Now that the weather is cooling down, are you ready for a Colorado road trip? But aren’t sure when or where to go?
Let’s chat about how to find the best places and times to view fall colors in Colorado.
Get out on a hike with your family, friends, or significant other! The aspen trees are especially beautiful during this time of year (especially around late September) – but there are many other breathtaking views that will give you a reason to take a trip out west this autumn season.
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If hiking isn’t your thing, check out some of these scenic drives for an amazing view from above!
Best Time To See Fall Colors In Colorado
The best time for great fall colors in Colorado is usually around mid-September through late October. But with our first good snow under our belts already this August, I suspect the leaves may change early this year!
The exact time to see fall colors in colorado really depends on which location you are focusing on. If you head out to Rocky Mountain National Park, the aspen and cottonwood trees will be at their peak around mid-September. For the most picturesque view of fall colors, head over to Estes Park. The aspen trees around this area are beautiful and will light up your hiking experience!
If you plan a trip to see the leaves changing color in Colorado, it is highly recommended to bring a rain jacket, because you never know when it’s going to rain or hail on you!
If you are planning on hiking during the fall season in Colorado, remember that temperatures will be low, especially at high elevations expect snow and freezing temperatures. Dress appropriately for the weather and pack extra layers (yes even in September). It can get cold out there!
One of the awesome things about Colorado is that different elevations and different parts of the state will change seasons at slightly different times. This gives you much more flexibility when planning your leaf-peeping trip! Maybe you can’t take off in September, so just go to lower elevations in October, or vice versa.
Here are general guidelines to help you figure out where to go & when:
Mid-September to early October, go above 9,500 ft
Late September to mid-October, go between 7,000 to 9,000 ft
Most of October, go between 6,000 to 8,000 ft
Early October to mid-November, stick to 5,280 ft
Know before you go: Check road conditions and closures ahead of time at www.cotrip.org
Check the most current fall color map of Colorado here.
Places To See Fall Colors In Colorado
Crater Lake – Granby, Colorado
This is another great spot to view fall colors in Colorado! If you are really lucky, you just might get to see a moose! It’s 15 miles round-trip to the lake, which makes for a long day hike or a perfect backpacking trip, just be sure to secure an overnight permit – they fill up fast! Even if you don’t make it all the way to Crater Lake there are lots of beautiful spots along the way and this trail isn’t usually too crowded, especially the farther in you hike.
Trail Ridge Road to Estes Park, Colorado
Not only do you get to see fall colors in Colorado at this spot, but you can see some awe-inspiring sights from above as well! It is a scenic drive through the alpine tundra where you might even spot some elk and moose along the way.
The drive alone is worth the trip, but if you are feeling adventurous, be sure to check out Bear Lake Trailhead; here you can take a hike that is about 8 miles long. It will bring you through some beautiful aspen groves and alpine meadows and give you views of Longs Peak.
Spring Creek Trail – Steamboat Springs, Colorado
This hike is about 10 miles round trip and winds through an old aspen grove. It starts right at the edge of town, making it easily accessible and perfect for viewing fall colors in Colorado! You might even spot elk or deer during your trek.
Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Loop – Fairplay, Colorado
One of the more secluded hikes on the list, this 12-mile loop is perfect for day hiking or a one-night backpacking trip. Filled with a wide variety of forests, creeks, and meadows, the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness will not disappoint anyone looking to get off the beaten path.
Colorado National Monument – Grand Junction, Colorado
If you are looking for a view that will take your breath away, this is the place to go! You can easily spend an entire day hiking around and exploring all of these amazing rock formations. This is one of my favorite places in Colorado – if you are visiting during the fall season, be sure to bring your camera along so you can take some amazing pictures!
Cheney Reservoir – Grand Junction, Colorado
This spot will leave you wanting to pack your bags and move out west! This is also a hidden gem for birdwatchers, be sure to bring your camera and binoculars if you have them. If you have time, be sure to check out the nearby homestead as well!
Fossil Ridge Trail to Boulder Lake – Gunnison, Colorado
This is another great spot to view all of the fall colors in Colorado. You can hike for miles along this trail less traveled. Just take it slow and be prepared, the trail is long and difficult. The best views are found high on the west side of the lake.
Difficult Creek Trail – Aspen, Colorado
This is one of the shorter, easier trails on this list. And again, one of the lesser-traveled trails especially for a high-traffic tourist destination like Aspen, but it offers a wonderful walk along a creek and through aspen groves.
Kebler Pass – Crested Butte, Colorado
Kebler Pass or County Road 12 is another amazing spot for hiking during the fall season! You can even see some great wildlife on your hike here. Bring water and snacks and take your time enjoying this stunningly beautiful mountain road.
Close To Denver
Squaw Pass – Evergreen, Colorado
This pass is home to some of the largest aspen tree populations in all of Colorado and it makes for a great fall hike! It will also bring you into close proximity to several mountain ranges. If you want to see more of this area without taking a multi-day trip, there are plenty of trails, including the CDT, that run through Squaw Pass.
