The fall is the gold rush season in Colorado in the western United States. While this prize may not be the gold that the state's settlers were chasing, it's a different kind of treasure that keeps travelers coming back to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado year after year, every fall: The impressive changing of the leaves.
There are numerous other ways to enjoy the season across the beautiful Centennial State, which stays busy this time of year. Many fall attractions are family-friendly and range from scenic train rides to corn mazes to famous film festivals to beer halls.
Visit the Largest Aspen Groves
If you want to see the most dramatic transformation of leaves, look for an area with numerous aspen trees. In this case, head to the heart of the Rockies, a town called Gunnison in Southwest Colorado. Another great stop is historic Crested Butte, about 35 minutes to the north of Gunnison, where massive groves live. Take out mountain bikes or go on a hike in early fall for the best displays.
These charming mountain towns also offer chances to go rock climbing, horseback riding, fishing, and many more outdoor activities, along with checking out local restaurants, breweries, and shops.
Fly Straight to Telluride
Strikingly beautiful Telluride is one of Colorado's favorite mountain towns, but the long drive (more than six hours from Denver, where the main international airport is) can deter some travelers. However, there are flights from Denver (and multiple other airports in the U.S.) to the smaller Telluride Regional Airport. The flight between the two destinations is a little over an hour.
While in town, check out the Telluride Ski and Golf Resort, which offers some of the best golf terrains in the country. Don't miss Bridal Veil Falls for an exquisite waterfall view.
Look for hotel specials in Telluride every fall, as the ski town works to draw in more travelers during the off-season before the snow falls and the lifts begin running.
Party at Oktoberfest
Fall is time for Oktoberfest celebrations across the world, and Colorado has a few highlights. The Denver event, which has been going strong for 50 years and is free to enter, takes place the last two weekends in September. Of course, beer takes center stage as one of the state's favorite drinks. However, Denver's huge Oktoberfest is family-friendly, and this celebration also has tons of food, dancing, live music, costume contests, and other quirky entertainment.
Another exciting Oktoberfest party the whole family can attend is in the mountainous town of Vail. The free event is full of beer, live music, a Bratwurst Eating Contest, and additional entertaining activities for the two weekends after the Labor Day weekend.
Stay the Night in Vail
The ski towns up Interstate 70 have some of the most incredible leaf-changing displays. Even the drive up the mountain is scenic and will present some jaw-dropping views. Plan an overnight in Vail, which is less than two hours west of Denver.
You'll feel like you're in Europe when staying at the Sonnenalp Hotel, designed to look like a Bavarian ski chalet, right in the heart of town. You can walk through downtown Vail and along the river, past colorful trees, or take a hike deeper through the mountain to fully immerse yourself in the brilliance of the season.
As the weather chills down, snuggle up in your luxurious bathrobe by a private fireplace with a bottle of wine. Sonnenalp boasts many awards, including being named TripSavvy Editors’ Choice Awards 2018.
Take a Guided Road Trip
Before the snow closes some of the higher roads (with the best views), you may want to take an exciting road trip. Intrepid Travel offers the Colorado & Utah Active Adventure tour, starting at the end of August in Denver.
On this 9-day journey you'll make new friends and work together as a team as you camp in gorgeous Telluride; go canyoneering through Canyonlands National Park's rock formations in Utah; go on an overnight rafting trip on the Colorado River; and explore Temple Square in Salt Lake City, along with other memorable activities.
Though no experience is needed for rafting and canyoneering, a moderate level of fitness is important. Some meals will be included as well as private transport; you'll be mostly camping and spending a few nights in hotels.
See the Films First
Fall isn't just for the outdoors. It's also the season of the famous Telluride Film Festival—running strong since 1974—for four days over Labor Day weekend. Big-name stars and hordes of film fans head to scenic Southwest Colorado for this event. Many award-winning films, including "Slumdog Millionaire," made their debut at the Telluride Film Festival, which features more than 50 different programs in 10 venues across town.
Plus, you'll have some bonus fun with the element of surprise: The films are not announced until the festival begins and attendees have made it to the mountainous town. Filmmakers are announced in the program guide, which can be picked up in Telluride during the event, or viewed online.
