As the days turn shorter and the air turns crisper, it’s a sure sign that fall is on the way. This shift in season means pumpkins (and pumpkin spice), apple orchards, sweaters, and best of all… leaf peeping! There is something truly magical about leaves changing colors each fall. With the stunning array of reds, oranges, and yellows, every tree has something vibrant to offer. And one of the best places in the nation to watch this show is in Colorado. Whether you live in the area and are looking for your next annual road trip destination or would like to visit during this amazing season, we can help.
Here, you’ll discover when leaves change color in Colorado and twelve drives with beautiful views!
When Do Leaves Change in Colorado?
That is a slightly difficult question to answer. Generally, the peak leaf-changing season starts in late September and ends by mid-October. But there are lots of factors that impact the exact timing. Those include weather and elevation. When colder weather strikes, the leaves will start to change color sooner, and the season won’t last as long. Colorado is infamous for weather that turns on a dime. So, sudden snowstorms can easily mess up your leaf-peeping plans.
Additionally, some parts of the state hit peak leaf-changing season sooner than others. Higher elevations peak sooner, and by contrast, lower elevations peak later. So, if you miss the leaves changing in one location, that’s okay. There are still plenty of weeks to hit up another spot.
12 Drives With Beautiful Foliage
1. Buffalo Pass
Are you ready to head off-road a little? Buffalo Pass is unpaved, but it also offers unmatched views of the changing leaves. It is situated west of Steamboat Springs. However, this option leads you to some amazing and highly recommended trails. That way, you can avoid the crowds and see some fall colors up close.
Once you get back into Steamboat Springs, consider ending your day at one of the local natural hot springs.
2. San Juan Skyway
You have likely heard of at least part of the San Juan Skyway without realizing it. The aptly named Million Dollar Highway is part of the larger 236-mile trek. It is situated in southwestern Colorado in the magnificent San Juan mountain range. But if you don’t feel like driving and would rather just leaf peep, don’t worry. Book a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad so you can view to your heart’s content.
Breckenridge is known for its fantastic skiing and snowboarding. However, it is also a wonderful destination during the fall to watch the leaves change. This quiet mountain town is not a far drive from Denver and Boulder, making it one of the more accessible leaf-peeping spots for those living on the Front Range.
There are countless trails, lovely picnic spots, restaurants, and shops to keep you entertained before or after your leaf-watching journey.
4. Guanella Pass
This fun drive is just west of Denver, offI-70. It winds you deep into the mountains with breathtaking views of multi-colored aspen groves. Georgetown is nearby. This unique mountain town offers delicious food, lovely boutique shops, and the Georgetown Loop Railroad. The latter is another way to see the leaves in a leisurely fashion.
5. Trail Ridge Road
Don’t miss one of the most spectacular sights in the state of Colorado. Trail Ridge Road is high in Rocky Mountain National Park and runs between Grand Lake and Estes Park. This scenic byway is the highest continuous paved road and spans over eight miles. Make sure to drink some extra water since it also sits high up. Trail Ridge Road’s elevation varies between 11,000 feet above sea level and 12,183 feet above sea level. Many of the iconic fall colors shots you see come from this drive.
You will need to pay an entry fee to the park to take this drive. Additionally, Rocky Mountain National Park uses a reservation system to try and control the flow of traffic. Be sure to check their website for updates and availability before heading out on your leaf-peeping adventures.
Telluride is a storied town in Colorado, nestled in the mountains on the Western Slope. It is a beautiful and quaint spot with several local restaurants and shops to explore. But while there, take some time to head out on a trail to view fall colors. Or, consider hopping on the local gondola for a bird’s-eye view of the aspen groves for a unique leaf-peeping experience.
7. Maroon Bells
This iconic landscape never disappoints, no matter the season. And fall is no exception. The Maroon Bells are located in White River National Forest. They are part of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. With peaks that tower over 11,000 feet, the region offers some of the most spectacular fall views imaginable. But get your computer ready before you go. This area does require reservations, and spots book up quickly. So, if you hope to do some leaf peeping in this spot, you’ll need to jump on it!
8. Kebler Pass
For those living on the Western Slope or anyone not opposed to making the jaunt, Kebler Pass offers jaw-dropping views of fall colors. It is near Gunnison and boasts one of North America’s highest concentrations of aspen trees. And that means gorgeous fall colors galore! Before you go, know that this pass is unpaved.
9. Golden Gate Canyon State Park
This family-friendly location happens to be where you can find the largest aspen grove in the whole state. And the best part is that there are ample picnic spots, short trails for walking, and longer hiking trails. So, you can spend the entire day drinking in the color-changing leaves!
10. La Veta Pass
Chances are that you’ve never heard of the small town of La Veta unless you live nearby. But after going on a drive along this pass, it is a spot you will never forget. It follows Route 60 in southern Colorado and provides stunning views of aspen leaves changing colors.Aspen, you can feel inspired by the nearby towering Spanish Peaks during your leaf-peeping time.
11. Grand Mesa
Head out to the Western Slope for a weekend of wine tasting, Palisade peach buying, and leaf peeping. The Grand Mesa scenic and historic byway offers gorgeous views, thanks to the scrub oak and aspen combination. This route is a little out of the way but well worth the magnificent views!
12. Independence Pass
This route is not for the faint of heart. Independence Pass offers a shortcut into Aspen. Its winding roads provide amAspeniews of stunning leaf changes. But if you are driving, you’ll want to keep your viewing to a minimum. The pass tops out at 12,095 feet above elevation. It becomes impassable during the winter since it is tucked into the deep mountains,
The photo featured at the top of this post is © f11photo/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.