It’s one of Mother Nature’s greatest wardrobe changes: One minute you’re gazing at the mountains, enjoying the various shades of green that paint the slopes, and the next it’s awash with amber.
The leaf-peeping season in Colorado is brief, but beloved. You’ll find both locals and visitors making the pilgrimage to see the leaves, which means that catching the color show is not only a matter of perfect timing, but also of location. While there will be crowds in the most popular spots, that doesn’t have to be a deterrent. Be prepared for any opportunity: throw on your flannel and keep your hiking boots handy. By hopping out of the car, there are plenty of chances to immerse yourself in the amber alleys, soaking up this special time of year. Here are a few favorite hikes for fabulous fall foliage.
Flash of Gold
Buffalo Pass, Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs is known for its light and fluffy champagne powder in the winter and one of the most popular hot springs in the state. However, it’s also a prime spot for gorgeous fall colors, especially on Buffalo Pass. Flash of Gold, located at the Dry Lake Parking area, is one (aptly-named) example. The trail is lined with aspen groves, giving you a sense of being in a golden tunnel as you hike.
The 13,684-foot summit of Bald Mountain affords expansive views of the Ten Mile Range as well as the Mosquito Range in the distance. To get to the trailhead, you can drive up the hard-packed dirt road of Boreas Pass. However, perhaps bagging this peak can wait. In the fall, the draw is the “aspen alley” that you’ll meander along on the pass. Passing under this canopy of gold, you’ll also see the slopes of Breckenridge Ski Resort swirled with gold and amber between the evergreens. It’s not a difficult hike, but go early to avoid the cars that take the even easier route up.
Jud Wiebe Trail
Uncompahgre National Forest, Telluride
Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, there’s no shortage of good hiking in Telluride. The Jud Wiebe Trail is one of the most popular routes as the three-mile loop has two access points in town — you’ll often see people leave breakfast and hit the trail in a sweater. And while it may be short, it’s steady and steep. Your reward comes with the aspen groves that crowd the trail, casting everything in amber light. If the aspens aren’t enough, travel a quarter mile from the Aspen Street trailhead to the spur to the Cornet Falls, which comes in very close second to its more popular sister, Bridal Veil Falls, for spectacular views.
White River National Forest, Aspen
You can’t talk about leaf peeping in Colorado without including Maroon Bells. It’s easy to see why it’s “the most photographed place in Colorado” but don’t let the crowds scare you off. Head up in the early hours and pass by Maroon Lake to the Maroon Snowmass trail. The trail winds through an aspen grove, but don’t stop too long for pictures and keep an eye out for moose. After a steady incline, you’ll drop down to Crater Lake. Situated at 10,076 feet, the Maroon Bells look even closer and more magnificent, skirted with glorious aspens in the crisp fall air.
It’s difficult to pinpoint when peak leaf peeping season is each year: Aspens don’t follow a set schedule. However, with the varying elevations and temperatures in Colorado, a flexible itinerary will allow you to go where the leaves are at their best.