Pair one of our fall festivals with a dazzling fall drive to find yourself wealthy with good memories and loads of stunning photos. Here are a few combos to keep in mind.
Autumn Gold Festival + Peak-to-Peak Highway
Beer, brats, local musicians and some of the most kaleidoscopic foliage on the Front Range make adding Estes Park's Autumn Gold Festival (Sept. 25–26, 2021) to your autumn itinerary a no-brainer. Scarf down comfort fare like funnel cake and corn on the cob and listen to the sounds of bugling bull elk, who gather in the area annually during the start of the rutting (breeding) season to show off for their entourages. Meanwhile, the deciduous beauties that populate the Continental Divide douse the Peak to Peak Highway in gold and auburn. Travel from the former mining enclaves of Black Hawk and Central City to Estes Park, the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Chili & Beer Festival + West Elk Loop
The intoxicating sights, smells and flavors of autumn shine at Crested Butte’s Chili & Beer Festival (Sept. 11, 2021), when locals celebrate the arrival of fall with steaming pots of chili and Colorado beer (Is there any better way?). The price of admission includes unlimited tastings of hearty stews made by local chili experts like Coal Creek Grill’s buffalo and chocolate stout chili and drafts from breweries like Durango’s Steamworks and Denver’s Jagged Mountain. Take a break from feasting and hop on the West Elk Loop, a journey through Paonia, Gunnison, Crested Butte and Carbondale. View glittering aspen stands in three national forests, and secure a new background pic for your phone on McClure Pass, where fiery scrub oaks contrast with yellow and orange shrubs.
Durango Autumn Arts Festival + San Juan Skyway
The Durango Autumn Arts Festival (Sept. 19–20, 2020) invites visitors to admire the works of local and national artists as well as nature’s canvas, when gold and red trees illuminate the San Juan Mountains. At the fest, hands-on creative activities keep tots occupied, while a sampling of craft beers and locally made goodies ensure you're well fed. For a divine sampling of southwest Colorado’s oh-my-goodness landscapes, drive the San Juan Skyway. Wind through the famed high-country towns of Telluride, Durango and Ouray amid dramatic cliffs, reflective lakes and the 5-million-acre San Juan and Uncompahgre national forests.
Fruita Fall Festival + Rim Rock Drive
An outhouse race, old-fashioned cooking contest and parade are just a few highlights at Fruita’s fall frolic (Sept. TBA, 2021). Challenge the family to a bumper-car battle at the carnival, and show your support at the “Fruita’s Got Talent” show. Then, breathe in the crisp fall air at Colorado National Monument, where 23-mile Rim Rock Drive takes motorists (and hearty cyclists) past whimsical rock formations, towering buttes and water-sculpted canyon walls marbled with red, pink and purple.
Salida Bike Fest + Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway
Known as a utopia for cycling devotees, Salida has some of the most diverse and challenging biking terrain in the Rocky Mountains. And the town’s rad tribute to biking, the Salida Bike Fest (Sept. 19–20, 2020), offers several ways to experience what the area has to offer, including group rides, chainless and mountain bike races, and a pump-track competition. Surrounded by a dozen of the state’s 58 fourteeners (peaks higher than 14,000 feet), Salida represents some of our highest country — and has spectacular scenery to match. The aptly named Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway meanders below fourteeners like mounts Princeton and Yale and through the towns of Buena Vista, Salida, Nathrop and Poncha Springs. Look for large stretches of remaining summer greenery flecked with bits of sunny yellow foliage, making the peaks look like they’ve been sprinkled with gold.
ArtoCade + Highway of Legends
Trinidad’s delightfully quirky ArtoCade will roll through historic downtown (Sept. TBA, 2021) in a parade of “artfully enhanced” cars, motorcycles, bikes, trikes, scooters, tractors and golf carts. There’s a lot packed into the festival’s two days, including an ArtoKids booth for hands-on kiddie fun, a circus-like dance party called Cardango and meet-and-greets with the event’s “cartists.” Take your own car out on the Highway of Legends, where the grandeur of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Spanish Peaks compete for your attention. Previously anchored by Trinidad and the bucolic mountain hamlets of Walsenburg and La Veta, an extension was added to the byway from the town of Aguilar to Cuchara Pass over 11,248-foot Cordova Pass, a route less traveled that’s framed with leafy eye candy in the fall.
Morrison Ciderfest + Lariat Loop Scenic & Historic Byway
The residents of Morrison hope for a bountiful apple harvest to facilitate their growing cider festival (Sept. TBA, 2021), which has encouraged families to sip from steaming mugs together and partake in activities like horseshoe tournaments and pony rides since 1989. Minutes from Denver, Morrison is a lovely gateway to the foothills. The city is connected to Golden, Idledale, Kittredge and Evergreen via the Lariat Loop, which offers easy access to mountain foliage near the Mile High City, as well as delights like Buffalo Bill’s Museum and Grave, the Coors brewery tour and Golden Gate Canyon State Park.