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10 Places To See Colorado’s Fall Color


In the Fall, Colorado is transformed into a natural arena of shimmering colors, with the state’s signature gold Aspen trees serving as the main act. These 10 trip ideas will point you in the direction of shimmering yellows, oranges and reds this September and October.

1. Trail Ridge Road

The highest continuous paved road in North America winds through Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park in the east to Grand Lake in the west. With more than eight miles above 11,000 feet and a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, Trail Ridge Road is an amazing vantage point for leaf peepers and is a favored spot for photographers. The Rocky Mountain Conservancy offers guided hikes and tours and volunteer opportunities in the park.

2. Photographer’s Favorite: Kebler Pass

Gunnison is home to Kebler Pass, which boasts the largest aspen grove in North America and is one of renowned photographer John Fielder’s favorite places. Ohio Creek Road is a great starting point, as it passes some unique natural landscapes, including a series of ranch buildings marking the abandoned site of Castleton and the spires of “The Castles” — remnants of volcanic ash and mud that erupted from the West Elk Volcano some 30 million years ago. Note: The pass is unpaved.

3. The San Juan Skyway

San Juan Skyway, a breathtaking 236-mile loop through the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, offers visitors an amazing array of fall colors and includes a 70-mile stretch known simply as the Million Dollar Highway.  The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers a special Fall Photo Train that coincides with optimal fall foliage. Another unique way to experience Colorado’s fall colors is with Soaring® Tree Top Adventures, home to 27 zip lines that pass by brilliant aspens.

4. Maroon Bells

The iconic Maroon Bells, two towering 14,000-foot mountains nestled in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, are the most photographed peaks in North America. Located in the 2.3-million-acre White River National Forest, the Maroon Bells tower over numerous hiking trails that offer unbeatable views of golden aspen trees. The area is accessible by car, however buses run daily mid-June through Labor Day and on weekends Labor Day through early October from the Aspen Highlands.

5. Western Slope Colors

Colorado’s Western Slope is home to the Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat top mountain, and Colorado wine country. In addition to the reds, whites and rosés made in Grand Junction and Palisade, fall brings with it glorious colors. Powderhorn Mountain Resort‘s vibrant scrub oaks contrast with golden shimmering aspens along the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway.

6. Buffalo Pass

This dirt road just west of Steamboat Springs, is lined with rows of glowing aspen groves. The pass winds eight miles up toward the Continental Divide and Summit Lake, offering stunning views of the surrounding foliage. As the fall colors become more robust, locals recommend a hike to the pristine Zirkel Wilderness Area’s Three Island Lake Trail, which takes hikers through coniferous forests and high meadows, past glacial lakes and vistas. The 6.1-mile (round trip) trail is moderate in difficulty.

7. La Veta Pass

Peaking at an altitude of more than 9,400 feet, the La Veta Pass on U.S. Route 160 in southern Colorado (west of the town of La Veta) is one of the most scenic drives in the state during the fall season. Gold aspen trees mixed with dark green pines line the pass, while the magnificent Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristo Mountains tower over the foliage of the San Luis Valley. The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad (May through October) passes through mountain meadows, canyons and colorful foothills otherwise inaccessible by cars.

8. Free Gondola Ride

The Telluride Free Gondola is one of the most popular ways to view Telluride’s amazing fall colors. The aerial views include the town of Telluride, its box canyon and colorful valleys lined with aspens and evergreens. For yet another way to see Telluride’s foliage, several trailheads are located right in town. Locals suggest the Jud Wiebe Trail, a three-mile loop that winds through large aspen groves and passes by Comet Falls.

9. Dallas Divide

Colorado Hwy. 62 over the Dallas Divide represents an epic fall Colorado drive. Starting near Ridgway, visitors can get an amazing view of Mount Sneffels, one of Colorado’s 58 14ers, and the expansive Sneffels Wilderness Area, which offers several hiking trails for those wishing to venture out further. The route eventually connects with Hwy. 45 and Lizard Head Pass, which offers views of Wilson Peak, the very mountain that inspired the iconic Coors logo. Read about other famous Colorado mountains.

