Fall is fast approaching. Along with it comes the crisp air, cool temperatures, and golden mountainsides. Aspen gold is Colorado's main Fall color, which can be seen driving or walking through Aspen groves. Snowcapped mountains contrasted against a cloudless blue sky and vivid golden and yellow leaves draws people into the mountains every year.
1. Castle Creek Road
The road itself travels through miles of Aspen filled mountainsides as it transitions from mostly private property to National Forest and many popular hiking destinations. Castle Creek road gives access to hikes in the area including Cathedral Lake, Electric Pass, 14ers Castle and Conundrum Peaks, and the popular Conundrum hot springs. However, the one destination that sets this road apart from many others is the Ashcroft ghost town. A small ghost town renovated several decades ago, this ghost town is nestled amongst Aspen trees with views of many more. All of these sites equal a very unique experience.
2. Kenosha Pass
Kenosha Pass is a popular fall color location along the Front Range of Colorado. Colorado trail runs through the area, providing miles of hiking bliss! There are Aspen groves on both sides of the pass with some very close to the road or miles away, secluded from other visitors. Weekends in September become very busy, so be prepared to get there early.
3. Capitol Creek
The views from the end of Capital Creek are famous for their jaw-dropping beauty. At the end of the narrow and rugged dirt road are amazing views of the majestic 14er, Capitol Peak with Aspen trees sprawling for miles. For the adventurers, walking as far as you can along Capitol creek is a wonderful way to spend a day. At the end of the road do not forget to look east at the wonderful views. If you plan to shoot sunset, make sure to get there early as it has become a popular spot over the last few years.
4. Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
The Peak to Peak is a stunning drive any time of the year, but comes alive in the Fall when Aspen trees light up along the route. The 55-mile long Peak to Peak byway provides wonderful views of the continental divide from Estes Park in the north to Blackhawk and I-70 to the south. There are several larger groves of Aspen on national forest land that provide walking access, but be careful not to wander into private property dotted along the trails. The byway is a local favorite, especially when snow in the high country acts as a backdrop to the beautiful Aspens near the road. The byway is made up of highways 7 (in the north), 72, and 119 (in the south).
5. Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs is one of the first areas in the state to show off its beautiful Fall colors, with some of the grandest displays in Colorado. Due to its distance from Denver and early seasonal change, many of the roads and trails in the area are less popular than areas to the south. Areas like Buffalo Pass, Elk River road, Steamboat lake, and Rabbit Ears Pass are more popular destinations. There are also many other less-discovered drives and hikes worth exploring.
6. Mt Sneffels/Dallas Divide
The Mt. Sneffels and Dallas Divide areas are probably the most popular location in southwest Colorado to shoot Fall Color. The mountains (including Mt. Sneffels) often have a thin layer of snow above the many scenic ranches and Aspen groves in the area. Many of the best roads originate from Ridgway and Telluride, Colorado.
7. Twin Lakes area-Leadville
The Twin Lakes area consists of a pair of large glacial lakes flanked by some of the tallest mountains in the state, 14ers La Plata and Mt. Elbert. It's a beautiful scene all year round, but comes to life in Fall. Oftentimes these groves contain more red Aspens than many other places in the state. Many sightseers stop and walk to the lakeshores to take in the views but if you have a 4x4 or enjoy hiking, the slopes of Mt. Elbert also provide a wonderful vantage point to enjoy the show. Highway 82 will provide wonderful and colorful vistas all the way to Independence Pass and down the west side into Aspen.
8. Kebler Pass
Kebler Pass has the distinction of being one of the largest Aspen groves in the world! There are miles of Aspen easily accessible by Gunnison County road 12 and many more accessible by those willing to explore the ridges and valleys in the area. The views overlooking the Beckwith Mountains are some of the most famous in the state. Several small lakes in the area are also beautiful spots to catch reflections. Gunnison County road 12 is open to all cars with some sections even paved and access can be gained from state highway 133 (west) or through the town of Crested Butte (east).
9. Maroon Bells
The Maroon Bells are by far the most famous mountains in Colorado and this is especially true in the fall. Prepare to stand shoulder to shoulder with other photographers as they crash the shores of Maroon lake for the iconic shot. Be sure to enjoy the sight of what many photographers have found to be a portfolio-worthy shot!
Other areas that are worth checking out for fall colors include Rocky Mountain National Park, Guanella Pass, Boreas Pass, Cottonwood Pass, Independence Pass, Million Dollar Highway, and Highway 24 between Minturn and Leadville.
Written by Eric Schuette, photos also by Eric.