Where to See the Turning Leaves
Autumn doesn’t officially begin until September 23rd, but cooler weather has already moved into the Lyons area, heralding the changing of the leaves and the Fall foliage season. The maples, oaks, and aspens transform Colorado’s already beautiful countryside into a brilliant display of yellow, reds, oranges, and greens. This year may be even better than normal, due to wetter weather in late spring and summer. However, finding the best color could be hit or miss.
The best time to see the changing leaves depends on many factors including weather, elevation, and the health of the trees themselves. In general, the northern mountains start things off with their display ranging from mid to late September. The central mountains follow with their leaves changing from mid to late September through early October. In the south of the state you can count on early to mid October being the best time to view fall foliage.
If you’re looking for a great drive to see the leaves consider Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). It offers breathtaking views and takes you above 12,000 feet. Keep in mind you will need to purchase a time-entry permit before your visit and they may be hard to come by. Bear Lake Road in RMNP is also lovely and if you don’t get a time-entry permit you can fall back on the Highway 7 Scenic drive that begins in Estes Park.
Kebler Pass near Gunnison has one of the grandest aspen groves in the country. Bring your 4 wheel drive for this trip, as the pass is unpaved. Guanella Pass, west of Denver, is another lovely stretch of road to view the trees. You’ll also see Mt. Bierstadt along the way and if you’re lucky, a variety of wildlife. On the Georgetown side of the pass is the Historic Loop Railroad. Riding the hour-long loop on an old steam train is a great way to take in the scenery.
Other favorite drives include the San Juan Skyway and the Million Dollar Highway in the south, the Peak to Peak byway outside of Boulder, and the Dallas Divide near Ridgway. And that’s not all. There are so many great highways and byways to take your family (and your camera) on a colorful adventure. Colorado.com is a good resource if you’re looking for something off the beaten path.
If hiking through the fall foliage is more your thing, we have an embarrassment of riches statewide. You’ll need reservation to hike around Maroon Bells, but it is one of the most beautiful places to see the golden aspen trees. The Jud Wiebe Trail in Telluride comes highly recommended and there’s also a free 13 minute gondola ride that offers great views and access to local hiking and biking trails. Golden Gate Canyon State Park near Golden has 12 trails totalling 35 miles of hiking. Panorama Point Scenic Overlook is a must see if you visit. Later in the season try the San Juan Mountains’ Ouray Perimeter Trail. You’ll be glad you did.
The fall color season is just around the corner and shorter than you think. It’s a good idea to pick a few favorites and then do some research in advance. There may be peak times to avoid, in addition to permits or reservations to get. As you well know, it’s always smart to dress in layers this time of year and bring some basic provisions. The most important thing to bring though, is your friends and family, a camera, and a sense of wonder. Colorado really is a wonderful place to live!