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Aspen, Telluride, Rockies, Vail Colorado Fall Foliage and Colors Tours

Things to do / Travel Guide

Aspen, Telluride and Western Colorado Fall Foliage Tours

The foliage experience in the Rockies is characterized by the golden colors of the white-barked aspen trees, mixed with the greens of the evergreens. Along the rivers, yellow cottonwoods add to the color palate. In this area late September is known as the “fall gold rush.” Locals are proud of the spectacular scenery and outdoor opportunities year-round, but in the fall, the golden colors backed by 14,000-foot mountains offer a unique fall experience. The only way to compare it to the New England fall experience is to do them both.
Remember that from year to year conditions vary and the fall show thus affected, so you just may have to try a few times (best of five?, of seven?). Let us know.

The mountainous setting provides spectacular views accessible by trails of various lengths and levels of difficulty. Fall foliage is a good reason to visit the area between the summer and ski-season crowds. Although some areas may be crowded, there are many remote areas in the region where the views can be enjoyed in solitude for those willing to drive further into the wilderness. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for some routes. Scenic railroads provide an interesting alternative to driving.

Peak viewing time is typically during the second half of September, extending into the first week of October in the Southern Colorado Rockies.

Northern and Central Rockies - Colorado Fall Foliage Tours

Some of the prime foliage viewing-areas in the northern and central parts of the Colorado Rockies Region are:
  • Maroon Bells, which is one of the area's most popular and often crowded scenic spots. Get there early for the most brilliant lighting conditions. The best view is across Maroon Lake. If you get there in the morning with the peaks lit up and after the first snow is on the summit, you know you've hit the jackpot. Shuttle buses are available from Aspen at times when the roads are closed due to the teeming crowds. Some claim that these are the most photographed mountains in the United States.
  • Steamboat Lake State Park - lies in a beautiful valley between Hahn's Peak and Sand Mountain
  • Twin Lakes
  • Turquoise Lake
  • Sylvan Lake
  • Rifle Falls State Park
  • Rifle Gap State Park
  • Harvey Gap State Park
  • Colorado River State Park
  • Vega State Park - encompasses a beautiful, high-altitude mountain lake that sits in an alpine meadow on the western edge of Grand Mesa National Forest
  • Independence Pass, on State Road 82
  • Fremont Pass, on State Road 91
  • Lands End Overlook (FR 100 south of Mesa). One of the best views of the Mesa, and of the aspens, is at the end of the 10-mile unpaved road.
  • The summit of Grand Mesa
  • Fancy Pass - a great fall hike
  • Enjoy the foliage while floating down the Roaring Fork River.

Northern and Central Rockies - Colorado Fall Foliage Tours and Routes

Crossing the Rockies on I-70 between Georgetown and Glenwood Springs allows for over a hundred miles of high-speed foliage viewing. The views change with the elevation, and golden aspens paint the landscape all around the interstate. Those with more time to explore this vast and mountainous region and its quaint (and trendy) towns are advised to take the following routes for prime foliage views:
  • Flat Tops Byway - between Yampa and Meeker. This is a very primitive road, unpaved in some parts, so it will take the better part of a day. You will be driving at elevations of up to 10,400 feet through aspen and evergreen forests.
  • State Road 82 - between Twin Lakes and Snowmass
  • Maroon Creek Road - for the world-class views of the Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake
  • State Road 65 - between Mesa and Cedaredge

Southern Rockies - Colorado Fall Foliage Tours

Some of the prime foliage viewing areas in the Southern part of the Colorado Rockies region are:
  • Browns Pass, which is on the Continental Divide. This is a great hiking spot with views of the nearby Collegiate Peaks Wilderness (get it? Mt. Yale, Mt. Princeton, Mt. Harvard).
  • Cottonwood Pass, which is about as high up as you can go on the Continental Divide. At 12,126 feet, you'll have good views of the big peaks to the west and all around, deep into the wilderness areas. The pass is above timberline, so don't expect to hug a colorful tree; rather, you'll see the colors below you with the 14,000 feet peaks as a background. The best views might require short hikes.
  • Crested Butte
  • Ridgeway State Park
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument
  • Irwin Lake
  • West Beckwith
  • Windy Point
  • Durango and Silverton Railway, which is a 45-mile narrow gauge railway through the San Juan Mountains. This is very popular, so seats should be reserved in advance.
  • Molas Pass - on U.S. Highway 550
  • Dallas Divide - on State Road 62
  • Lizard Head Pass - on State Road 145

