The Best Places to See Fall Colors in Colorado

Autumn aspen trees (Populus Tremuloides) and Sneffels Range, Mount Sneffels Wilderness, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado, USA
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Colorado's peak time for fall foliage color is usually from mid-September to mid-October and can vary by season, altitude, and the weather. Colorado's fall colors are unique because of the golden aspens that paint the mountains with shades of gold and yellow each autumn. Colorado and Utah are home to the largest number of aspen trees in the U.S. 

Colorado offers the leaf peeper five different climate zones within a two-hour drive from downtown Denver. That means Denver and its surrounding areas have one of the longest periods of fall colors of any city in the country. Trees in the mountains will change color earlier than trees in the Mile High City. If you wait until Denver is awash in picture-perfect tones of orange and red, the mountain trees will already be bare of leaves.

You can enjoy this long season by taking a fall train excursion, hiking in Colorado's state and national parks, soaring on a zip-line, and simply by strolling the parks of Denver.

01 of 09

Colorado State Parks

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

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Colorado State Parks provide visitors with a variety of settings for autumn recreation and leaf-peeping. One of the places to go to see the beautiful aspen trees is Golden Gate Canyon State Park which is packed with aspens, turning a glowing gold each fall.

The nearly 12,000-acre Golden Gate Canyon, just 30 miles from Denver, is worth a visit any time of year because of the views such as Panorama Point Scenic Overlook where you can look out at 100 miles of the Continental Divide. The park offers 100 campsites and places to stay (including yurts and guest houses) and, for day visitors, over 100 spots to picnic. A variety of trails, both easy and challenging, will take you through the aspens.

You can purchase annual park passes for all of Colorado state parks, or you can pay an entrance fee per vehicle for each state park. Some state parks also charge a per-day walk-in fee.

02 of 09

Rocky Mountain National Park

Aspen trees in their full fall foliage display of golden colors.
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Fall is a beautiful time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, especially on sunny September days. The land turns yellow and gold and offers unbelievable fall foliage viewing. The aspens begin turning from green to yellow in mid-September and the trees in the park provide crisp shades of gold and sometimes red into October.

While hiking into the midst of the aspen trees is the ideal way to experience the golden colors, you can also drive through the park to enjoy the views. Bear Lake Road, the Peak to Peak National Scenic Byway, the Cache la Poudre National Scenic Byway, and the Colorado River Headwaters National Scenic Byway make for ideal drives for fall color.

National Park passes are valid in Rocky Mountain National Park, and one- and seven-day passes for cars and motorcycles are available online, as are passes for walking or biking into the park.

03 of 09

Kawuneeche Valley

Male elk bugling and female

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Combine the beauty of fall leaves with the mating rituals of large elk, and you have the perfect fall experience in Colorado. From mid-September through mid-October and sometimes into November, it's elk breeding season in Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding areas, including the Kawuneeche Valley. You may encounter up to hundreds of elk at a time gathering amidst the fall foliage and mountain scenery.

Dusk and dawn are the best time to hear the elk bugle. The distinctive mating call is unmistakable and echoes throughout the valleys and canyons. One of the best Grand County locations to see them is the Kawuneeche Valley, which is on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park. To drive through Kawuneeche Valley, follow Trail Ridge Road (or US Highway 34) from Grand Lake as it follows the Colorado River north.

04 of 09

Smith Fork Ranch

Horseback riding between Aspen groves

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A luxury autumn getaway awaits in Crawford, off the beaten path in southwestern Colorado. The 1890s ranch has been restored and offers a secluded retreat from city life with farm-to-table cuisine. Smith Fork Ranch is open roughly from mid-May through the end of October, which takes you right into the season for fall color.

The three guest cabins, one of the two larger log homes and some of the dining buildings date from the 1920s to the 1950s. While the ranch is termed "rustic-luxe," there's plenty to do and see that will get you outdoors to explore the fall colors—fishing, horseback riding, hiking are ideal activities during an autumn visit.

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05 of 09

Georgetown Loop Railroad

View from Georgetown Loop railroad in fall

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Take a ride on the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad between Georgetown and Silver Plume near Denver and you'll travel right through the colorful trees. Passengers enjoy the fall foliage, mountain views, and fun visits to mines and old mining towns. In October, the railroad features Pumpkin Fest and Oktoberfest events.

06 of 09

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

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If you want to see rushing rivers, hillsides of golden aspen, and cross high trestles in a historic train, the popular Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, based in Durango, Colorado, has a range of fall excursions, special events and even has a special domed observation car where you can get an amazing view of the cliffs and forests that you will pass.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad winds through breathtaking canyons in the wilderness of the 2-million acre San Juan National Forest. You'll travel aboard historic railroad cars pulled by a coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive and stop for lunch in the historic town of Silverton. Have lunch in an old saloon and listen to the honky-tonk piano player, shop for souvenirs, or just take pictures of the iconic steam engine as it readies for the return trip.

Pricing varies according to the level of service chosen, the dates, and car you choose to ride in. Tour packages are available, some of which offer a stay in the recently renovated railroad hotel, the Grand Imperial Hotel, within walking distance of the station.

07 of 09

Soaring Tree Top Adventures

Zipline in Colorado

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Another unique way to experience Colorado’s fall colors is with Soaring Tree Top Adventures, where the zip lines pass by brilliant aspens. There are 27 different zip lines that range from 56 to 1,400 feet in length (longest zip line course in the U.S.). You'll be "soaring" over a mile and a half across the Animas River and through majestic old-growth Ponderosa Pines and through the aspen groves.

You'll reach this beautiful place in the forest, just 30 minutes north of Durango, by the Durango and Silverton train. You can catch the train at the Durango or Rockwood Station. It's a full day adventure if you include the train rides to and from the soaring location.

08 of 09

Clear Creek Tubing

Tubing down the Clear Creek

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Look up and see the aspens as you go tubing in Clear Creek in Golden, Colorado, one of the best tubing areas close to Denver. Even in the fall, temperatures are still warm enough to dip into the creek, and the snowmelt waters have warmed up enough by September. The trees that line the creek will show off their beautiful autumnal colors. The creek also provides places for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

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09 of 09

Denver Area Parks

Sloan's Lake, Denver

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You can bike and stroll Denver's city parks and encounter beautiful fall foliage on the way. There are more than 200 parks in Denver city limits, and many of them are connected by bike trails. And if you choose to bike from one park to the next, don't sleep on the commute: Routes like the Cherry Creek Bike Trail, which stretches from downtown Denver to Cherry Creek State Park, offer great opportunities to leaf peep on the move.

  • Washington Park: This central Denver park has two lakes, flower gardens, and a running path through the trees.
  • Sloan's Lake: Denver's largest lake is set in a tree-filled park with mountain views.
  • City Park: Denver's largest urban park is the place where you can see fall foliage as well as visit the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Denver Zoo, and, if you are in good shape, run, walk or jog the Mile-High Trail, a running trail that where most of the elevation along it is exactly 1 mile high.
  • Cherry Creek State Park: Dubbing itself "Denver's natural and spacious backyard playground," this network of trails, beaches, and other natural jewels is a 40-mile bike ride (or drive) from downtown.
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