Well, it’s started. The pops of yellow and splotches of orange made me marvel and feel the exhilaration over the fall colors. It may seem early, but in fact, at elevations of 9000 feet and above, it’s starting to get good. If you are savvy about it, you can actually catch the colors starting now and by finding the right scenic byways, you can enjoy them for the next four weeks.
So what’s the best places to go to enjoy the fall colors in the Rocky Mountains?
I’d like to first give a shout out to the western slope. So many of us focus on place near the Front Range, but one of the most beautiful Aspen drives I’ve ever driven runs from the tiny town of Hotchkiss, south of Grand Junction, to Curecanti National Recreation Area. As the road winds and curves, every hillside is covered with an ever larger grove of Aspens, bursting with color. And because it is so off the beat and path, you won’t have to share it will thousands of other people.
The Grand Mesa hosts Color Sunday on September 24 this year. If you haven’t taken a drive on Highway 65, it is the largest mesa in the United States, and is filled with not only Aspen groves, but mountain lakes. Hit it right, and you will be amazed by the views and the colors.
We made a trip today down to the Collegiates to get one last Fourteener hike and the colors along Guanella Pass are pretty spectacular. This old mining road is another road that is seldomly travelled, other than those going to climb Mt. Bierstadt, but offers views of peaks, Bighorn Sheep, and yes, colorful Aspen trees. If you really want to have a fun-packed fall day, you can pair this drive with a ride on the Georgetown Loop railroad.
Closer to home, I’m always looking in anticipation for the colors to change on the Peak to Peak Highway that runs from Idaho Springs to Estes Park. The mixes of pines and first with so many groups of Aspen always leave me marveling at the beauty. And when the grove north of Nederland peaks, well, it’s like magic.
My last recommendation is down south near Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak is unique in that the road stays open year-round, when just about every other high peak road closes after Labor Day. Many years ago, my father-in-law visited and wanted to go to the Pikes Peak Summit. It was late September, and the colors along the Pikes Peak highway produced many “oohs” and “aahs”. All that beauty will come at a price, $15/person or $50 for the car load.
If you have a federal America the Beautiful Pass or Senior Pass, you can still drive the Mt. Evans Highway up to Summit Lake until Sept. 25. Whenever we have visitors from out of town, this is one of our favorite drives for the views of the high peaks, the colors, and to scare the heck out of them!
Don’t let the next 2-3 weeks go by without getting out for a drive — to me this is one of the prettiest times of year in the Rockies and we are so lucky to have all this splendor to enjoy in our home state.