Park County’s Fall Foliage: Directions and Diversions
Park County’s Kenosha and Guanella Passes are perennial destinations for leaf peepers going for the gold. Photo by tonda (iStock).
If you blink, you might miss it. Our beloved aspens turning yellow-gold and carpeting the foothills and mountain valleys with sun-kissed splendor. If you’re looking for stunning, golden aspen views not too far from the Front Range, your family will love a trip to Park County. An easy trip from Denver or Colorado Springs—here are specific directions for those traveling through Jefferson County from Denver or up from the Springs through the Ute Pass to both destinations, with ideas for stopping along the way.
Kenosha Pass from Colorado Springs
In the mountains and winding roads above Fairplay, for the best view of gleaming gold aspens, drive through Kenosha Pass. Better yet, hike it. Part of Pike National Forest, there are several hikes you can choose that are suitable for any level hiker.
From Colorado Springs, take Route 24 West, passing through Woodland Park, Divide and then Lake George, where you can stop at Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area. The aspens look most beautiful to many mid-grove: With a short hike up the canyon here, you can look down and see the trees running like a vein of gold in the countryside around, the South Platte River sparkling below. Budget some time on the way there or back or make a special trip once leaves begin to fall but before the first heavy snows. When is that? As always, no one really knows, so dress in layers.
Eleven Mile is in Lake George, when many will hit the one-hour mark out of the Springs to Kenosha.
Kenosha Pass from Denver
If you’re leaving from Denver, take North Broadway to US-85 S/S Santa Fe Drive and then follow US HWY 285 South to Colorado Trail. Signage will point you to the left, on Colorado Trail. It’s almost 63 miles from Denver. And don’t forget to stop and savor one of the best burgers you’ve ever tasted from proprietors Chris and Sara at The Shaggy Sheep in Grant. For a lighter option, we love their strawberry salad—and a gift shop in the entry lets you check off your to-do list without stopping on your foliage foray on your way back to Denver.
Guanella Pass: You’re “Gwanna” Wanna Go
Check out the 22-miles of breathtaking Guanella Pass between Georgetown and Grant to enjoy glorious giants, Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt. In between snapping those envy-worthy pictures for your friends in less picturesque parts of the country, Denverites can travel by taking 70 to 470 to 285 on a route that will give you plenty of reasons to stop and enjoy what the region has to offer. From the Springs, head up to 24—for a bit longer of a loop and the chance to catch a bit of Kenosha Pass, as well.
Alma or Bust
Driving up through the Mosquito Range that surrounds the highest incorporated town in Colorado, you can stop for a latte at the Alma Coffee House prior to standing among the aspens at the Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area. If you plan a weekend in Alma, don’t miss Alma’s Only Bar and Hotel at 10,578 feet above sea level—locals call it “The A.O.B.” If your photos aren’t hitting the mark while translating all this beauty, the Coffee House has a little gallery that sells photo prints, as well. You can also explore Kenosha Pass North for a seven mile hike, out and back, that’s pretty moderate for most and includes a dog-friendly trail. Enjoy beautiful views down the valley to enjoy the gleam of the foliage while getting your workout in. If you’re coming from Denver it’s about two hours away. From Colorado Springs, the trip will take you two hours, as well, and is right off 24.
Great Galleries Right on the Way
Three galleries highlight why you should stop in from Denver or the Springs to visit Fairplay and get some professional photos or other conversation-piece artwork. You can park and walk up Main Street to stretch your legs, where many gift shops offer aspen-oriented art and jewelry. You can also walk to Coyote Creek Studio Arts, Bucking Horse Gallery and Mountain Sun Arts to find the perfect photo of your foliage foray, 2019. Fairplay is also known for the September “Plein Air” Arts Celebration. Professional artists must register for the event and compete for prizes but festivalgoers may stroll among them admiring brushstrokes and the way they capture the inimitable feeling of Fairplay in the fall.
In Bailey, visit the River Canyon Gallery right on Main Street to get professional aspen photography prints; one-of-a-kind woodcarvings and all of the local artwork that make Colorado’s small town galleries a must-see.