These prime leaf-peeping spots allow you to experience the best of Colorado's fall color palette.
Leaf-peepers flock to Colorado's mountains each fall to catch a glimpse of brilliant yellow aspen groves set against the cool blues and greens of the Rocky Mountain landscape. Fall leaf-peeping season is almost upon us—a little earlier than usual due to our dry conditions this summer. There have been predictions that the fall colors will be at their peak in northern mountain areas from September 12–24, followed by central mountain areas and then southern mountain areas toward the end of September and the first few days of October.
Looking for a great spot to take in the fall colors? Check out one of these prime spots!
Estes Park/Peak to Peak Highway
Photo by Sally Pearce on www.codot.gov
The Peak to Peak Highway—a designated Colorado Scenic Byway—is a 55-mile drive that begins as CO Highway 7 in Estes Park and ends at I-70 after passing through Nederland, Blackhawk, and Clear Creek Canyon. Tucked in among Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest, Estes Park provides a breathtaking start to the Peak to Peak drive, with views of brilliant yellow aspens on mountainsides around the park and within the town itself. Not only are fall colors on display in Estes Park during September and October, but visitors may also be treated to a glimpse of deer, elk, or moose hanging out near a river or in a grassy meadow.
Photo from Colorado.com
Located 10 miles west of Aspen, Maroon Bells is frequently labeled the most photographed place in Colorado, and fall is one of the most beautiful times to visit. Brilliant yellow aspen groves paint the valley occupied by a reflective lake and surrounded by the twin Maroon and North Maroon peaks. Due to its popularity and COVID-19 considerations, access to the area is restricted this year, but visitors can reserve a spot on a shuttle that will deliver them to best viewing spots.
Crested Butte – Kebler Pass
Photo from travelcrestedbutte.com
Heading west out of Crested Butte, Kebler Pass takes fall leaf seekers on a roughly a 3-hour drive with gorgeous views of the ruddy colors of the Ruby Range contrasted with golden aspens and green pine forests. According to Travel Crested Butte, Kebler Pass is home to one of the largest aspen groves in the world, and it grows from a single root system!
Photo from gobreck.com
Summit County offers endless opportunities to view fall colors. East of Breckenridge, the French Gulch area offers a rare opportunity to view both yellows and oranges in an aspen forest. Minerals in the soil give rise to red and coppery orange leaves among the traditional yellows of changing aspens. Or explore the Boreas Pass area on foot or by car. A century ago, cinders from an old narrow-gauge railroad caused forest fires that cleared the slopes and created fertile ground for vast aspen groves in the area, allowing visitors today to walk through beautiful yellow aspen tunnels.
Photo from Independencepass.org
The trip along Independence Pass travels between Aspen and Twin Lakes and takes about an hour, but you'll want to allow more time in order to take in the fall colors and snap a few photos. The drive takes travelers over the Continental Divide at nearly 13,000 feet and includes some steep and twisty stretches of road. There are several nearby opportunities to stop for a hike, including the popular Grottos area and Ruby abandoned mining camp to add to your fall adventure.
Guanella Pass. Photo from colorado.com
Begin near Historic Downtown Georgetown and head out on the scenic Guanella Pass Byway, which will take you past miles upon miles of changing aspen trees, beautiful waterfalls, and a variety of wildlife. The 22-mile journey ends at Highway 285 in Grant and takes about an hour to drive. Guanella Pass, at one time, was a burro trail. Now that it's paved, the road climbs all the way to the timberline and offers views of Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans.
Courtesy of Shotzr, Photo by Derek Johnson (@djvisuals)
Kenosha Pass area is a well-known and popular leaf-peeping destination southwest of Denver that attracts visitors each fall. A drive along Highway 285 between Grant and Jefferson provides gorgeous views of expansive aspen forests. But beware, traffic backs up for miles in September and October as leaf-peepers flock to the highly photographed area.
Last Dollar Road. Photo from Tellulride.com
Last Dollar Road in Telluride is an 18-mile unpaved byway connecting Telluride and Ridgway. The scenic alternate route winds through gorgeous aspen forests and provides unobstructed views of Sneffels Mountain Range and Wilson Peak. The rugged road is best traversed with a high-clearance vehicle.
San Juan National Forest
Photo from USDA Forest Service
Scrub oaks, aspens, and cottonwood trees paint a beautiful portrait of reds, oranges, and yellows in the San Juan National Forest in the southwest corner of the state. Take a drive along the 232-mile loop of the San Juan Skyway—a National Scenic Byway—to experience one of the most scenic drives in America. The San Juan Skyway passes through Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, Dolores, and Cortez.
Washington Park Colors. Photo from denver.org
You don't have to head for the hills to find beautiful fall foliage. Take a walk around Denver's Washington Park to enjoy autumn's brilliance while also enjoying the park's lakes, flowers, and wildlife. Denver is home to more than 200 parks and an abundance of trails that allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of nature in the heart of the city, including the 70-mile Highline Canal that is lined with Cottonwood trees that turn a brilliant yellow in the fall. Other parks that put on a fall show include Sloan's Lake and City Park.
Where do you like to view the fall colors in Colorado? Let us know in the comments below.