By: Mary-Beth Skylis
Fall is often a two-month operation across the state of Colorado. Due to the varying elevations, leaf peepers get the chance to witness the changing hues in the high country as early as the beginning of September, while Fall often waits to visit the foothills until mid to late October. For this reason, Colorado offers one of the most extended and rewarding places to leaf peep in the entire country. From the foothills to central and southern Colorado, there are dozens of iconic Fall destinations across the state. Here are some of the best places to leaf peep in Colorado.
Close to Denver
Guanella Pass is about an hour and a half drive from Denver. Located in southwestern Clear Creek County, Guanella Pass is most well known for its proximity to fourteeners, Bierstadt and Mount Evans. But it’s also a renowned destination for leaf peeping. In fact, the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway gives drivers views of both the local mountain ranges, and the Aspens, which are always stunning at the height of the season.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
One of the most underestimated locations for leaf peeping in the state is Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Golden Gate Canyon State Park is home to a massive Aspen grove that makes it easy to get into the spirit of Fall. This state park is beginner friendly, and makes it fairly easy to get in a small walk while taking in all of the color. And it’s just a 45-minute drive west from downtown Denver.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park gives visitors multiple ways to leaf peep. They can either drive the classic Trail Ridge Road to witness the leaves from the car, or they can hike any number of trails throughout the park to get a close-up perspective. Just keep in mind that the park requires a timed entry permit from May through October, so you’ll have to plan ahead to get a glimpse of the park in the Fall.
Located southwest of the town of Aspen, Maroon Bells are the most photographed peaks in North America. But they also feature lots of Aspen trees (after which the town is named), which makes the area a great spot for leaf peeping. But Maroon Bells get busy quickly, so it’s important to either get an early start or to go with a flexible itinerary to get your leaf fix. Parking fills up fast! Nearby Independence Pass is another spectacular destination for leaf peeping in Colorado.
Located near the center of the Colorado Rockies, Kebler Pass is home to one of the biggest Aspen groves in North America, which makes it a phenomenal place to leaf peep. The leaves in this area usually reach peak color in October. About a 4 hour away from Denver, the nearby town of Gunnison, near which Kebler Pass is located, is also a great place to relax, unwind, and to experience the local cuisine and ski culture.
Like the town of Gunnison, Crested Butte is best known for its winter sports. But it’s also a great destination for those who are interested in getting a glimpse of Fall in the high-country. Due to the high elevations, Fall tends to come early to this part of Colorado. But if you get the chance to catch it, you might visit some of the state’s best leaf peeping destinations like Ohio Pass, Brush Creek, and Washington Gulch. And chances are that the crowds won’t be nearly as unmanageable as they are near metro-Denver.
Vail Valley is home to dozens of beautiful vistas. And these views are particularly spectacular in the Fall. Just two hours west of Denver, this region is home to the Holy Cross Wilderness Area and the Gore Range – both of which are home to notoriously challenging hikes. Those who are interested in the Fall views can witness them both from the comfort of their car or by foot, depending on their preference. Make sure to pack the 10-essentials if you’re headed into the backcountry for an extended hike.
Telluride is incredibly well known for its movie festivals and its skiing — and it’s also a phenomenal location to get your leaf peeping in. One common way that visitors experience the town is by taking the gondola to get an overhead view of the yellow aspen trees. Others might book a 4×4 tour of the town to get up close and personal with the trees. Keep in mind that the town of Telluride is about a 6 hour drive away from Denver, so most leaf peepers chose to spend the weekend in the area to optimize their time in the aspens.
San Juan Skyway
The San Juan Mountains provide some of the most awe-inspiring views in the entire state of Colorado. Home to tons of fourteen thousand foot peaks and truly remote wilderness, this region of the state can make for a relaxing and rewarding get away – especially in the Fall. Those who prefer to observe the changing aspens from their cars might consider taking the San Juan Skyway, where they can stop to tour a few different historical towns along the way. Like the town of Telluride, the San Juan Skyway is about a 6-hour drive from Denver.
Colorado gets a bad reputation for its Fall leaf peeping season because it lacks some of the dynamic colors of the east coast. But the yellow aspens contrasting with the browns and greens of the mountains make the state one of the best places in the country to welcome in the Fall season. Whether you are a local who is interested in taking a trip before winter hits, or you’re coming from out of town, chances are that you won’t be disappointed by this season’s Fall spectacle.