In between blowing up our paddleboards on Lake Dillon and clipping on our ski boots, we experience the magical season where the colors of aspen trees change over before the winter. People from all over rush to find the best places in the state for leaf peeping—a term you don’t often hear outside of Colorado. There is a sense of urgency to find the best spots before the leaves quickly turn from green to yellow. This urgency creates traffic and fills parking lots but also brings an excitement to Colorado that we patiently wait for every year. Here are some lesser-known spots to experience Colorado’s golden hour.
Make it a weekend trip by heading west toward Colorado’s famous vineyards in Palisade and stop to admire Grand Mesa’s aspen meadows. This area is beautiful year-round, but the fall colors bring something extra and exciting. The Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway has panoramic views to enjoy the changing colors. After some fantastic leaf peeping you can head over to Palisade for some peaches and wine or go mountain biking in Fruita.
Twin Lakes (Independence Pass)
Whether you are camping in Twin Lakes or looking for a fall drive, yellow leaves will surround you as you drive up Independence Pass toward Aspen. On your way you can stop at 12,095 feet above the Continental Divide, one of the highest paved mountain passes in the U.S., for vast and unique views. You are also a short drive away from Leadville, which is known for its fall colors as well.
Just over an hour away from Boulder and Denver, Kenosha Pass provides spectacular views of an aspen grove within the famous Colorado Trail. Don't be discouraged by the initial droves of leaf peepers at the start of the hike as the crowd typically disperses around a mile in, allowing for serene hiking among lush trees. This is also a great option if you are looking for vibrant fall colors without leaving the car by driving along Highway 285.
Nestled between Eagle-Vail and Leadville is the small town of Red Cliff, Colorado. You can travel across the historic Red Cliff steel arch bridge and pull alongside to marvel at the fall foliage. Form there, you can venture from Cross Creek Trail up to Surprise Lake. This hike will not only gift you with golden leaves but mountain views and a peaceful river on your journey up to the lake. It is a unique stop away from the crowded hikes and leaf peeping in Vail. Be sure to stop by Rocky Mountain Taco in Minturn on your way out and send pictures to your friends and family from your fall adventure.
Pack your car snacks and road trip the three and a half hours to see Marble, Colorado's aspen trees. Be sure to drive along Highway 133 and head to the top of McClure Pass to marvel at the changing colors. Once you hit the town, you can walk along Beaver Lake State Wildlife Area. Continue to gaze at the fall leaves from Slow Groovin BBQ’s patio with a delicious, local meal.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
While we can’t call it off the beaten path, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a leaf-peeping staple and is only 40 minutes away from Denver and Boulder. It is perfect for a quick trip from the city to get out and go see some fall colors. Get there early (like really early) to get a parking spot and remember to pay the park’s admission fee before your day of hiking. Once in, head up to Fraser Meadow via Mule Deer Trail or Coyote Trail to take in the best that the park has to offer. After the hike, don’t forget to stop at Panorama Point to refuel with a granola bar and take in the vista views of the Continental Divide.