Southern Rockies – Telluride and Colorado Fall Foliage Tours and Routes

The following routes in the southern Colorado Rockies are best for foliage views:
  • Highway of the Fourteeners (U.S. Highway 24), which is west of Antero Junction and Trout Creek Pass, near Buena Vista. As a backdrop to the golden aspens you will enjoy the greatest concentration of high peaks visible from the window of your car in the United States. There are 10 peaks over 14,000 feet - most named for colleges - including Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Oxford. The only thing that may be higher than these peaks is the tuition at their namesakes.
  • Another route scenic all year, but especially-so during the fall, is the Clear Creek Canyon Road (CR390). The road follows the creek between the mountains of the Collegiate Range from U.S. Highway 24 at Clear Creek reservoir, past ghost mining towns and alpine views, and eventually ends where the creek does.
  • One of the greatest concentrations of ghost mining towns in the area can be seen, together with spectacular mountains and fall foliage, on the Chalk Creek Canyon Road (State Road 162). Starting at Nathrop (off U.S. Highway 24), the road continues past the ghost towns of Alpine, St. Elmo, Romley, and Hancock. These towns were once vibrant communities, with rail connections, banks, schools, hotels, churches and a saloon or two. Now the only living things to be seen are the dying leaves of trees.
  • Another road in the Buena Vista area heading due west is CR306. Cross through Cottonwood Pass to Almont for great views, especially in the fall.
  • U.S. Highway 50 - between Grand Junction and Montrose
  • State Road 135 - between Gunnisson and Crested Butte
  • Silver Thread Scenic Byway (State Road 149), which is between South Fork and Lake City. Starting in South Fork, the road follows the Rio Grande for a while and then begins climbing up to 10,900 feet at Spring Creek Pass. A highlight is the view over the fall-colored landscape to the Rio Grande Pyramid on the continental divide. Along the way expect to see aspens mixed in with spruce and fir on the slopes and willows and yellow-changing cottonwoods along the river.
  • Million Dollar Highway (U.S. Highway 550), which is between Durango and Ridgeway. This is also considered part of the San Juan Skyway, and it follows the path of the Durango and Silverton Railway part of the way.
  • San Juan Skyway (State Road 62) - between Ridgeway and Placerville
  • San Juan Skyway (State Road 145) - between Placerville and Telluride
Thanks to the lucky folks at Colorado State Parks for providing some of the above descriptions.

Fall Foliage Spots in Vail, Aspen, Telluride, Steamboat Springs and the Colorado Rockies

Sort By: Rating | Name
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument
Chalk Creek Canyon Road (SR162; Nathrop - Hancock Ghost Town)
Clear Creek Canyon (CR390; Clear Creek Reservoir (Jct. US24) - Winfield)
Colorado River State Park
Cottonwood Pass
CR306 (Buena Vista - Almont)
Crested Butte, CO
Dallas Divide (SR62)
Durango and Silverton Railway
Fancy Pass
Flat Tops Byway (Yampa - Meeker)
Fremont Pass (SR91)
Grand Mesa, CO
Harvey Gap State Park
Highway of the Fourteeners (US24; Trout Creek Pass - Frenchman's Creek)
Hike to Browns Pass
Independence Pass (SR82)
Irwin Lake, CO
Land End Overlook
Lizard Head Pass (SR145)
Maroon Bells
Maroon Creek Road
Million Dollar Highway (Durango - Ridgeway)
Molas Pass (US550)
Ridgeway State Park
Rifle Falls State Park
Rifle Gap State Park
Roaring Fork River
San Juan Skyway (SR145 portion; Placerville - Telleuride)
San Juan Skyway (SR62 portion; Ridgeway - Placerville)
Silver Thread Scenic Byway (SR149; South Fork - Lake City)
SR135 (Gunnisson - Crested Butte)
SR65 (Mesa - Cedaredge)
SR82 (Twin Lakes - Snowmass)
Steamboat Lake State Park
Sylvan Lake
Turquoise Lake
Twin Lakes, CO
US50 (Grand Junction - Montrose)
Vega State Park
West Beckwith, CO
Windy Point