As summer fades into autumn, the many aspen trees in our state undergo a beautiful transformation. Green leaves give way to tones of yellow, orange, and red, covering the mountains in a tapestry of color. It’s the cool temps settling in from mid-September to mid-October that trigger this change in the leaves. Aspens at higher altitudes start to change near the beginning of this month-long window, with trees in the foothills showing their colors near the end. So take a day to drive and hike through the many mountain passes offering staggering proof of just how colorful Colorado is.
Here are 3 of your best bets for leaf-peeping this autumn season:
Best time to go: Late September
Running for 55 miles between Black Hawk and Estes Park, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is Colorado’s oldest (scenic byway). The route passes near the historic ghost towns of Hesse and Apex and the entire way is flanked by sweeping vistas of aspen-filled valleys.
If you’re particularly adventurous, you can access Rocky Mountain National Park, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, and the Indian Peaks Wilderness from this byway, each of which offers beautiful and secluded stretches of aspen trees.
If you’re sticking to the Peak to Peak, the whole route takes about 2 hours, but the northern half can be reached from Boulder in an hour. Drive up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, turn north onto the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, and cruise up to Estes Park. You’ll have gorgeous views the entire way up and back. This is an easy half-day trip, and can be combined with the next route on this list for a full day of autumn colors.
Best time to go: Mid-Late September
Trail Ridge Road winds its way between Estes Park and Grand Lake, traversing 48 miles of Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way, the road climbs some 4,000 feet through forests of spruce, fir, ponderosa pine, and aspen, before roaming above tree-line for 11 miles. At elevations over 11,000 feet, this stretch offers panoramic views of the Rockies, and all the colors they hold. This route is a fantastic passage during summer’s wildflower season, but it’s the tones of autumn that really make the drive so spectacular.
Best time to go: Late September/Early October
No Colorado leaf-peeping list is complete without the Maroon Bells. 10 miles west of Aspen stand the two mountain peaks that make up the Maroon Bells. These are the most photographed mountains in all of Colorado, particularly during the fall. A clear alpine lake sits near the base of the peaks, framed at either side by rising valleys coated in aspen trees of every hue. Just getting to Aspen will take you through some of the prettiest, most colorful parts of our state, and the Maroon Bells bring you into dream-like territory.
With the beauty comes crowds, though, so plan on parking at the Aspen Highlands parking structure, where RFTA buses pick up every twenty minutes between 8:05am and 4:30pm before heading up to the Maroon Bells. Once there, you can separate from some of the crowds and heighten the views with a number of hikes branching through the area.
Enjoying the outdoors is a quintessential part of living in Boulder. Fortunately, the cooler days of autumn bring with them a colorful transformation visible throughout Colorado’s mountains. So, get out and see the yellows, oranges, and reds before the snows come and ski season arrives.