Bike or Walk Through Denver, Artistically
Denver's reputation as an artistic hub continues to grow, and the ART, a Hotel in the Golden Triangle south of downtown, brings that excitement to travelers. Visitors have access to custom-designed bikes painted by students at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. Each bike is inspired by Denver's culture. Take out one of these colorful, quirky bikes for a spin to explore the culture and nearby museums.
If you'd rather go by foot, you can take a guided walk or run through downtown and surrounding areas—following ART's public art map—on an approximately 3-mile loop called Art Run. The route starts at the hotel and passes by points of interest, including some of Denver's most beloved public art pieces. Consider it artistic interval training, and it's free for guests.
Explore Via Train
See the changing of the leaves on the Fall Colors Explorer train in the southern Colorado area, leaving out of Alamosa or Fort Garland in September and October. This popular ride, offered by the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, takes you in a historical, domed club car up high in the Rockies. The ride includes a fall-inspired brunch.
Trips also include a speaker on board, so you can learn more while you take in the sites. Bring your camera, as the journey includes two stops along the way to take photos of the lovely fall colors.
Drink at Denver's Beer Hall
If beer is on your mind, there are plenty of ways to experience it in Colorado. One fun option: Visit Stanley Beer Hall at Stanley Marketplace in northwest Aurora, about 9 miles from Denver, where you'll also find over 50 businesses providing food, drinks, shopping, and more.
Aimed to be a modern spin on the traditional beer hall, Stanley Beer Hall features unique food (shareable style) in a clean, refined atmosphere. The beer hall—with communal tables, a concrete slab bar, and a year-round indoor-outdoor game space—features 30 drafts representing the best of Colorado craft beer, the majority of which are local and rotating. Even look for cocktails on tap and cold brews.
Get Lost in the Corn
Colorado has corn mazes and pumpkin patches scattered throughout the state; each has its own charm and offerings, from big displays to humble produce stands. Maize in the City, a popular attraction located just 15 minutes from downtown Denver in Thornton, is more than just a big field of corn. It offers a mini-train, a playground, sand art, pony rides for kids, and two sizes of corn mazes, among other fun things to do.
For a bigger rush, those brave souls above age 12 may want to check out the nearby Haunted Field of Screams for four terrifying experiences, like the Zombie Paintball Massacre or CarnEvil in the Corn.
Attend a Durango Arts Festival
Durango in Southwest Colorado is a beautiful and historic small town in the foothills of the San Juan Mountains that makes a good travel destination on its own, especially during the season of fall colors. Art lovers will want to visit in September when the Durango Autumn Arts Festival takes place toward the end of the month.
A crowd-pleasing event since 1994, the festival features fine art and crafts made by people around the country. The weekend event typically attracts about 6,500 visitors each year.
Experience Mesa Verde National Park
If you drive about an hour east from Durango in Southwest Colorado, you'll find a unique opportunity to explore the gorgeous Mesa Verde National Park, which came to be in 1906 and is filled with cultural and historical learning for the whole family. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and former home to Ancestral Pueblo people for more than 700 years, the park preserves almost 5,000 archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings—some of the country's top protected sites.
Mesa Verde is a great place to go in the fall for pleasant weather and fewer crowds after the Labor Day holiday. If you travel in the early fall, you'll likely avoid the chance of snowy weather.
Go Apple Picking
In the fall, ripe apples are found in abundance in Colorado orchards, and the state offers numerous places to pick your own and fill a box with the sweet fruits. Ya Ya Farm & Orchard in Longmont, approximately 36 miles north of Denver, has about 1,000 organic fruit trees (mostly apple) on its farm, which was started in 1896. The prime apple picking time at YA YA is from late July through mid-October.
Adam’s Apple Orchard & Country Store in Ault, about 73 miles northeast of Denver, grows over 150 varieties of apples along with other fruits. The orchard's pick-your-own season lasts about 11 to 12 weeks. While you are there, get some trip souvenirs at the store, such as jams, cider, salsas, and more.
Learn About Elk and Their Bugling
There is nothing quite like the unique and haunting sound of bugling—the call the male bull elk makes when looking for a mate that is audible from a great distance.
About 70 miles northwest of Denver in the mountain town of Estes Park, the annual Elk Fest is the place to learn all about the animal, one of the largest species within the deer family. The late September event features bugling contests, elk exhibits and seminars, and a craft beer garden, while families will enjoy storytelling, arts and crafts, live music, and children's elk-themed activities.