fall foliage in Rocky Mountain national park
Outdoor Adventures, Travel

Best Places to View Colorado’s Fall Colors

Colorado is arguably one of the most beautiful places to see fall colors in the west! Not only is our state covered in endless aspen groves that turn gold every autumn, but our forests are full of colorful shrubs and grass that also change into bright oranges and red every year. With so many of our aspen groves nestled below rugged mountain peaks, it’s no wonder why so many people plan trips here during the fall.

Did you know that you have to time it right to see them at their peak? Different areas throughout the state peak at different times. Here are the predictions for this year:

  • Northern mountains: Late September
  • I-70 area: Late September
  • Central mountains: Late September to Early October
  • Southern mountains: Early to Mid-October

Grab your hiking shoes and load up the car. It’s time to go leaf peeping! Here’s where you can find gorgeous spots to view fall colors throughout Colorado.

Aspen

There’s nothing more Colorado than viewing the most photographed peaks towering over groves of golden aspen trees just outside the appropriately named mountain town of Aspen! We’re talking about the iconic 14,000-foot Maroon Bells. The scenic Maroon Bells wilderness area offers fantastic hiking trails year around. Still, the views are unbeatable in the fall when the aspens surrounding Maroon Lake turn to a glittering gold below the iconic purple and white striped mountains. Reservations for the shuttle bus that goes to the Maroon Bells are required and can be obtained here.

Can’t get a reservation to check out the Maroon Bells? No problem! There are plenty of other places around Aspen to view the fall foliage. Check out one of the recommended hiking trails we listed below. For a bonus of fall foliage in the area, drive Independence Pass on the way into Aspen. It’s one of Colorado’s many paved high elevations passes, peaking at over 12,000 feet. You’ll enjoy the scenic drive with plenty of leaf peeping along the way!

Peak Foliage: Late September

Recommended Hiking Trails: West Maroon PassEast Maroon PassCathedral Lake TrailAmerican Lake Trail

Crested Butte

If experiencing the incredible fall foliage in Colorado is on your bucket list, head over to Crested Butte this autumn! The charming mountain town is home to the largest aspen grove in North America. You’ll be treated to miles upon miles of fiery aspens among evergreen forests. You can’t go wrong with a road trip to Crested Butte during the fall.

If you’re planning to drive to Crested Butte from Denver, take Cottonwood Pass for the ultimate scenic fall drive. Once you’ve arrived in Crested Butte, check out Kebler Pass or Ohio Pass for foliage. You can spend the day viewing the aspens from your car or stop at any of the trailheads along the way to take in the fresh mountain air.

Peak Foliage: Late September

Recommended Hiking Trails: Cliff Creek TrailLower Loop TrailBeaver Pond TrailDark Canyon Trail

Wake up early and enjoy a cup of coffee on Kenosha Pass. Ceramic mugs available in-store only.

Kenosha Pass

Kenosha Pass, located west of Denver, runs through one of the premier long-distance trails in the country, the Colorado Trail, which stretches from Durango to Denver, totaling 527 miles. This part of the Colorado Trail has become the spot to see vivid fall colors close to Denver. As soon as you step out of the car, you’re surrounded by golden aspens looming over the Colorado Trail on both sides of the road. Kenosha Pass is only an hour and a half drive, attracting many visitors each year. Everyone from hikers to backpackers and mountain bikers loves this trail segment.

There’s plenty of parking on either side of the pass, but it does get packed on weekends. Plan your visit during the week, or wake up early to enjoy your coffee on the trail and beat the crowds! If you’re looking for a full-day leaf-peeping adventure, pack a cooler and combine the drive to Kenosha Pass with Guanella Pass, another spectacular location for colorful leaves.

Peak Foliage: Mid to Late September

Recommended Hiking Trails: Colorado Trail

Georgetown

Georgetown has everything you would want in a historic mountain town. Delicious restaurants, charming shops along Main Street, great access to hiking, a train ride through the mountains, and fantastic leaf-peeping opportunities. One of the most unique ways to view autumn leaves is by rail. The hills surrounding Georgetown are dotted with golden aspens that pop against dark evergreens, and you get a front-row view of them when you take the train to Silver Plume. While only a 2-mile journey, it takes over an hour to reach the final destination, that’s a lot of time to take in the scenery!

Georgetown is also a favorite because of its popular high elevation pass that weaves through the mountains between I-70 and Highway 285, Guanella Pass. The drive is lined with aspen trees, but along the way, there are numerous trailheads that offer views of surrounding peaks, enchanting forests, alpine lakes, and plenty of autumn color.

Peak Foliage: Mid to Late September

Recommended Hiking Trails: Square Top LakesAbyss Lake TrailRutherford TrailBurning Bear Trail

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its excellent scenery year-round, but it comes alive during the fall. You don’t even have to get out of your car to enjoy it either! To see some of the best leaf peeping in the park, drive on Trail Ridge Road. One of the highest continuous paved roads in Colorado, it covers 48 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake and reaches an elevation of over 12,000 feet. It is the perfect vantage point to view the whole park bathed in yellow, orange, and red.

The brilliant hues aren’t the only thing that draws visitors in the fall. Around the same time as the changing leaves, hundreds of elk migrate from the high country to find a mate before winter sets in, the rut season. You can watch and listen to the elk as they bugle for a mate in many places throughout the park.

Peak Foliage: Mid to Late September

Recommended Hiking Trails: Glacier Gorge TrailTwin SistersAlberta FallsBierstadt Lake Loop

Telluride

The many aspen groves throughout the San Juan Mountains transform from bright green to brilliant yellows and golds starting late in September, giving you time to visit a few other locations throughout the state before heading to Telluride for late-season fall colors. There are many ways to view the array of hues here: hiking, ATV, scenic drive, or a free ride on the gondola. The views you’ll get from the mountain gondola include an aerial view of the town and the colorful valleys surrounding it that are lined with aspens and evergreens. You might even be able to see Bridal Veil Falls, the 365-foot waterfall located on the edge of town.

If you have the time, many high-elevation roads outside of Telluride are known for their spectacular display of fall colors. Last Dollar Road and the Million Dollar Highway are classic scenic drives in the area.

Peak Foliage: Late September to Early October

Recommended Hiking Trails: Jud Wiebe TrailBear Creek CanyonBridal Veil FallsHope Lake


Don’t wait to plan your leaf-peeping adventures! Fall in Colorado happens quickly, but luckily not all at the same time throughout the state. If you’re looking for more autumn inspo, check out these blog posts: Explore Colorado’s ​​Family-Friendly Fall Activities14 Unique Colorado Staycation Rentals, and 4 Recipes to Satisfy Your Pumpkin Spice Need.

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