6 Fall Foliage Drives That Put the “Colorful” in Colorado
There are hotspots for leaf-peepers to experience fall colors in many areas of Colorado, like Independence Pass. Photo Credit: tonda (iStock)
It’s time again for Colorado’s aspens to show off their fall finery, and there’s no better way to usher in that autumnal spirit than a road trip to some golden-hued hillsides. We’ve assembled this (alphabetical and unranked) list of six fall color drives so you can experience the most scenic locations in the state. There’s hearsay that colors will be changing early this year, so don’t wait — the “gold rush” is already on…
1. Dallas Divide (Southwestern Colorado)
Possibly the most popular destination for landscape photographers in southwest Colorado is over the Dallas Divide via Highway 62. The mountains here often have a thin layer of snow above the hillsides of aspen, providing a picturesque backdrop to the many ranches in the area. If you start out near Ridgway you can get a great view of Mount Sneffels, one of the 58 fourteeners (14,000-foot-plus mountains) in the state. The route later connects with Highway 45 and Lizard Head Pass, offering views of Wilson Peak — a mountain that may look familiar if you’ve ever had beer from a little brewery named Coors.
2. Highway 67 (Southern Colorado)
A perfect day trip to view autumnal splendor is a drive along Highway 67 from Woodland Park to Cripple Creek. The aspens here display gold, amber and red leaves harmoniously contrasted by green from intermingled pine trees. This drive is nice any time of the year, but it typically becomes amazing in late September, and there are plenty of areas to pull off and admire the views or take pictures. Because of the high elevation and other climate factors in Teller County, the leaves tend to change earlier than in other parts of the state and the color lasts only a week or so in most places.
3. Independence Pass (Central/Western Colorado)
Independence Pass via Highway 82 is Colorado’s second-highest paved road, climbing to 12,095 feet and providing sweeping views of aspens and beautiful vistas at every turn. The pass is normally open until Nov. 1, but can close even earlier due to weather. If you continue on to Aspen, it has a much more laid-back vibe this time of year with summer crowds gone and skiers yet to arrive. Just 12 miles from there is Maroon Bells, a classic destination in the fall. From Highway 82 you can take Highway 133 to former the quarry town of Marble, and if you’re in the mood for some four-wheeling, a trail from there leads to the ghost town of Crystal — and its oft-photographed Crystal Mill.
4. Kebler Pass (Western Colorado)
Via Gunnison County Road 12, Kebler Pass is home to the largest aspen grove in North America — and in fact, it’s one of the largest in the world. This route climbs more than 10,000 feet, accessed from the west on Highway 133, or the east through the town of Crested Butte. Start at Ohio Creek Road to weave through a series of homestead ranches marking the abandoned town of Castleton. Also, don’t miss “The Castles” — ancient volcanic mud and ash formations deposited by the West Elk Volcano roughly 30 million years ago. Aspens splash the hillsides with yellow and orange, and small lakes in the area are great spots to photograph reflections of the scenery.
5. Peak to Peak Scenic Byway (North-Central Colorado)
Made up of Highways 7 in the north, 72, and 119 in the south, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is Colorado’s oldest, reaching its century mark this year. Although it’s less than 60 miles long, there are numerous stop-off points along the route including Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, as well as Rocky Mountain National Park — all of which offer colorful vistas in the fall. The area is especially appealing after a snow in the high country, which beautifully offsets the colorful aspens closer to the road.
6. Trail Ridge Road (North-Central Colorado)
Winding through Rocky Mountain National Park and cresting at 12,183 feet, Trail Ridge Road features luminous clusters of color en route to the awe-inducing heights the park is famous for. Since the road runs through the park, there is an entry fee for this drive. A bonus this time of year is the fall elk rut, which usually lasts from mid-September to mid-October. Hundreds of elk gather at sundown and their bugling can be heard from afar. Be sure to check the weather before making the drive, as the status of Trail Ridge Road can change quickly.