The leaves are changing early this year, so whether you want to take a day trip or make a vacation of it, these routes will help you enjoy the foliage at its peak.

‘Tis the season for golds, reds, and blazing oranges to blanket the state. While it may seem too soon to catch the color, drought conditions across the state have resulted in a slightly early leaf change this year.

Areas like Steamboat, Frisco and even Denver are predicted to hit their aspen color peak Sept. 8-22. Aspen and surrounding areas will see the best colors on Sept. 16-30. Not to be beat, Ouray, Pueblo, and Trinidad areas are expected to peak Sept. 23-Oct. 6. And last, but not least, the southwest part of the state will be displaying all its glory Sept. 26-Oct. 8.

So, where can we go to live our best leaf-viewing life? Check out these drives that put the color in Colorado.

*Note: Many of these drives are on paved roads, but some may have gravel sections. Check out the road conditions before you hit these proverbial dusty trails.*

Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway

Lariat Loop

This loop is an easy one right from the Mile High City. It connects Morrison, Golden, Idledale, Kittredge, and Evergreen, as well as offers easy access to mountain foliage, trails, history (including way, way back history of the dinosaur age), and so much more.

Length: 40 miles
Directions and More Info

Pit stop: Take in unique sights like Buffalo Bill’s Museum and Grave, Red Rocks and Golden Gate Canyon State Park while you travel the loop. Or, you can wait until the off-peak leaf season and join the Morrison Cider Festival on Sept. 29!

Top of the Rockies

Top of the Rockies

This sky-high trip takes you from Copper Mountain to Leadville and west to Aspen. A majority of the 82-mile trip winds above 9,000 feet, taking you over the Continental Divide past historic mining camps and by the epic Mt. Elbert.   

Length: 82 miles
Directions and More Info

Pit Stop: Leadville is the nation’s highest-elevation incorporated city! It’s got Victorian-era charm mixed with hardscrabble history of the state’s mining days. Make a second stop at the Independence Ghost Town site, a former gold rush tent city.

Peak to Peak

Peak to Peak Loop

We are talking aspens for days on Colorado’s oldest scenic byway. Since 1918, travelers have been enjoying sweeping, breathtaking views on this 55-mile road that winds from mining bergs turned casino towns, Black Hawk and Central City, to Estes Park.

Length: 55 miles
Directions and More Info

Pit Stop: Estes Park, of course! Check out the town’s resident elk, tour the famous Stanley hotel and enjoy so much more in this gem of a mountain town. But, you really can’t go wrong with stopping by any of the towns on the trip. Central City boasts a beautiful Opera House dating back to the mining era. Blackhawk is steeped in history and some serious coin, all ready for the taking.

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road

Just a two-hour drive from Denver, this highway to the sky crests at 12,183 feet. This road does close in the winter and can close due to weather conditions at most any time, so get there early in the season to be safe. Check the status of the road here before you go.

Length: 48 miles
Directions and More Info

Pit Stop: Rocky Mountain National Park was ranked the 4th most popular park in American, and is bursting with wildlife, scenery galore and enough color to please all leaf lovers.  

Squaw Pass

Squaw Pass

Quick and easy, the Squaw Pass/Colorado 103 is the go-to scenic drive for leaf peepers on the move. You can start in either Idaho Springs or Evergreen and drive by the high-mountain Echo Lake and pass by Mount Evans for a breathtaking view of the beloved peak. You can’t go up to the top of Mt. Evans this time of year, as it closes around Labor Day, but it’s worth every mile just to see it in all its fall glory.

Pit Stop: Historic Idaho Springs is a fun little town. Grab some grub and some coffee and soak up the mountain vibes or visit the museums.

Length: 30 miles
Directions and More Info

Guanella Pass

Guanella Pass

The drive over Guanella Pass starts off of I-70 in Georgetown and takes you south on Guanella Pass Road to the town of Grant, which lies along U.S. 285. This popular route is 23 miles long, with about 12 of those miles unpaved, but fortune favors the bold, as the vivid autumn colors are worth it. This one’s a favorite among photographers!

Length: 23 miles
Directions and More Info

Pit Stop: Georgetown, the Silver Queen of the Rockies, is the picture of a perfectly preserved Colorado mining town. Stroll the shops, enjoy a meal and generally take in the history and the sweet mountain air.

Gold Belt Scenic Byway

Gold Belt Loop

Take a scenic drive out of Colorado Springs on the popular Gold Belt Scenic Byway. This historic drive takes you along railroad and stagecoach routes to some of the most prominent mining towns in the area, including Florissant, Victor, Canon City, Florence, and Cripple Creek. You could literally spend anywhere from two to eight hours winding your way through about 135 miles of road.

Length: 135 miles
Directions and More Info

Pit Stop: Anywhere! There’s tons of history all along the byway to enjoy. Grab some lunch in Cripple Creek and try to strike gold at the slots. Or, continue on to the Golden Loop Historic Parkway, made famous in the gold rush of the 1890s, which will take you through the Cripple Creek and Victor mining areas.

San Juan Skyway

San Juan Skyway

The San Juan Skyway is a straight-up state treasure. From jaw-dropping cliffs, almost unreal scenery and amazing fall color, you’ll find inspiration on the “Road to the Sky.” This drive passes through the historic mountain towns of Telluride, Durango, Silverton, Ouray and many more. It’s a trip that’s not to be missed any time of the year, but especially in autumn.

Length: 236 miles
Directions and More Info
 
Pit Stop: There is so much to do along the San Juan Skyway, so give yourself plenty of time to take it all in. Stop by Mesa Verde National Park and explore cliff dwellings, soak in the Old West feel of Durango or Silverton, or hop aboard the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Stunning Scenery Across the State

There are so many more scenic drives across our state that will give leaf lovers an eyeful (and some may not be too crowded)! Check out CDOT’s map of all of the byways Colorado offers.

Are there other scenic fall drives across our great state that we should check out? Let us know in the comments below.

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