Where to see Colorado's Fall colors 2012
Drought will make shorter season for changes
Last Updated: 237 days ago
DENVER - Fall is upon us and it is time to search for Colorado gold! It looks like we should see our peak color just a few weeks earlier than average this year.
The best color over the northern and central mountains should be from Sept. 15 to Sept 30. The southern mountain areas and the Sangre de Cristo Range are already reaching their peak. So start making some plans to head to the high country!
The following is a list of the best places to see the changing aspen leaves, both near and far. This is an accurate list for fall 2012.
Once you've selected which drive you want to take, check out this report from Traffic Reporter Jayson Luber to see if there are restrictions or road work on the drive.
To get in the mood, check out our slideshow of changing aspen in Colorado!
SHORT DRIVES FROM THE METRO AREA
1A. Guanella Pass between Grant and Georgetown -- Take Highway 285 south from C470 through Conifer and Bailey. At the town of Grant, head north on the Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway to the top of the pass. The aspens are typically exceptional on the south side of Guanella Pass, which sits at 11,699 feet in elevation. This refreshing 23-mile road will take you through the Pike and Arapahoe National Forests. The road is gravel to the top of the pass, which is above timberline.
1B. CO 103 from Evergreen Parkway west to Echo Lake. Take Evergreen Parkway to Squaw Pass Road, turn west. Follow Squaw Pass Road (Hwy 103) for about 18 miles to Echo Lake. The road will twist and turn through a mix of aspen and pine forests with several good locations to pull off and take photos. The scenery is spectacular accompanied by a variety of wildlife. Echo Lake Lodge offers a nice stop for refreshments. From there, turn west and continue to Idaho Springs. At Idaho Springs get on I-70-east to the El Rancho/Evergreen exit. This takes about 3 hours and is spectacular when the aspens change color. If some snow has fallen on the peaks, you will enjoy magnificent views of the aspen gold and snow capped mountains.
2. Trail Ridge Road (US 34) through Rocky Mountain National Park -- Take the Boulder Turnpike (US 36) west to Rocky Mountain National Park via Estes Park. Once in the park, drive Trail Ridge Road (the highest paved through highway in the US) and enjoy the breath-taking scenery. The weather can change quickly in the park so be sure and get the latest forecast from your 24/7 Weather Center. Trail Ridge Road peaks at 12,183 feet in elevation. Just west of the high point is Fall River Pass, elevation 11,796 feet, and the Alpine Visitor Center. Exit the west side of the park and continue on US 34 down into Grand Lake. From there, take US 40 east through Fraser and Winter Park, eventually meeting back up with I-70 at Empire.
3. Boreas Pass between Como and Breckenridge -- Take I-70 west and then Highway 9 south through Breckenridge. Make a left at the stoplight on the south side of Breck onto Boreas Pass Road. After 3.5 miles the pavement ends, but you can continue another 11 miles to the town of Como. From there, take Highway 285 back to Denver over Kenosha Pass. The Boreas Pass Road will take you above timberline where the weather can change quickly, so check with us for your forecast before making the trip. Boreas Pass Road follows an abandoned railroad grade which was the original route of the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad. You will have incredible views of the Continental Divide as you pass the flank of Bald Mountain.
4. Colorado 14 through the Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins -- Take I-25 north and exit onto Colorado 14 heading west. (Exit # 269) You will pass through the town of Laporte before entering the beautiful Poudre Canyon in the Roosevelt National Forest. The Pourde River Canyon was designated Colorado's First National Wild and Scenic River in 1986. Drive to Cameron Pass (10,276 feet) in the Medicine Bow Mountains for gorgeous views, and perhaps a picnic lunch.
5. Colorado 67 Between Divide and Cripple Creek -- Take I-25 south to Colorado Springs, exit onto US 24 west (exit 141) toward Woodland Park. At Divide head south on Highway 67 toward Cripple Creek and Victor. The scenic Golden Loop Historic Parkway between Cripple Creek and Victor will not only afford beautiful views of fall color, but a look back to the 1890s gold rush that made this area one of the most famous mining districts in the world. As an added bonus, you will cross Colorado's highest bridge on the state highway system. The bridge crosses Arequa Gulch just west of Victor, is 250 feet tall at it's highest point, and 1,218 feet long. Colorado has 8,479 bridges on it's highway system.