10. Front Range Foliage

Peak to Peak Scenic and Historic Byway is Colorado’s oldest, having been established in 1918. The byway starts in Boulder and offers unmatched views of the Continental Divide and its dramatic fall colors. Though the byway is less than 60 miles in length, there are numerous stop off points along the route, including Rocky Mountain National ParkGolden Gate Canyon State Park, the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, all of which offer their own unique vantage points for leaf peepers.

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Yahoo! Travel: Striking Gold: A Trip Along Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway


Ann Abel

Yahoo! Travel | May 8, 2015

When the front bumper of our cheap rental car detached itself in Farmington, New Mexico, we knew we were going to have to do better than duct tape. The usual scrappy-adventure-girl fixes don’t cut it when you’re headed for Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway.

The problem wasn’t the aesthetics of duct tape in a luxuriously named destination, though this route through southwestern Colorado is nothing like Chicago’s Magnificent Mile or Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue. (And in fact, the origins of the name are debated, but more on that later.) The emergency mechanic visit was because the 25-mile stretch through the San Juan Mountains is a bit dangerous, not the kind of place where you’d want your car to fall apart.

The two-lane mountain byway that connects Ouray and Silverton, a stretch of US Route 550, is routinely listed on most-dangerous-drives and most-scenic drives lists, for the same reason: The road winds its way over three high-mountain passes (each more than 10,000 feet), complete with steep cliffs, narrow lanes, hairpin curves, a lack of guardrails, falling rock potential, and driving surfaces cut directly into sides of mountains. It is lined with many mining ghost towns–turned–boho adventure towns.

One popular explanation for the highway’s name is that an early traveler was so overcome by vertigo that he said he’d never traverse the route again, even if someone paid him a million dollars. The other explanations: construction of the road in the 1930s cost $1 million, or that the builders used gravel from nearby gold and silver mines and found out later that the dirt was worth $1 million because it was so rich in ore.

In any case, the scenery that unfolds beyond all that treachery is spectacular.

The exterior of the Hotel Madeline. (Photo: Hotel Madeline)

But that’s not why my friend and I had undertaken the Million Dollar Highway. We had actually set out on a longer driving adventure along the San Juan Skyway, which connects Cortez, Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, and Durango in a 236-mile loop of highways 160, 145, 62 and 550. Sure, we enjoy dramatic mountain vistas as much as the next girls, but we wanted to check out the quirky local establishments and colorful characters in these Victorian mountain towns. And, okay, we wanted to check out the luxury hotel amenities along the way, too.We drove up from Albuquerque, which took about five hours (not counting rental car diagnostics and replacement), because that’s where we were coming from, but visitors can fly straight to Cortez, Telluride, or Montrose, which are all on or near the route. Denver is also a few hours away. Once you’re on the highway, here’s what’s worth a stop.


The Madeline’s restaurant. (Photo: Hotel Madeline)

Once a mining town and now one of Colorado’s most high-end ski resorts, Telluride benefits from its picturesque and nearly inaccessible location in a mountain valley. Peaks rise up on all sides, and there’s not much traffic just passing through.

The Hotel Madeline offers a hefty dose of luxury to kick off a hair-raising drive. Located in nearby Mountain Village, the hub of Telluride’s winter activities, it’s connected to downtown via a free gondola that affords spectacular views and runs until midnight.

Stop along the gondola ride at the San Sophia mid-station for sundowners at Alreds, which is perched at 10,551 feet and has panoramic views of Telluride below and the sunset to the west. The Madeline has a great restaurant, but for a bite in town, try Brown Dog Pizza, a local favorite that serves classic American, Chicago deep-dish, Detroit-style, and gluten-free pies.


Ouray’s hot springs. (Photo: Mark Johnson)

“Hip, Hip Ouray,” shout the welcome signs at the quirkiest town along the route, a mecca for rock and ice climbers and hot springs soakers. And while the nature playground is certainly impressive, it’s worth spending a little time inside.

The Ouray Alchemist. (Photo: Steve Traudt)

The Ouray Alchemist is a passion project of former pharmacist Curtis Haggar, who spent 40 years collecting medical and pharmaceutical artifacts and built a re-creation of a frontier pharmacy to house them. Haggar’s guided tour (book in advance) is a fascinating hour of snake oils, patent medicines and dubious practices.

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