By Sam Faktorow
While typically considered a winter sports destination, Colorado boasts an impressive array of autumnal locales to visit and leaf peep in September and October as the trees change colors. Unlike the East Coast, Colorado’s drastic elevation changes between various towns and regions creates staggered seasonal changes--some areas see golden yellow leaves as early as August while others peak closer to Halloween. To make the most out of your “Fallorado” leaf peeping adventure, head to these five spots:
Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
Starting in the northern reaches of Colorado at Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, travel south along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway to the rowdy but charming 18th century mining-turned-casino town of Black Hawk past endless groves of aspen trees. To the west you’ll find picturesque views of Longs Peak and the rest of the Front Range as you wind through small mountain villages like Nederland and Rollinsville. And if you need to stretch your legs and get your heart rate up, Sandbeach Lake and Golden Gate Canyon State Park both offer fantastic outdoor recreation. Make sure to visit early in the season as peak colors hit in September.
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
Located within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, the fourth largest wilderness area in Colorado, you will find the Maroon Bells, North America’s most photographed mountains. This popularity is certainly no surprise: at 14,163 feet, Maroon Peak is an impressive sight. Beyond that, you can also enjoy over 100 miles of trails, nine high mountain passes, and six of Colorado’s highest peaks. Soak in the hot springs along Conundrum Creek, visit the ghost town of Ashcroft, and end your day wining and dining in the world-famous resort town of Aspen.
On the other side of the Elk Mountains from Aspen are the towns of Crested Butte and Gunnison. Before snowfall hits, enjoy a gorgeous golden drive over Kebler Pass. Here you will experience the world’s largest grove of aspen trees and endless views of the Beckwith Mountains. Many small lakes dot the scenery as well. Be prepared for extremely cold temperatures at night: Gunnison County is known for some of the windiest weather in the country.
24 to 285
Turn off Interstate 25 at Vail onto US-24 and head south through Minturn to Buena Vista before taking US-285 all the way to New Mexico. Along the way, catch your breath and marvel at Mount Massive in Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States. With the Arkansas River and the Collegiate Peaks guiding you the rest of the way southward to the sparsely populated San Luis Valley, there is no shortage of majestic landscapes on this drive. Stop in Salida for whitewater rafting opportunities, detour to Crestone and take in Crestone Needle and numerous spiritual centers, and don’t miss the highest dune formations in the country at Great Sand Dunes National Park outside of Alamosa
San Juan Skyway
For those ready to really get out there, the San Juan Skyway in far southwestern Colorado is a six-seven hour 236 mile loop designated an All-American Road that is part of the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway System along with the aforementioned Peak to Peak. Starting in Durango, the San Juan Skyway travels along roughly the same path as the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad through the titular mountain towns. Traveling through the Uncompahgre National Forest will eventually land you Ridgway before descending into the ski resort of Telluride. While you are there, hike to Bridal Veil Falls and gaze upon Mount Wilson and El Diente Peak. Finally, meander through the San Juan National Forest to Mesa Verde National Park where you can marvel at the preserved Native American cliff dwellings.View More Arts and Culture ArticlesView More Gaycations Articles