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With social distancing likely to be around for a while, when you want to have fun this fall, your best options can be found outdoors. In Colorado, autumn brings brilliant foliage that can be enjoyed amongst spectacular scenery in its top vacation destinations. From soaking in hot springs and breathtaking scenic drives to big thrills like sandboarding, here are just of few things you can do this fall in the Rocky Mountain State.
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Many of Colorado’s hot springs have re-opened, with special rules to ensure the safety of guests, including Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, a luxurious mountain resort with numerous geothermal springs, including 30 small pools that are right inside Chalk Creek, which runs alongside the property for a fabulous natural soak. Visitors can purchase day passes or spend the night in one of the many different cabin options. Limited spa services are available too, including massage, and the outstanding Mary Murphy Steak House on-site is open as well.
There are many reasons to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall. This is the time of year that you’ll often hear the elks bugling as it’s elk mating season, and you’ll have the opportunity to spot all sorts of other wildlife as well, like moose, deer and Bighorn sheep. Of course, it also offers spectacular leaf-peeping opportunities. Take a drive on Trail Ridge Road which runs through the park and you’ll see lots of golden bronzes, brilliant yellows and fiery orange hues.
One of the most beautiful stretches of roadway in Colorado, the Million Dollar Highway is a 25-mile-long route along US 550 that travels between Silverton and Ouray in the southwestern part of the state. While it’s stunning all year long, autumn is arguably the best time to embark on this short trip. The endless twists and turns that follow along the edge of sheer cliffs are renowned for showcasing Switzerland-like views that include the towering jagged peaks of the San Juan Mountains. Combined with the vivid foliage colors, it’s a jaw-dropping sight. After reaching Ouray, stick around and enjoy the town’s natural hot springs and many other allures.
During the summer, the sand in Great Dunes National Park can get as hot as 140 degrees, but come fall, it’s much more pleasant here and it feels as if you’re standing in the middle of the Sahara, without flying overseas. Tucked between the San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Desert, it’s home to the country’s tallest dunes, some soaring over 700 feet while providing the chance to try sandboarding or sand sledding. You’ll need a sled or board that was specifically made for sand, not something made for the snow. They have a special design with the extra slick base material and special wax and can be rented at outfitters like Kristi Mountain Sports in the San Luis Valley.
Colorado is home to countless rivers that provide thrilling whitewater for rafting, and many outfitters have plans in place that allow for social distancing and sanitizing of equipment. While the water levels dip significantly by fall, if you go in September, the Arkansas River will provide easy and technical rapids, depending on the run chosen, with the crowds gone and the water crystal-clear, while autumn foliage offers a gorgeous backdrop. It’s one of the most popular rafting rivers in the country, with departure points from destinations like Buena Vista, Salida and Canon City.
Fall is apple season and in Colorado, there are many farms that allow you to pick your own and enjoy them sliced, baked, sauced, candied, juiced, in pies or fried over pork chops. Ya Ya Farm & Orchard in Longmont, a more than 100-year-old orchard using organic practices to grow its signature variety of heirloom apples. Not only can you fill up a bag with fresh apples here but you can enjoy all types of other activities like pressing your own cider and cuddling with the farm animals. There are Percheron Draft Horses, chickens, turkeys, and peacocks here, along with spots for picnicking.
It just isn’t fall without visiting a pumpkin patch or running through a corn maze, and thankfully, you’ll still have the opportunity to do that here in Colorado. While there are are many different options, you’ll find the longest-running corn maze at Anderson Farms in Erie, with a 25-acre corn maze and a pumpkin patch. While plans are in the works to change things up while keeping the health and safety of staff and guests in mind, some of the other activities they’ve traditionally had include hayrides, gem mining, gourd launching, and pedal karts. Some rather spooky attractions are added for Halloween, like the ghost town, Zombie Paintball Hunt and Terror in the Corn.
*Check the official website before you go for the latest information.
Located south of Pikes Peak near Canon City, Royal Gorge offers all sorts of thrills, and as zip-lining is generally a solo activity, it’s the perfect thing to enjoy while social distancing. The zip line tours whiz across the breathtaking canyon and includes the world’s first “flight line” free fall belay system. There are 20 zip lines in total, from classic to extreme courses that span over three miles. While the classic course is the most popular, adrenaline seekers won’t want to miss the Extreme Zip Line Course, considered to be one of the fastest courses in North America.
While Breckenridge normally hosts Oktoberfest, this year they’ve redesigned the celebration to suit social distancing. Renamed Oktober-FEAST, the event will be held over two back-to-back weekends, September 25th-27th and October 2nd-4th. It will consist of local restaurant chefs choreographing unforgettable Bavarian-style mountain dining experiences. Multi-course meals will be paired with creative libations, showcasing their unique take on traditional German dishes. The first weekend will run simultaneously with a newly extended, pedestrian-friendly, Walkable Main that allows for plenty of outdoor dining opportunities.
There are thousands of miles of off-road trails open to off-road vehicles like ATVs, four-wheel drives and motorcycles throughout the state providing a ton of fun for thrill-seekers. Close to Telluride at Lizard Pass you can ride while taking in the awe-inspiring views of the San Juan Mountains blanketed in their autumn hues. West of Fort Collins at Red Feather Lakes, the Roosevelt National Forest features over 100 miles of double-track ATV trails and near Grand Junction in western Colorado, the Grand Mesa Trails provide miles and miles of trails for all skill levels, including the more advanced, passing glistening lakes, lush meadows and dense forests.
You’ll find some of Colorado’s most dramatic autumn transformations in areas where there are lots of Aspen trees which you’ll find in the heart of the Rockies, including historic Crested Butte. There are massive groves here where you’ll be surrounded by gold, with the best time to come to see the magnificent display in early fall. The Three Lakes Loop is one of the best for enjoying it, and it’s suitable for nearly all fitness levels. The 2.8-mile roundtrip trek showcases the largest aspen forest in the state, making it ideal for leaf-peeping while providing lake access too.
There are miles and miles of mountain biking trails throughout the state so if you like to ride you’ll have a nearly endless list of options. Aspen is a top spot and hosts Sky Mountain Park, one of its newest trail systems. There are multiple ways to reach the park, with the most popular route from the Aspen bike path that starts on Hopkins Avenue in downtown Aspen. Ride for about two miles until passing the Buttermilk bus stop, turn left at the next pedestrian tunnel, continuing until it begins ascending and then climb the Airline Trailhead that will be to your right. It travels to the intersection with Cozyline, providing access to the Sky Mountain Park trail, Skyline, and Deadline.
The Denver Zoo has reopened, limiting the number of visitors per day to provide for recommended physical distancing and fall is a great time to come with summer’s heat fading. It’s home to over 4,000 animals from 750 different species, from delicate butterflies to slithering reptiles and lumbering elephants. In Predator Ridge you can hear the roar of a lion and at Northern Shores, watch the frolicking polar bears. Primate Panorama is always a hit with its fun and curious orangutans.
Mesa Verde National Park is located near the Four Corners area of Colorado and is a fantastic place to visit in the fall with few crowds and pleasant weather. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was once the home of the Ancestral Pueblo people who inhabited the area for over 700 years, settling around 550 AD. The park preserves nearly 5,000 archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.