Fall Colors in Colorado: 11 Must-Visit Destinations
Adventurer & Photographer
The Rocky Mountains run from north to south through Colorado, and thus allow for amazing fall colors along the entire length of the state. We’ve created a list of 11 of the best spots to enjoy fall colors in Colorado, starting with the northern edge and finishing on the southern edge of the state. While it’s impossible to predict exactly when the leaves will be peaking in each location, smokeymountains.com has created a Fall Foliage Prediction Map which may help you plan your trip!
It’s also important to remember that moisture levels and temperatures will affect each year’s fall colors differently. Even if the leaves aren’t peaking when you visit, you’ll still be enjoying a beautiful autumn adventure in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
The rolling hillsides and sparkling rivers that surround Steamboat Springs make it the perfect backdrop for a scenic autumn drive or hike. Head northeast out of town to Buffalo Pass, a dirt road that climbs eight miles up toward Summit Lake and the Continental Divide. You’ll find incredible views and plenty of colorful aspens on this drive. Another excellent drive to experience fall colors in Colorado is Rabbit Ears Pass, just southeast of Steamboat.
Great hike for seeing fall colors: Flash of Gold trail
Admire the foliage while enjoying a soak: Strawberry Hot Springs
The small lakeside town of Grand Lake sits just one mile from the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. For some awe-inspiring autumnal views, take a drive on the Trail Ridge Road (the highest continually paved road in America). Keep an eye out for wildlife. If you’re lucky, you may get to hear male elk bugling as they court female elk – fall is rutting season in the park!
Pro tip: Temperatures and weather can be extreme at elevation. When exploring in the park, whether on foot or driving, make sure to bring lots of layers as well as sunscreen.
Want a unique Grand Lake experience? Rent a boat or a kayak and leaf peep from the water: Trail Ridge Marina
Just 90 minutes from Denver, sitting at the foot of the Tenmile Range, is the little town of Frisco. Surrounded by public lands and plenty of amazing scenic drives and hikes, Frisco is a great place to spot fall colors in Colorado. The easy access from Denver makes this destination a good spot for out-of-state visitors. For a short but beautiful scenic drive, take the Loveland Pass Loop. For something longer (or a drive to the next destination), take Independence Pass. Drive safely on these passes, as many sections of the road are narrow.
Best spot to grab a pumpkin spice latte: Abbey’s Coffee
A challenging hike with stunning views: Mount Royal Trail
Just an hour’s drive away from Vail or Aspen, Glenwood Springs is a picturesque destination nestled in the Roaring Fork Valley. Known for its famous hot springs, this is a great place to relax, enjoy the beautiful scenery and soak in all those gorgeous fall colors. For a long scenic drive that will connect you to several other destinations in this list, we recommend driving the West Elk Loop. For a shorter day trip, we’d recommend driving up to Marble from town. The rugged peaks and valleys of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass and Raggeds Wilderness areas are breathtaking. Make sure to stop for lunch or dinner at Slow Groovin BBQ (some of the best BBQ west of the Mississippi!).
Experience autumn from your mountain bike: Ride Grandstaff Trail
Enjoy views of the Colorado River and Rocky Mountains from intimate hot springs: Iron Mountain Hot Springs
Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains on the banks of the North Fork Gunnison River, the small town of Paonia has incredible access to wild and majestic landscapes. Just 40 minutes from the north entrance to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and 90 minutes to Glenwood Springs, there are incredible views full of fall colors in every direction. We recommend driving along McClure Pass toward Marble for dazzling views of autumn in the Rockies. After a day spent enjoying the crisp fall air, make sure to head to the taproom at Big B’s Delicious Orchards for a hard cider!
Taste local wines with a view: Azura Cellars and Gallery
Explore the vibrant creative scene: Paonia Creative District
Nestled in a high valley of the Elk Mountain Range, Crested Butte and the surrounding mountains always have show-stopping fall colors. This eclectic little ski town offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy adventure under the aspens. Hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, and stand-up paddle boarding are just a few of the ways you can spend your time here, plus there are plenty of fun opportunities for shopping and eating. For a good scenic drive, take Kebler Pass and keep your eyes open for moose!
Leaf peep while mountain biking: Lupine Loop
Grab a seasonally-appropriate cocktail: Montanya Rum Distillers Cocktail Bar
Ouray is often referred to as the “Switzerland of America” and it’s not hard to see why. Jagged peaks and steep mountainsides with cascading waterfalls surround this little community. It’s a great place to witness amazing fall colors in Colorado. Explore a section of the San Juan Skyway, the Million Dollar Highway. This drive will wow you with stunning views of the vibrantly-hued mountains, lush alpine forests and extreme exposure.
Ready to get a little spooky?: Visit a ghost town
Experience the power of a 285-foot waterfall: Box Canyon Falls
Just 35 miles away from the hustle and bustle of Telluride is the quaint former mining town of Rico. The main street is lined with historic buildings, and the surrounding San Juan Mountains are the perfect spot to enjoy autumn. Take a drive on another section of the San Juan Skyway over Lizard Head Pass for mind-blowing views of rugged ridgelines and golden aspen trees.
(Kindly) Take a hike: Kilpacker Trail
Shop for seasonal and locally-sourced food and goodies while enjoying a hot drink (another pumpkin spice latte perhaps?): Fireweed Cafe and Mercantile
Tucked into the San Juan National Forest with the Dolores River running parallel to the town, Dolores is a quiet mountain town with plenty of opportunities for leaf peeping, wildlife watching and outdoor adventure. Just 20 minutes from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, Dolores is in the heart of southwest Colorado. The surrounding landscape is peaceful and lush – an excellent place to enjoy autumn.
Enjoy the fall colors in Colorado from horseback: Circle K Ranch
Stay for the local beer and pizza: Dolores River Brewery
Surrounded by vast amounts of wilderness, Pagosa Springs offers solitude, striking landscapes, and unlimited opportunities for recreation. For a stunning viewpoint that will make you feel like you are on top of the world (and will have great leaf peeping opportunities), drive up Wolf Creek Pass to Lobo Overlook / Radio Tower. To hike amongst alpine meadows and aspens, try the Opal Lake Trail.
See autumn from a different perspective: Take a hot air balloon ride
Try your hand at fly fishing: High Country Fishing Charters
You may not have thought of Great Sand Dunes National Park as an ideal fall destination, but we can guarantee that this unique destination is well worth a fall trip. Alamosa is located in the heart of the San Luis Valley. The shimmering view of the Great Sand Dunes with a backdrop of majestic peaks and the changing colors of cottonwood trees are an other-worldly sight. During fall, you may also get to experience the annual sandhill crane migration – head to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and bring a camera!
View the Great Sand Dunes and the Sangre De Cristo Mountains from above: Take a flightseeing tour
Treat yourself, relax and soak: Joyful Journey Hot Springs