Who else is ready for the leaves to start changing? Show of hands!
Fall is a favorite time of year for many as it includes hoodies, hot chocolate, pumpkin spice *everything*, and the rich red, orange, and gold colors of the fall leaves. But you want to start packing up the car soon, because the current drought and dry conditions throughout the state will cause most tree species to turn colors earlier this year.
The National Drought Mitigation Center (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) has declared the entire state of Colorado as having some level of drought or abnormally dry conditions. These conditions, understandably, have extensive ramifications across the state: an increased need for water for agriculture, suffering crop production, increased wildfires, and reduced outdoor recreations. An unexpected outcome of a drought is the effect on the fall color change timeline.
The typical peak timeframe to see fall foliage is between mid-September and mid-October. The days are getting shorter and providing less sunlight to the trees, and that signals the leaves to stop producing chlorophyll (the green pigment during growth season). As the chlorophyll fades, the red and yellow colors become more visible before the trees let go of their leaves altogher.
A similar occurrence happened back in 2018. Colorado was experiencing a drought, and the fall colors arrived about a week earlier than usual.
There hasn't been a specific timeline set for leaves to start changing, but we'll update this with more information as that comes. In the meantime, here are a few favorite spots to capture the Rocky Mountain splendor and fall colors:
The highest drive to take in the fall colors is on Trail Ridge Road, through Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). RMNP is only accessible by entrance pass and a timed-entry permit. Entrance passes are available at the staffed park entrance stations. Reservations for a timed-entry permit can only be made online. For a small fee, you'll be provided with a window of time in order for you to enter the park. You will be asked to show your entrance pass, timed entry permit, and photo identification upon entry. Check out the park's FAQs on the timed-entry permits.
There are plenty of options that don't require passes or timed-entry permits. Check out Highway 67 between Woodland Park and Cripple Creek. Independence Pass (Highway 82) is open and beautiful in September. Kebler Pass, near Crested Butte, is part of the West Elk Loop. And don't miss the Grand Mesa Byway nestled in the Western Slope.
Are you excited to see the leaves changing colors earlier than expected? Sound off in the comments below.