Guanella Pass – Georgetown, Colorado
This pass is pretty close to the Denver area and I-70 and offers amazing scenery all year round. It is a great place for summer hikes, winter snowboarding, or fall leaf-peeping! Be sure to bring plenty of water with you because there are no sources located along this trail.
Keep in mind that some high mountain passes can require quite a bit of driving and you may need to hike further than expected. Hiking in the mountains can be dangerous if you are not well prepared. Be sure to bring plenty of water, let someone know where you are going and when they should expect you back, always wear appropriate footwear (hiking boots or sneakers), warm clothing, and hats! Always check the weather forecast before you go hiking, and make sure to apply sunscreen; it’s the best protection against getting a sunburn even in fall and winter.
Scenic Autumn Drives in Colorado
Peak to Peak Scenic and Historic Byway
This scenic drive runs along Hwy 72 from Black Hawk to Estes Park and provides excellent views of the Continental Divide without having to drive too far west from Denver. If you’re up for a hike, stop at one of the many trails in Nederland, Rocky Mountain National Park or Estes Park for a short wilderness getaway.
Last Dollar Road – Ouray, Colorado
Although this road is only open to residents with all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicles due to the steep grades and curves, it is worth it once you reach the top. You might be able to get away with a high clearance two-wheel drive in dry weather. It gives you a breathtaking view of fall colors in Colorado! Traveling this road in late September or October will give the best view of fall foliage.
Alpine Loop 4×4 Road – Ouray, Colorado
This road runs between Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass through beautiful mountains and aspen forests. You’ll pass through Ouray, Colorado, known as the Switzerland of America for its awesome, craggy mountain peaks. It is really a 4×4 road, do not attempt in low clearance vehicles.
Highway Of Legends – Trinidad, Colorado
This highway is a great place to take some amazing road trip pictures in southern Colorado! There are many sites and various colors and rock formations here that you won’t want to miss. Be sure to stop at the different rest stops along the way so you can really enjoy all of the incredible views and history of the land.
Grand Mesa Byway – Palisade, Colorado
This drive will take you through some of the most amazing old-growth forests, aspen groves, and meadows in all of Colorado. You can easily spend 2-3 days driving up and down this road as there are plenty of access points and too many lakes to count along the way. This is one of my favorite fall drives because it’s so beautiful!
San Juan Skyway – Durango, Colorado
This drive is a great choice if you only have a day to explore fall colors in Colorado. You’ll also pass through historic mountain towns like Durango, Silverton, Telluride, and Ouray. Be sure to pack your camera along because there are plenty of spots to stop and take pictures!
Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway – Buena Vista, Colorado
This drive is close to the Royal Gorge Bridge and offers plenty of fall colors. It has breathtaking views along the way so be sure to bring a camera! This road is open year-round although it may get icy in the winter months, so drive with caution!
If you’re a sucker for a cute, tiny mountain town, be sure to stop and stroll the main street of Buena Vista. It will not disappoint.
Telluride Free Gondola Ride – Telluride, Colorado
This is a must if you’re in the area! It is free so be sure to take advantage of it. You can ride this gondola as many times as you like during your visit. The ride itself takes about 13 minutes and offers great views of fall colors and surrounding mountains.
7 Fun Facts About Aspens To Annoy Your Friends With
- Leaves change from greenish-yellow to bright red and vibrant gold
- They are called “quaking” or “trembling” because the leaves are so sensitive that they shake with even a slight breeze
- It takes about 10 years for an aspen tree to grow big enough to produce seeds, fruit, and flowers
- Aspens can live up to 200 years! Although a typical lifespan is more like 40 years
- Their bark is thin and smooth, which makes them especially vulnerable to fire; their bark is not nearly as similar to Birch bark as it may appear – so stop trying to peel it off!
- Fire has actually benefited the aspen tree because it burns away underbrush and allows sunlight to reach the fragile seedling that has sprouted after the flames
- Aspens are known as a pioneer species because they can reestablish themselves easily after a wildfire since they grow from a root system that has adapted to frequent surface fires
Now go while the leaves are still on the trees and you can enjoy some of Colorado’s most beautiful sights. Fall is a special time to visit, so get out there before it is too late!
For more Colorado hiking tips, check out:
- The Ultimate Guide To Colorado Mountain Ranges
- Backpacking The Lost Creek Wilderness Loop
- How To Hike The Manitou Incline
- How To Conquer Your First Colorado 14er
About the author, Mallory Moskowitz:
After studying Recreation, Park & Tourism Management, Mallory spent several years teaching environmental education, guiding hikes, and leading backcountry trips. Her life-changing trek from Georgia to New York on the Appalachian Trail is what sparked the creation of Your Adventure Coach, to share backpacking tips and resources with as many new hikers as possible.