Every time you drive over Independence Pass you see them, and each time you wonder what exactly they are. They’re the structures visible from Highway 82 on the far shore of the larger of the Twin Lakes, and with a little bit of driving and an easy hike or mountain bike ride, they make a great day trip from the Roaring Fork Valley.
The buildings you see are the remnants of a lakeside resort called Interlaken. Started in 1879, Interlaken was once a very popular tourist attraction for travelers who would ride the train to a nearby stop and then take a carriage or stagecoach to the resort. At its height, Interlaken boasted a hotel, tavern, pool hall and 16-stall horse barn among its other amenities.
The resort fell out of favor in the early 1900s when private irrigation interests built the first Twin Lakes Dam, and by the end of World War I, Interlaken was closed for good. In 1979 the buildings that remained were relocated and preserved by the Bureau of Reclamation to keep them from being inundated by the new Twin Lakes Dam. In all, about $425,000 was spent to save this little slice of Colorado history.
To get to Interlaken, take Highway 82 from Aspen over Independence Pass, and drive through the scenic village of Twin Lakes. Just past the dam at the far end of the larger lake, take a right onto a narrow dirt road and follow it a short distance across an open field. Just before you reach the trees, bear right and reach the end of the road near the shore of the lake. Here you will find a trailhead for a short spur of the popular Colorado Trail.
Hike or bike along the well-maintained, flat trail as it follows the contours of the lake, and soak up the spectacular views of the Sawatch and Tenmile ranges. After a couple of miles you’ll reach the first of the structures at Interlaken, the impressive Dexter family residence. Other notable buildings include the hotel, the barn and the six-sided privy, which was considered quite a novelty in its day.
Take some time to explore the buildings and the narrow spit of land that separates the two lakes before heading back along the trail, and then be sure to make a stop in Twin Lakes on your way back to Aspen. This tiny hamlet, famed for once having a dummy in a cop car parked alongside the highway to deter speeders, is a great place from which to launch a fishing expedition on the lakes or stage an assault on nearby Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak.
There are a couple of lunch options in Twin Lakes in the Windspirit Café and the Inn of the Black Wolf. Both of these seem to have rather sporadic schedules, however. Should you find them closed on your visit, you can always grab a snack and a cold beverage at the Twin Lakes General Store before heading back over the pass.