The month of September is the ideal time to witness Colorful Colorado. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to predict when exactly the leaves will turn in any given location. The best strategy is to select your travel dates in advance, and go wherever the color is. Here are a few road-tripping routes, sorted by region, that have become fall-color pilgrimages for aspen lovers.
Short trips from Denver metro to watch fall colors :
Guanella Pass between Georgetown and Grant
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 Georgetown, where you will meet back up with I-70. The aspens are typically exceptional on the south side of Guanella Pass, which sits at 11,699 feet in elevation. This refreshing twenty-three mile road will take you through the Pike and Arapahoe National Forests. Approximately 12 miles of this scenic road is a gravel surface, but maintained year-round.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (Mount of the Holy Cross in the Sawatch Range).
Here are some other places where you can see the beautiful fall colors
Dallas Divide and Lizard Head Pass:
Begin your journey in the town of Ridgway, located south of Montrose. Head west on Colorado 62 over Dallas Divide. Lining the route are unimpeded views of the gnarly yet grand Sneffels Range, and the apron of aspens at its feet. At Placerville, head southeast towards Telluride on Colorado 145. All the way to Lizard Head Pass you’ll drive through dense groves of the white-barked beauties, with frequent panoramas of Wilson Peak.
Head west out of Crested Butte over this improved dirt road (County Road 12) and you’ll be inundated with autumn glory. The ruddy colors of the Ruby Range make for a radiant contrast with the golden aspens below. At Colorado 133, you can head north toward McClure Pass for more, or return via the way you came to relive the magic.
Other favorite routes:
US 160 between Pagosa Springs and Cortez.
Colorado 135 between Crested Butte and Gunnison.
US 50 west from Gunnison to Colorado 149 south to Lake City and Slumgullion Pass.
Colorado 550 from Ridgway south through Ouray and Silverton to Durango.
Quite possibly the most photographed mountains in North America, the Maroon Bells southwest of the aptly named town of Aspen are an ideal spot to capture the glory of fall color on film (or in pixels). On weekends in September, access to the Bells is limited to shuttle buses that leave Aspen on a regular basis. But if you reserve a campsite along Maroon Creek Road, you can drive your vehicle all the way to the scenic Maroon Lake, where the flaxen trees frame a perfect reflection of the purple-and-white-striped peaks.
Grand Junction to Grand Mesa:
This route boasts spectacular stands of aspen along with other varieties of turning trees. From Grand Junction, head east on I-70 through Palisade and along the Colorado River, where riverside cottonwoods slowly phase into yellow-leafed splendor. At Colorado 65, head east and then south through more canyon country and up to the top of Grand Mesa, where glowing aspens stretch for as far as the eye can see. Stop at Island Lake to fish for trout or continue on over the mesa to Cedaredge.
Other favorite routes:
Colorado 125 over Willow Creek Pass between Granby and Walden.
US 40 south from Steamboat Springs to Colorado 131 to Yampa. From Yampa, take County Road 7 southwest to Stillwater Reservoir.
Flat Tops Trail Scenic and Historic Byway (Meeker to Yampa via County Road 17 and Forest Road 16 over Ripple Creek Pass ).
As you head down Cottonwood Pass Road west of Buena Vista, you’ll experience the distinct feeling of humility. Rising on all sides are the massive Collegiate Peaks, namely two behemoth 14,000-foot peaks, Mount Princeton and Mount Yale. As you pass beneath the two giants, you’ll enter one of Colorado’s most aspen-laden valleys. Here you will see the fickleness of fall color. One slope will be all gold while another patch will remain green. What cues the aspens to turn is a complex mixture of climatic conditions, with colder, shadier slopes turning first, followed by the sunnier patches a few days later. In some cases, an early frost will transform all the aspens at once — it just depends on the weather.
Colorado 17 from Antonito to the New Mexico border:
One of Colorado’s most scenic areas happens to be one of the state’s best-kept secrets for aspen viewing. As you head up the serene Conejos River Valley, stands of piñon give way to the white trunks of aspen. Some of the oldest and tallest aspens in the state can be seen, photographed and enjoyed near La Manga Pass. For an even more unique experience, ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad for views not seen on any highway.
Other favorite routes:
Gold Camp Road from Colorado Springs to Victor, and then Colorado 67 through Cripple Creek north to Divide.
US 285 from Conifer to Fairplay over Kenosha Pass.
Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway (US 24 from Minturn through Leadville to Twin Lakes via Colorado 82, and back to Colorado 91 over Fremont Pass to Copper Mountain).
The Peak-to-Peak Scenic and Historic Byway:
From Black Hawk to Estes Park, this serpentine highway meanders through valleys and skims the top of ridges, taking the route most scenic at every turn. Take Colorado 119 from Black Hawk north to Nederland and then follow Colorado 72 to Raymond. From here, proceed on Colorado 7 past the 14,255-foot Longs Peak to Estes Park. Quaking aspens pop up in surprising places along the entire route.
Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway:
Take this rambling route south out of the historic town of Georgetown and you’ll not only find pockets of blazing aspen but high-altitude nirvana atop the 11,699-foot Guanella Pass. Note: the aspens are more prevalent on the southern side of the pass. Once you reach the town of Grant, you may as well hang a right on US 285 and take the highway for 15 minutes to the top of Kenosha Pass, where the aspen thrive on the rim of the gentle slopes that encircle South Park.
Other favorite routes:
Colorado 14 through Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins to the top of Cameron Pass.
Fall River Road from I-70 (Exit 238) to St. Mary’s Glacier.
Boulder County Road 130 from Nederland to the Fourth of July Trailhead (dirt road).
Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway:
Head west out of Pueblo on Colorado 96 to begin this aspen-gazing odyssey. The route climbs into the Wet Mountains and descends into the Wet Mountain Valley, passing aspens blazing in autumnal color along the way. Return the way you came until you reach McKenzie Junction. From here, head south on Colorado 165 to see two other Colorado fall favorites, cottonwood and scrub oak, as they turn brilliant colors beneath rugged rock formations.
Highway of Legends Scenic and Historic Byway:
This route wraps around two of Colorado’s burliest mountains, West and East Spanish Peak. Along the way, the highway passes beneath ancient volcanic walls that rise over tracts of pine, scrub oak and aspen. Nearly the entire route from La Veta to Trinidad on Colorado 12 begs to be photographed.