There will be numerous “leaf-peeping” articles published over the next couple of weeks. Colorado has become insanely popular for the activity, and it’s not surprising. This state’s numerous aspen groves turn gold and we have bushes that turn a stunning red. The phrase on our welcome signs is no joke—Colorful Colorado exists!
Instead of giving readers driving directions to see color, so that their vehicle can join the winding train of cars going to the mountains over the next four weekends, I’m going to do things a bit differently.
These are my top color moments in Colorado and the places I think YOU should visit someday to relish the colors for more than an afternoon. Avoid “getting in line” like everyone does on Kenosha Pass. Seriously, to a longtime Coloradan who has driven that route via Hwy 287 for more than twenty years, it is downright ridiculous there during the fall.
If I were you, I’d avoid that area. Or, here’s a worthwhile tip you won’t get from ChatGPT: Visit Kenosha Pass during the week.
By the way, I don’t have a favorite season, however, a glimpse of yellow during the fall is a highlight of my life. Just ask Ryan! He has to put up with my exclamations over color every autumn, and normally he takes it like a champ. He’ll say, “Just tell me when you want me to pull over to take a photo.”
He gets me.
Here are a few of my best color moments in Colorado.
Prettiest Pass? Maybe Monarch
I’ve happened to be driving over Monarch Pass several times in the fall. Stunning isn’t a strong enough word to describe it. Let’s put it this way—I’ve pulled over a lot to take photos on Monarch Pass.
I’m not necessarily encouraging you to take a special trip from the Front Range to visit Monarch Pass during the fall, but it is one of the prettiest passes in September.
Some good food, plus fantastic views in the Vail Valley
I’ve been fairly fortunate over the years, and have managed to be in Vail and the surrounding area in the autumn many times. If you go, get a room with a view. Or a balcony with a view.
With Swiss-style architecture and cute little boutiques selling shockingly expensive scarves and yoga pants, Vail is a good time, whether you can afford those yoga pants or just pass by like me. Either way, eating here is costly but so delicious, and hiking through the yellow forests is dreamlike.
Another excellent place to view the mountainside in color is from the hot tubs at The Westin Riverside in Avon. I’ve been in both August and January and can tell you from experience that there is a scenic vista from these hot tubs
McClure Pass: The Pass You Haven’t Heard About
Perhaps it isn’t as well known as Vail Pass or Independence Pass, but this drive is spectacular in the fall. From Glenwood Springs to the North Fork Valley (Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford), it is one beautiful mountainscape after another. And I should know, I made Ryan stop for many of these vistas in September of 2017 when we pulled a retro trailer named Buttercup to Mountain Harvest Festival.
We parked Buttercup in the orchard at Big B’s Delicious Orchards in Hotchkiss. Sitting each morning with a cup of coffee while watching the fog creep over Mount Lamborn is a precious memory. Big B’s has grown since then and camping is a little less rustic than it used to be, and a little pricier, but I’d still recommend doing it at least once. They even have glamping tents now!
I have spent many happy hours at Big B’s restaurant and market. We visit this area even when I’m not on an official HeidiTown trip. That’s how much we love it.
By the way, if you can drive home from the North Fork Valley via the Grand Mesa, do it. I haven’t experienced it in the fall, but it’s picturesque in the summer and I have heard it does autumn truly well.
Ride the Gondola in Telluride
I haven’t been to Telluride since 2016, and it was expensive then, so I can’t imagine how pricey it is in 2023. However, it’s a gorgeous and extremely photogenic area. Plus, it’s Telluride and I’m sure visiting comes with Instagram points or something.
The only way I would recommend getting between Telluride and Mountain Village is the gondola. You can drive a car but that’s so boring. For those of you who may not know, the ski town is Mountain Village and the actual town is Telluride (although Mountain Village is an actual incorporated town too, so it can be confusing).
Riding that gondola is one of my fondest memories. Having been to Telluride a couple of times, I’d highly recommend this activity at any time of year. Just be aware that Telluride is a splurge of epic proportions. You’ve been warned.
Grand Lake FTW
Let’s face it, Grand Lake can be annoyingly busy in the summer. Tripping over strollers and darting around families of 10 is commonplace. However, in the off-season, Grand Lake is heaven. As I mentioned in the previous post about sports, we’ve been to Grand Lake in the fall a lot.
What’s better than a big, deep lake surrounded by treed mountain views? Not much, and I know why it is a popular destination for families—there is a lot for the kiddos to do. The secret is that visiting in the off-season means it is more affordable (bonus) and there won’t be crowds, but you’ll still get the fabulous views.
At the peak of color season, there will be throngs of lookie-loos in Grand Lake. If you can manage coming towards the end of color season you’ll be as golden as the hills. Of course, I can’t tell you when that will be, as every Colorado fall is a bit different. You’ll just have to wing it, but even if Grand Lake isn’t at peak color, it will be grand.
The rest of Colorado’s mountains, plus all the other spots in the state.
To vague? I promise, there will be hundreds of lists out there about where to see Colorado colors this fall. Everyone talks about New England, and that’s tops, but I think this state shines.