If you live in Colorado, or happen to be visiting in late September or early to mid-October, you’re in luck, because it offers some of the best fall foliage around. Here’s where you can find the most gorgeous spots throughout Colorado for viewing autumn colors.
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Aspen is an obvious choice, famous for its brilliant display of, what else – aspens! This mountain town is surrounded by impressive hues of golden bronze and dazzling yellows and boasts an array of exciting outdoor attractions. On your way into Aspen, crossing Independence Pass, the highest paved pass in North America peaking at more than 12,000 feet above sea level, you’ll find one of the best fall foliage shows on Earth. Another option is to drive or take the shuttle from Aspen to the Maroon Bells, where you can see the stunning autumn colors with the jagged mountain peaks reflecting into Maroon Lake.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park offers magnificent scenery year round, but autumn is when it’s arguably at its best. To enjoy some absolutely jaw-dropping fall colors and scenery, take a drive on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in North America which snakes through the park from Estes Park to the east all the way to Grand Lake in the west. With more than eight miles above 11,000 feet and a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, it makes an ideal vantage point for leaf peepers and draws photographers from across the globe to capture all of those gorgeous hues.
Fall is also a great time to be in this park to watch, and listen, to the elk as it coincides with elk rut season, a time when the male elk vie for the hearts of females. Bugling is what many come to hear this time of year, a loud call that the bull uses to attract them.
The Million Dollar Highway Through the San Juans
The Million Dollar Highway follows the 25-mile stretch of US 550 between Silverton and Ouray in southwestern Colorado. While this drive is known as one of the most heart-pounding in the country, with endless twists and turns right at the edge of sheer cliffs, it also brings some of the most jaw-dropping vistas in the world – and, in autumn, some of the most spectacular color.
Peak to Peak National Scenic Byway
Colorado’s oldest scenic byway is the Peak to Peak Highway, and it’s ideal for those who don’t want to travel too far from Denver, accessible via just a little over an hour’s drive way. They byway passes a number of ghost towns, like Caribou, Hesse and Apex, multiple mining areas, and even gold mines where prospectors still pan for gold in the creeks, including somewhere the public can try to pan for their own sparkling treasure. There are also acres and acres of aspen stands that create a dazzling quilt of gold, yellow, orange, green and brown across the landscape.
Kebler Pass is one of the most photographed areas of the state during autumn, a stretch that covers the 30 miles between Crested Butte and Highway 133, climbing more than 10,000 feet past the old Keystone Mine. The road also passes through the once-booming mining towns of Irwin and Ruby, the lumber camp Telco and the coal mining town of Floresta. The area boasts the largest aspen grove on the continent, with miles and miles of aspen stands that peak out among the evergreen trees. You might want to start out at Ohio Creek Road, as it passes several unique natural landscapes like the series of ranch buildings that marks the abandoned site of Castleton and the impressive spires of “The Castles.” These are remnants of volcanic ash and mud that erupted from the West Elk Volcano some 30 million years ago.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is only a 45-minute drive west of Denver and offers 12,000 acres of aspen and pine forest, meadows and trails. It’s an ideal place for camping, fishing, hiking, biking and horseback riding, as well as leaf peeping. The canyon is lined with aspens, and from the Panorama Point Scenic Overlook, you’ll be able to see more than 100 miles of aspen trees along the Continental Divide. If you want to get a closer look, go for a hike on the Mule Deer Loop which will not only take you to the overlook, but the trail itself is lined with brilliant aspens.
For an unforgettable fall experience, head to Telluride, which is filled with both golden trees and numerous historic sights. It also features a gondola that will carry you up from the town to the Mountain Village for 360-degree views of the San Juan Mountains and aspen groves. From the top, you can hike one of the many trails to view the foliage close up. Lizard Pass is another great place to visit in the area. If you walk the 11-mile loop, which begins and ends at the base of the mountain, you’ll get breathtaking views of the Lizard Head aspens in the distance, and closer views of the Black Face aspens. After your outdoor adventures, take a break at one of Telluride’s cozy hotels.
There are lots of beautiful places for leaf peeping around Steamboat Springs, including Buffalo Pass, a dirt road just west of town, which is lined with row after row of dazzling aspen groves. The pass winds eight miles up toward the Continental Divide and Summit Lake, providing incredible vistas of the surrounding foliage. The Steamboat Lake Loop is also a stunner, with vast pockets of colorful aspen trees lining the lake, and multiple easy hiking trails around it, while Hahn’s Peak soars overhead.
La Veta Pass and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Peaking at an altitude of over 9,400 feet, La Veta Pass along US Route 160 in the southern region of the state just west of the small town of La Veta, is considered one of the most scenic fall drives in all of Colorado. The vivid golden aspen trees are mixed with dark green pines, while the glorious Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristo Mountains loom over the San Luis Valley.