6. Tennessee Pass, US 24, From Leadville to Vail -- Take I-70 west to Vail and exit onto US 24 east to Leadville. On the way to Tennessee Pass you will see on of Colorado's fourteeners to the west. This route follows the Arkansas River and the Rio Grande Railroad. It was also the original Native American trail across the mountains. On the west side of the pass, the railroad follows the Eagle River down a 3% grade to the mining towns of Minturn and Belden.
LONG DRIVES FROM THE METRO AREA
7. Independence Pass, Colorado 82, Between Twin Lakes and Aspen -- Take I-70 to exit 171 just past Vail to pick up US 24 west. This will take you to Twin Lakes, where you pick up Highway 82 toward Aspen. This beautiful drive through the San Isabel National Forest will afford picturesque views of the Sawatch Range, which is home to several of Colorado's 14ers. From Aspen you can continue on Highway 82 to Glenwood Springs where you will meet back up with I-70. Heading back toward Denver, you will drive through the gorgeous Glenwood Canyon where a hike to Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock would make for a nice picnic.
8. Cottonwood Pass, Colorado 306 Between Buena Vista and Taylor Park -- Take Highway 285 south to Buena Vista where you will meet up with Highway 306. Head west over Cottonwood Pass (12,126 feet). Here you will be surrounded by several of Colorado's highest peaks, including Mt. Yale (14,194 feet), Mt. Princeton (14,197 feet), Mt. Antero (14,269 feet), and Mt. Harvard (14,420 feet). You will be right in the heart of the Sawatch Range. West of the pass you will pass through Taylor Park and by the Taylor Park Reservoir on your way to Almont. Once in Almont, take Highway 135 south to Gunnison where Highway 50 east will bring you back to Highway 285 Salida.
9. Monarch Pass, US 50 from Salida to Gunnison Take Highway 285 south to Salida down through the Arkansas River Valley. Head west on Highway 50 to Gunnison, which will take you over Monarch Pass (11,312 feet).
10. Cochetopa Pass Between Saguache and Gunnison -- Take Highway 285 south to Saguache where you will meet up with Highway 114. Head north toward Gunnison and enjoy incredible views of not only fall color, but the fascinating geology of this region. Several calderas are located in the part of the San Juan Mountains. Approaching Cochetopa Pass you will see some "columnar basalts" which formed in the same manner as Devil's Tower in Wyoming.
11. Platoro Reservoir, south of Del Norte and West of Conejos -- Take Highway 285 south to Monte Vista and then Colorado Highway 15 (Gunbarrel Road) south 12.0 miles. Take the Twelve Mile Road 12.0 miles west to the forest boundary where it becomes the Alamosa-Conejos River Road (Forest Road 250). Then follow Forest Road 250 17.0 miles up the Alamosa River and over Stunner Pass to Mix Lake. Platoro Reservoir is just west of Mix Lake on Forest Road 247.
12. Cucharas Pass, Colorado 12, from Trinidad to Walsenburg -- Take I-25 south to Trinidad and then Colorado 12 west. You will drive through the San Isabel National Forest and over Cucharas Pass (9,941 feet) back to Walsenburg and I-25. As a side trip on your way back toward Denver, you can take exit 74 on I-25 which is Colorado City. Highway 165 will take you on a beautiful drive up the spine of the Wet Mountains. You will intersect Highway 96 which you can take west to the delightful town of Westcliffe for a little shopping, or east to Pueblo and I-25.
13. Steamboat Springs, Elk River country north and Buffalo Pass east -- Take I-70 west to Empire and exit onto US 40 west. This will take you through a scenic drive over many passes on your way to Steamboat Springs, including Berthoud Pass, Muddy Pass, and Rabbit Ears Pass. North of Steamboat out of Strawberry Pass you will find Forest Road 60 (Buffalo Pass Road). This scenic drive will take you across the Continental Divide into North Park where you will meet up with Highway 14. You can take Highway 14 east to Fort Collins or go west back to Muddy Pass on US 40 east to meet back up with I-70.
14. Maroon Bells Near Aspen -- Take I-70 west to Glenwood Springs to Highway 82 east. Follow 82 to the Aspen Roundabout where you will pick up the Maroon Creek Road exit. A parking lot off the roundabout offers shuttle service to Maroon Bells Road. Nestled in the Gunnison and White River National Forests, this area varies from 7,500 to over 14,000 feet! The Maroon Bells is one of Colorado's most photographed landmarks. The mirror-like reflective Maroon Lake will afford incredible views of the surrounding terrain and vegetation, which happens to be full of our lovely Colorado Aspen.
