Looking to make the most of fall in Colorado this year? Personally, I think fall is the most magical time in the mountains of Colorado, but the secret is knowing when/how to experience it. Here’s the thing: autumn colors in the mountains of Colorado are extremely fleeting, so you need to time it right or you’ll blink and miss it! My first two fall seasons living in Colorado, I did not have it figured out and missed the colors altogether (I was used to fall colors in the Midwest which happen later)! But when you catch those aspens at their peak colors, nothing is better. This blog post will walk you through all the must-see places and must-have fall experiences in Colorado that you do NOT want to miss!
When are fall colors best in Colorado?
Plan to do the majority of your leaf-peeping from mid-September to mid October. Yes – fall begins much earlier in high altitudes and colder temperatures. For this reason, you’ll want to keep an eye on temperatures in the mountainous areas you plan to visit. The colder the temperatures, the earlier the leaves will begin to change. I typically recommend venturing to higher altitudes in September and staying closer to the front range in early to mid October.
Where should I go for the best fall colors?
WEEKEND TRIPS (2-4 DAYS)
Head there mid to late September for best colors. It’s a 6-7 hour drive from Denver, so plan to take at least a 4 day weekend to enjoy the area. Be sure to pack layers and check the local weather prior to your trip. Temperatures can get into the 30s this time of year – especially if you plan to camp!
· Take the free gondola at Telluride Station
· The annual Blues + Brews Festival – this typically falls in late September which is perfect for colors!
· Go for a stroll on Main Street + enjoy outdoor rooftop dining/drinking
· Enjoy some end-of-season camping at Alta Lakes!
· Head to the Sunnyside Lookout for incredible views + photos
· Be sure to take advantage of the hiking trails listed below! *BONUS – many trails in Telluride begin right there in town requiring minimal extra driving*
Where to Hike- be sure to look into parking + conditions before going
· Jud Wiebe Memorial Trail – 3 miles and listed as easy to moderate
· Bridal Veil Falls – 5 miles and listed as moderate
· Bear Creek Trail – 5 miles and listed as moderate
· Hope Lake Trail – 6 miles and listed as moderate
· See Forever Trail – 5 miles and listed as moderate
· Telluride Via Ferrata – 3 miles and listed as hard (required rock climbing and is typically done with a guided service)
· Ice Lake Basin – 9 miles and listed as hard (about an hour from Telluride but worth the drive)
Being a 5 hour drive from Denver, I recommend a 3 or 4 day weekend in late September to scope out fall colors at their absolute prime! Be sure to pack layers and check the local weather prior to your trip. Temperatures can get into the 30s this time of year – especially if you plan to camp.
· Drive Keblar pass for prime fall foliage
· Take a scenic chairlift ride at Mount Crested Butte Resort
· Take a drive on Cottonwood pass for expansive scenic views
· Rent bikes in town to check out the local shops, restaurants, and more!
· Crested Butte Film Festival – typically takes place end of September through beginning of September
· Hit up some local hiking trails listed below!
Where to Hike-
· Snodgrass Mountain Trail – 6 miles and listed as moderate
· Brush Creek – 5 miles and listed as easy
· Keblar Pass/Irwin Lake – 2 miles and listed as easy
· Twin Lakes Trail – 6 miles and listed as moderate
· Green Lake via Carbon Trail – 5 miles and listed as moderate
· Crested Butte Meadows Loop – 6 miles and listed as easy
General recommendations- This is a much closer drive from Denver (2 hours) so a standard weekend will work just fine. I recommend beginning of October for prime colors here. Be sure to enjoy the views on Berthoud Pass to and from Grand Lake!
· Rent a boat or paddleboards for the day with friends – enjoy the colors from out on the water
· Check out the Grand Lake entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and keep your eyes out for wildlife!
· Enjoy the quaint town of Grand Lake – many restaurants have live music and cozy patios
· Go for an off-road adventure and explore the area by ATV!
· Go fishing down by the lake
· Take in the fall foliage at Farview Curve Lookout
· Hit the trails for some epic hiking (listed below)!
Where to Hike-
· East Inlet Trail to East Meadow Camp – 2.5 miles and listed as easy
· East Inlet Trail to Adams Falls – 5 miles and listed as moderate
· Emerald Lake Trail – 3.2 miles and listed as moderate (located in Rocky Mountain National Park so will require a park pass)
· The Loch via Glacier Gorge Trail – 5.5 miles and listed as moderate (located in Rocky Mountain National Park so will require a park pass)
· Monarch Lake Loop Trail – 4 miles and listed as easy
· Alberta Falls and Bear Lake – 2.5 miles and listed as easy (located in Rocky Mountain National Park so will require a park pass)
· Shadow Mountain Fire Lookout Trail – 9.5 miles and listed as moderate to hard
DAY TRIPS OR SINGLE-NIGHT TRIPS
Located about 1.5 hours from Denver, this pass has become the most popular pass for a day trip of leaf peeping in the fall! Known for its absolutely brilliant fall foliage, it does get quite packed in the fall. The best time to go is beginning of October and I recommend going early in the AM or later in the evening to avoid the crowds. Kenosha Pass North is a quite popular hiking trail, is 6 miles total and is listed as moderate.
Located 3.5 hours from Denver, I recommend making this a single-night trip towards the end of September. The Maroon Bells are a Colorado must-see located in Aspen. You’ll need to take the shuttle, which can be reserved HERE. Be sure to bring your camera, because the Maroon Bells in the fall are one of the most beautiful sites! There are numerous hikes in this area, but the most classic is the Maroon Bells Scenic loop, which is 2 miles and listed as easy.
Located 3.5 hours from Denver, I recommend making this a single-night trip towards the end of September. This pass is situated on the Continental Divide near Steamboat and offers expansive views. The Buffalo Pass Trail is ideal for fall foliage, is 3 miles long and listed as easy. *BONUS – you can check out the town of Steamboat and hit up Strawberry Hot Springs afterward *
Located only 1 hour from Denver, this mountain pass in Georgetown is perfect for an autumn day trip! You can drive the pass, take a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad or take a hike to Geneva Mountain via Guanella Pass Road (8 miles and listed as moderate).