Autumn is a beautiful time to visit Colorado. Temperatures have dropped, summer crowds have dispersed, and, best of all, the changing leaves create a stunning backdrop for outdoor exploration.
When is the best time to go leaf-peeping? Mother Nature decides; the season depends on how dry the summer has been and whether an early frost occurs. In general, leaves change color in Colorado between mid-September and mid-October, with leaves turning earlier in higher elevations than in lower elevations.
Best Places to Visit in Colorado in the Fall
Here are a few of my favorite places in Colorado to enjoy the outdoors and see the sights during an autumn trip.
Aspen is an obvious pick, noted for its spectacular display of, you guessed it, aspens! This mountain hamlet has remarkable golden bronze and dazzling yellow hues and a variety of intriguing outdoor attractions.
On your route into Aspen, traverse Independence Pass, North America’s highest paved pass, rising at more than 12,000 feet above sea level, to see one of the greatest fall color displays on the planet. Another alternative is to drive or take the shuttle from Aspen to the Maroon Bells, where you may enjoy the spectacular autumn colors reflected in Maroon Lake.
2. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park has spectacular scenery all year, but autumn is undoubtedly the best time to visit. Drive on the Trail Ridge route, the highest continuous paved route in North America, from Estes Park in the east to Grand Lake in the west to see some truly breathtaking fall colors and landscapes.
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With more than eight kilometers over 11,000 feet and a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, it is an ideal vantage point for leaf peepers and attracts photographers from all over the world to capture all the beautiful colors.
3. Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway
The Million Dollar Highway runs along US 550 between Silverton and Ouray in southwestern Colorado.
While this is one of the most heart-pounding drives in the country, with infinite twists and turns right on the edge of precipitous cliffs, it also provides some of the world’s most jaw-dropping panoramas and, in autumn, some of the most spectacular color.
4. The Peak to Peak National Scenic Byway
The Peak to Peak Highway is Colorado’s oldest scenic byway, and it’s great for those who don’t want to travel too far from Denver, as it’s only a little more than an hour’s drive away.
The byway passes various ghost towns, including Caribou, Hesse, and Apex, as well as numerous mining locations and gold mines where prospectors still pan for gold in the creeks, including a location where the public can try to pan for their own shining treasure. There are also vast swaths of aspen trees that provide a beautiful quilt of gold, yellow, orange, green, and brown across the landscape.
5. Kebler Pass
During the autumn season, Kebler Pass, a 30-mile section between Crested Butte and Highway 133 that climbs more than 10,000 feet beyond the old Keystone Mine, is one of the most photographed sites in the state.
The road also passes through the once-thriving mining towns of Irwin and Ruby, as well as Telco, a lumber settlement, and Floresta, a coal mining town.
The region is home to the continent’s largest aspen grove, with miles and miles of aspen stands peeking out among the evergreen trees. Start at Ohio Creek Road, which passes various distinctive natural landscapes, including the line of ranch buildings that indicate the abandoned site of Castleton and the towering spires of “The Castles.”
6. State Park, Golden Gate Canyon
Golden Gate Canyon State Park, located 45 minutes west of Denver, has 12,000 acres of aspen and pine woodland, meadows, and trails. It’s one of Colorado’s top state parks for camping, fishing, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, and leaf peeping.
There are canyons with beautiful aspens, and from the Panorama Point Scenic Overlook, you can see more than 100 miles of aspen trees along the Continental Divide. If you want a closer look, try a stroll on the Mule Deer Loop, which not only takes you to the overlook but also shows off the aspens.
Telluride is the place to go for a spectacular fall vacation. It has both golden trees and several historical sites. It also has a gondola that takes visitors from town to the Mountain Village, where you can enjoy 360-degree views of the San Juan Mountains and aspen groves.
Hike one of the several routes from the summit to get a close look at the greenery. Lizard Pass is another excellent destination in the area.
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You can obtain stunning views of the Lizard Head aspens in the distance and closer views of the Black Face aspens if you walk the 11-mile loop that begins and ends at the mountain’s foot.
8. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Buffalo Pass, a gravel road just west of the town and surrounded by row after row of brilliant aspen trees, is one of Steamboat Springs’ most breathtaking locations for leaf-peeping. The pass goes eight miles up into the Continental Divide and Summit Lake, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding scenery.
The Steamboat Lake Loop is equally beautiful, with wide patches of brilliant aspen trees along the lake and many simple hiking paths surrounding it as Hahn’s Peak soars above.
9. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the La Veta Pass
La Veta Pass, located along US Route 160 in the state’s southern section, just west of the small hamlet of La Veta, is regarded as one of the most spectacular fall drives in Colorado, reaching an elevation of nearly 9,400 feet. The vibrant golden aspen trees contrast with the dark green pines, and the majestic Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristo Mountains tower over the San Luis Valley.
10. Visit a Chile Festival in Pueblo
If you enjoy spicy foods, travel to Pueblo in September for the annual Chile & Frijoles Festival. The festival, which sources its chilies from local pepper growers, is intended to promote nearby farmers while also providing live entertainment, cooking contests, and street vendors selling everything hot and spicy.
The Chihuahua Parade and the numerous live cooking demos are among the must-see activities of this exciting weekend.
Every year, Colorado experiences a gold rush—and we’re not talking about gold nuggets. While it may not be the gold that the state’s pioneers sought, it is a different kind of treasure that returns to the Rocky Mountains year after year—the golden color of the shifting autumn leaves.
Colorado shines in the fall, with breathtaking scenery at every turn of the road, and there is plenty to do and see in between bouts of leaf-peeping.