DENVER (August 13, 2013) – In the fall, Colorado is transformed into a natural arena of shimmering colors, with the state’s signature gold Aspen trees serving as the main act. Colorado is home to scenic and historic byways, high mountain passes, winding hiking and biking trails, national and state parks, and scenic railways, all of which offer many ways to soak in the amazing fall foliage that peaks between mid-September and mid-October.
Following are the top 10 ways to experience Colorado’s fall colors. Click here for more information on Colorado’s fall colors.
Rocky Mountain High. Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in North America, winds through Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park in the east to Grand Lake in the west. With more than eight miles above 11,000 feet and a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, Trail Ridge Road is an amazing vantage point for leaf peepers and is a favored spot for photographers. The Rocky Mountain Nature Association offers guided hikes and tours, as well as wildlife, nature and photo safaris. For an interesting twist, consider inn-to-inn hiking on The Walter Tishma Way. This 42-mile trek, offered by Footpaths of the World, combines four to six days of semi or fully guided hikes in Estes Park combined with evenings at rustic lodges and charming B&Bs. Rates start at $890 per person, double occupancy, and includes lodging with daily breakfast, sack lunches, luggage transfer, trekking poles, passes to Rocky Mountain National Park, shuttle service and more.
Photographer’s Favorite. Gunnison is home to Kebler Pass, which boasts the largest aspen grove in North America and is one of renowned photographer John Fielder's favorite places. Ohio Creek Road is a great starting point, as it passes some unique natural landscapes, including a series of ranch buildings marking the abandoned site of Castleton and the spires of “The Castles” – remnants of volcanic ash and mud that erupted from the West Elk Volcano some 30 million years ago.
Tires, Tracks and Trees. The San Juan Skyway, a breathtaking 236-mile loop through the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, offers visitors an amazing array of fall colors. Designated as an All-American Road, a National Forest Scenic Byway and a Colorado Scenic & Historic Byway, the Skyway includes a 70-mile stretch known simply as the “Million Dollar Highway.” The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers a special Fall Photo Train (September 27-29), which is scheduled to coincide with optimal fall foliage colors. Amateur and professional photographers ride the train into the remote wilderness of the San Juan National Forest where photo opportunities abound. Another unique way to experience Colorado’s fall colors is with Soaring® Tree Top Adventures, home to 27 zip lines that pass old growth Ponderosa forest Aspen trees as they turn into a range of golden yellows touched with orange.
Iconic Views Outside of Aspen. The iconic Maroon Bells, two towering 14,000-foot mountains nestled in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, are the most photographed peaks in North America. Located in the 2.3 million acre White River National Forest, the Maroon Bells tower over numerous hiking trails that offer unbeatable views of golden aspen trees set against pines and other features, including clear alpine lakes. The area is accessible by car, however buses run daily through Labor Day and on weekends through October 6 from Aspen Highlands. Cost is $6 per adult or $4 for children ages 6-16 and seniors. Children six and younger ride for free.
Classic Western Colors. Colorado’s Western Slope is home to the Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat top mountain, and Colorado wine country. In addition to the reds, whites and rosés made in Grand Junction and Palisade, fall brings with it glorious colors. The Powderhorn Mountain Resort in Mesa is known for its amazing skiing, but in the fall, vibrant scrub oaks contrast with golden shimmering aspens along the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway. During the Fall Fest at Powderhorn (September 21-22), guests can access chairlifts along the mountain, offering a bird’s eye view.
Into the Wild. Rugged Buffalo Pass, a dirt road just west of Steamboat Springs, is lined with rows of glowing aspen groves. The pass winds eight miles up toward the Continental Divide and Summit Lake, offering stunning views of the surrounding foliage. As the fall colors become more robust, locals recommend a hike to the pristine Zirkel Wilderness Area, one of the five original Colorado wilderness areas designated by the 1964 Wilderness Act. Located in the Routt National Forest, the Zirkel Wilderness Area is home to the Three Island Lake Trail, which takes hikers through coniferous forests and high meadows, past glacial lakes and vistas along the lush Elk River Valley. The 6.1-mile (round trip) trail is moderate in difficulty.
Scenic Southern Colorado. Peaking at an altitude of more than 9,400 feet, the La Veta Pass on U.S. Route 160 in Southern Colorado is one of the most scenic drives in the state during the fall season. Gold aspen trees mixed with dark green pines line the pass while the magnificent Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristo Mountains stand towering over the foliage of the San Luis Valley. The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, which runs from May through October, is another way to explore fall foliage in southern Colorado. The train passes through mountain meadows, canyons and colorful foothills that are otherwise inaccessible by motor vehicle.
Gondola. The Telluride Free Gondola is one of the most popular ways to view Telluride’s amazing fall colors. The high-speed gondola transports visitors from Telluride to Mountain Village in less than 15 minutes. The aerial views include the town of Telluride, the Box Canyon, and colorful valleys lined with aspens and evergreens. For yet another way to see Telluride’s foliage, several trailheads are located right in town. Locals suggest the Jud Wiebe Trail, a three-mile loop, which winds through large aspen groves and passes by Comet Falls, one of Telluride’s many waterfalls.
Vroom with a View. Colorado Highway 62 over the Dallas Divide represents an epic fall Colorado drive. Starting near Ridgway, visitors can get an amazing view of Mount Sneffels, one of Colorado’s 58 14ers, and the expansive Sneffels Wilderness Area, which offers several hiking trails for those wishing to venture out further. The route eventually connects with Highway 145 and Lizard Head Pass, which offers amazing views of Wilson Peak, the very mountain emblazoned on the iconic Coors logo.
Front Range Foliage. The Peak-to-Peak Scenic & Historic Byway is Colorado's oldest, having been established in 1918. The byway offers unmatched views of the Continental Divide and its dramatic fall colors. Though the byway is under 60 miles in length, there are numerous stop off points along the route, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, all of which offer their own unique vantage points for leaf peepers. Locals in Boulder suggest beginning a road trip in downtown Boulder, heading up through Boulder Canyon to the small town of Nederland and then along Highway 72, connecting to the Peak-to-Peak Scenic & Historic Byway.
Colorado is a four-season destination offering unparalleled adventure and recreational pursuits, a thriving arts scene, a rich cultural heritage, flavorful cuisine, and 25 renowned ski areas and resorts. The state's breathtaking scenic landscape boasts natural hot springs, the headwaters of seven major rivers, many peaceful lakes and reservoirs, 13 national parks and monuments and 58 mountain peaks that top 14,000 feet.
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