15. Colorado 135 Between Crested Butte and Gunnison -- Take Highway 285 south to Salida down through the Arkansas River Valley. Head west on Highway 50 to Gunnison, which will take you over Monarch Pass (11,312 feet). Once in Gunnison pick up Highway 135 north to Crested Butte and enjoy the beautiful views of surrounding forest. Once in Crested Butte, you can contiue west over Kebler Pass (9,980 feet) or north to Schofield Pass (10,707 feet).
16. Slumgullion Pass, Colorado 149, Between Lake City, Creede, and South Fork -- Head south on Highway 285 to Salida, then west on Highway 50 to just past Gunnison. Pick up Highway 149 south and prepare for a breath-taking drive through the Gunnison, Rio Grande, and Uncompahgre National Forests. Slumgullion Pass is at 11,361 feet followed by Spring Creek Pass at 10,901 feet. Once on Slumgullion Pass, look west for a beautiful view of Uncompahgre Peak, with an elevation of 14,309 feet, Sheep Mountain at 13,1368 feet, and Redcloud Peak at 14,034 feet. Once in South Fork, take Highway 112 east to Highway 285 near Center.
17. US 160, Navajo Trail, Between Pagosa Springs and Cortez -- Take Highway 285 south to Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley where you will pick up Highway 160 west. Once over Wolf Creek Pass (10,850 feet) in the San Juans, you will descend into the beautiful town of Pagosa Springs. Stop and take a look at the tranquil San Juan River that runs through the heart of town before continuing on your leaf viewing drive to Cortez.
18. Lizard Head Pass, Colorado 145 Between Dolores and Telluride -- Take Highway 285 south to Salida, then Highway 50 west to Montrose. From there take Highway 550 to Ridgway where you will find Highway 62. Heading west you will go over Dallas Divide on your way through the Uncompahgre National Forest. Once you intersect Highway 145, go south toward Telluride, Lizard Head Pass, and Dolores.
19. Grand Mesa, Colorado 65 East of Grand Junction and North of Delta -- Take I-70 west to Exit 49 just before Clifton. Head south on Highway 65 (Grand Mesa Scenic Byway) to Delta. This scenic drive on the western slope of the Rockies will take you over 60 miles and up as high as 11,000 feet with incredible views. Many lakes line the byway, including Sunset Lake. One really cool aspect of this drive is how the scenery changes. From a desert canyon to aspen foothills, lakes, alpine forests, lily ponds and rolling meadows. If you have time for a hike, the Land-O-Lakes is a trail that you can take for an awesome view of the many surrounding lakes. The West Elk Mountains will also be visible to your east. Another fun thing to do is drive up to the top of the mesa on Land's End road. From the top you will be looking 6,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon.
20. Flat Tops Country Between Buford and New Castle -- Take I-70 west to New Castle (Exit 105) where you will pick up Highway 13 toward Meeker. You have two routes depending on how much time you have. One is to take Highway 325 to Buford which will afford some beautiful views of the Flat Tops. The second option is to stay on Highway 13 to Meeker and take the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway. This 82-mile trek will take you through the White River National Forest to Yampa. From Yampa, take Highway 131 south to Wolcott where you will meet back with I-70. The Flat Tops Wilderness is defined by basalt lava flows of the White River Plateau, and underlain by thick limestone formation in which water has carved numerous caves.
21. McClure Pass -- From Glenwood Springs, take Highway 82 south to the junction of Highway 133, and follow this toward Carbondale. South of Carbondale, Highway 133 parallels the Crystal River and makes for some scenic photography. You will soon come to the town of Redstone, and the historic Redstone Inn. As you continue south to McClure Pass, elevation of 8,755 feet, you will see fantastic views of the Elk Mountains and Muddy Creek above Paonia State Park. While you are in the area, be sure to stop by the town of Marble. Marble is a legendary town where marble was quarried and finished for the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and hundreds of other buildings. Once you are back onto Highway 133, a quick jaunt to the south will bring you to Paonia Reservoir and Paonia State Park.
The 24/7 Weather Center team hopes this information about our aspen leaves will help you plan your trip. It truly is a wonderful way to spend a day -- when the aspen are in their full glory!
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