like the Argo Mine Tour and Idaho Hot Springs. If you have the time to add a stop here, I recommend it!

6. Off-Roading

There is a vast network of 4WD roads in around Berthoud Pass, including the Forest Road that continues to the top of Jones Pass to the west. These are great for getting deeper into the backcountry for hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting. 

Check out the Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Map here for more information.

Motor Vehicle Use Map Berthoud Pass

7. Dispersed Camping

Disperse camping is available on most forest lands surrounding Berthoud Pass and along the Forest Service roads in the area. The best areas are closer to Jones Pass, which requires 4WD and is quieter as a result. 

For those seeking a campground, the Mizpah Campground is located south of the pass with six sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Learn more about the campground here.

8. Climb a Colorado 13er

13ers Near Denver

With easy access to the Continental Divide, there are many peaks and mountains you can climb from the pass. The tallest are three thirteeners that are all situated on the divide itself, east of Berthoud Pass. They can all be summited via a class 1 hiking route:

Mount Flora - 13,127 ft

The shortest of the three thirteeners, Mt Flora is just a short distance past the summit of Colorado School of Mines Peak. It is the easiest of the three to climb. Read More

Mount Eva - 13,131 ft

Mount Eva is further along the divide from Flora, but only four feet taller. Essentially, you lose a few hundred feet after Flora, reach a saddle, and then regain it to reach the summit. Read More

Parry Peak - 13,373 ft

The third and tallest thirteener is Parry Peak. It is the most difficult of the three to climb, with a 12.5-mile route and 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Start early to return below the tree line before afternoon thunderstorms become a hazard. Read More

9. Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing

If you are not a fan of downhill skiing and adventure sports, you have other options. There are great snowshoe and cross-country skiing routes near Berthoud Pass.

For example, you can climb the thirteeners above in winter when avalanche conditions are safe or cross-country ski along the road that leads to Colorado School of Mines Peak.

Leave No Trace While Visiting Berthoud Pass

Berthoud Pass in Colorado is a spectacular gateway to the mountains. This means the summit gets a lot of visitors, including many people who do not know the impact of their actions. It is critical to use Leave No Trace practices while visiting to protect this amazing area for future generations. Here are some specific tips to keep in mind:

  1. Stay on the Trail: Fragile tundra is easily trampled and takes decades to recover.
  2. Give Wildlife Space: Even deer, moose, and elk can injure you if not given enough space.
  3. Be Courteous to Others: Keep your noise to a minimum and help others in need.
  4. Park and Camp in Designated Areas: Do not setup camp or leave vehicles on tundra.
  5. Be Prepared for Your Visit: Check the weather and conditions and plan accordingly.
  6. Pack Out Your Waste: Carry out your garbage and use the bathroom at the summit.

 

Learn more by reviewing our LNT Guide with more than 30 different Leave No Trace tips.

FAQs - Berthoud Pass

If we have not addressed your question below, leave them in a comment, and we will get back to you with more information and an answer as soon as possible.

Q: Is Berthoud Pass hard to drive?

A: Berthoud Pass can be challenging due to its steep grades on both sides and numerous switchbacks, making it a “white-knuckle drive” for those not accustomed to mountain driving. Winter conditions can further complicate the drive with heavy snowfall, requiring a steady hand and confidence in navigating mountainous terrain​​.

A: The pass that leads to Winter Park is Berthoud Pass. It serves as a high mountain route between the upper valley of the Fraser River in Middle Park to the north and the upper Clear Creek Canyon to the south.

A: Yes, Berthoud Pass is plowed and maintained by local road crews, especially during the winter months, to keep it accessible year-round​​. It does close during winter storms occasionally for avalanche mitigation and control.

A: While Berthoud Pass is plowed and maintained, driving conditions can vary, especially in winter. It’s considered safe for those experienced in mountain driving, but caution is advised due to the steep grades, switchbacks, and potential for icy conditions.

A: The Berthoud Pass ski area closed due to various factors over the years, including operational challenges and changes in ownership. It was once a popular skiing destination but has since transitioned to a spot for backcountry skiing and snowboarding.

A: Yes, Berthoud Pass crosses the Continental Divide, offering breathtaking views and serving as a key route through the Rocky Mountains. You an easily access the Continental Divide Trail from the summit.

A: Berthoud Pass is known for its numerous switchbacks, which contribute to its reputation as a challenging drive. The exact number can vary depending on how one counts the turns, but there are approximately 12 switchbacks along the entire route. Drivers should be prepared for a winding ascent and descent.

A: Yes, there are bathroom facilities available at the Berthoud Pass trailhead, which include a warming hut with vault toilets. This makes it a convenient stop for travelers and outdoor enthusiasts spending time in the area​​.

A: The drive over Berthoud Pass, covering approximately 36 miles, typically takes about 45-60 minutes under normal conditions. However, this can vary based on weather, traffic, and driving speed​​.

A: Berthoud Pass is located in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It provides a scenic and vital link between the towns of Empire and Winter Park, traversing some of Colorado’s most beautiful landscapes.

Additional Reading:

These are some additional websites and resources with helpful information about Berthoud Pass, Colorado. If you know of any other links we should include, mention them in a comment and we will add them to the list during our next article update.

Berthoud Pass Visitor Guide

Berthoud Pass, Colorado: Now You Know!

While Colorado is home to dozens of different mountain passes, Berthod Pass is one of my favorites. It is close to Denver, offers many different things to do, and can be accessed all-year round! Whether you hope to backcountry ski, climb a 13er, or enjoy the views along the Continental Divide, visiting Berthoud Pass is a great choice. I hope this guide helped you learn what you needed to plan and prepare. Safe travels on the trail!





Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.





Enjoy this Article? Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Join 4,000+ other subscribers and receive mountain news updates, route guides, gear reviews, and other articles in our twice-monthly email newsletter.





Leave a Reply





Hi, I'm Alex!

In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

Learn more about how we protect public lands and prevent SAR calls through education & advocacy.

Join 5K Subscribers!

Get the latest mountain news, hear about training opportunities and gear discounts, receive new resources, and learn to advocate for public lands as a Next Summit Newsletter subscriber.

14er Planner

Download my Colorado 14ers Planner for Your Next Summit!

Subscribe and get my free planner with all 58 peaks in the perfect climbing order.

14er Planner

Download my Colorado 14ers Planner for Your Next Summit!

Become a subscriber to download my free 14er planner. It lists all 58 peaks in the perfect climbing order. Get it now & start planning!