As summer comes to an end, the aspen leaves will quickly begin to lighten. The best time for fall colors in Colorado is from mid-September thru mid-October. Peak color first begins in the mountains of northern Colorado and usually lasts about 2 weekends. Each week the bright golden leaves push further south across Colorado. The central mountains usually peak the last 2 weekends in September while southern Colorado usually reaches the brightest colors in the first half of October. As you are chasing the vibrant fall foliage, remember that a little change in elevation or latitude can make a big difference.
Here is our list of best places to see fall foliage in Colorado.
Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway
With elevations on the Byway mostly above 9,000 feet, the leaves will begin changing earlier than at lower elevations. The Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway heads out of Leadville in 3 directions:
- Leadville to Minturn
- Leadville to Copper Mountain
- Leadville to Twin Lakes, then over Independence Pass into Aspen.
Take I-70 between Minturn and Copper Mountain to create a scenic loop out of segments 1 and 2.
The Leadville Train has "Fall Photo Weekends" that run for 3 weekends beginning in mid-September. Trains depart Leadville twice on Saturdays & Sundays at 10 am & 2 pm. The Leadville Train is dog friendly so you can bring you four legged friend along for the ride.
Be prepared for any weather. Our trip in 2017 turned into the Polar Express with snow and freezing temperatures.
Head west out of Buena Vista from the stop light and drive to the top of Cottonwood Pass on Chaffee County Road 306.
Normally, you could continue over the pass into Taylor Park and drive along the Taylor River to Gunnison. However, the west side of the pass is closed for paving in 2017, so you will have to head back to Buena Vista when you are done.
A side trip to Cottonwood Lake is worthwhile. Take Chaffee County Road 344 approximately 4 miles to the lake.
Colorado's most original ghost town is a favorite for photographers. The drive to St Elmo along Chalk Creek is amazing as well.
ATV Historical Color Tour
September 19 - 23, 2017. This self guided rally is an annual charity event put on by the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce. Enjoy the fall colors while exploring 4x4 trails thru ghost towns, mining camps, and across the Continental Divide. In the evening there are dinners, entertainment, and prizes.
The east side of Monarch Pass is full of aspens. The last 2 years, it seems like some of the brightest colors have been along US Highway 50 on the way up to Monarch Pass. There are plenty of places to pull off and enjoy the views. Continue driving on Hwy 50 over the Continental Divide to see more fall colors in the Gunnison & Crested Butte Area.
Gunnison & Crested Butte
Ohio Valley and Ohio Pass
Between Gunnison & Crested Butte, take Gunnison County Road 730 past scenic cattle ranches and over Ohio Pass. The road intersects County Road 12 west of Crested Butte near Lake Irwin. Follow Co Rd 12 (Kebler Pass Road) west to Kebler Pass.
North America's largest aspen grove is a photographer's favorite. Weekends bring a lot of traffic to the area. Weekdays are still pretty busy but traffic is more manageable.
Kebler Pass is part of the scenic byway known as the West Elk Loop. If you have time to spend a full day driving, you can check out the entire 200+ mile route.
Follow Gothic Road about 4 miles out of North Crested Butte. (Gunnison County Road 317)
There are a couple choices for leaf lookers near Pitkin. Waunita Pass is just a few miles south of town and a must see if you are in the area. The trip over Cumberland Pass to Tincup is also worthwhile.
La Veta Pass
La Veta Pass is far enough south that it is just beginning to reach it's peak by the time most aspen leaves are on the ground in central Colorado.
The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad runs a special fall foliage train on weekends from mid September to mid October. Leaf peepers can hop on the train in Alamosa or Fort Garland for an all day ride over old La Veta Pass to the town of La Veta. The train departs Alamosa at 9:30 am with a quick stop to to pickup passengers in Ft Garland at 10:15 am. The train returns to Alamosa at 5:30 pm.
Fall Foliage Videos
If you can't make it out to see the fall colors this year, check out the next best thing.
We have a Fall Foliage Playlist on our YouTube Channel.