Tuesday, September 11, 2018

It's almost Fall Y'all! - Best Leaf Peeping Spots in Fallorado

I have a confession to make.

I’m a peeper.

It’s true. I love to peep. September is not only the start of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, cooler weather and a time to dig out the scarves, but also kicks off my favorite season: leaf peeping in Fallorado.

After living in Colorado 13 years I’d like to think I’ve mastered the art of this fine fall family activity. While the local news stations do a great job of projecting when the aspen leaves will change to gold, one crazy snowstorm can blow in and wipe the colors from the mountaintops. The best plan to peep, I’ve learned, is to have a few ideas on where you’d like to go to see the colors, but be willing to change your weekend plans if necessary. While some of my favorite spots might require a hotel stay or camping trip, others can be made as a daytrip. It’s best to note the colors change from North to South in the state so some of these places are best scheduled to visit at the end of September or early October. So pack some snacks, grab your fall boots, charge up the camera and get ready to take the kids to the best colorful Colorado has to offer.

        1. Hells Hole Hike in the Mount Evans Wilderness: This is an 8 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Idaho Springs. Full disclaimer, I hiked this once with my daughter when she was little and it was a huge undertaking. Now we just drive up to the trailhead and hike until the aspens run out, about a mile or so in and turn around and come back out. There’s picnic tables at the trailhead as well as pit toilets making it a nice spot to hike and lunch with the family. The road isn’t paved but I’ve driven up in a 2wd vehicle with no issues. Dogs are also allowed on leash. To me, this is the closest spot for soaking in the Aspen’s and it’s a great place to take out-of-towners who don’t care to do more than a few miles of hiking as well.

2.       Golden Gate Canyon State Park: located northwest of Golden, this 11,998 acre park has 36 miles of hiking trails to choose from and features over 100 campsites and 100 picnic sites. The twelve trails are each named after an animal and marked with the animal’s footprints. I chose the Horseshoe Trail because it’s 1.8 miles one way and passes through aspen groves which were mostly bare of leaves when I went mid-October last year. Some of the trails are for hikers only while others allow horse and mountain bikes so you can choose the option that’s perfect for you and your family. Don’t feel like hiking? Drive straight to Panorama Point and enjoy the best picnic views around.

3.       Bear Creek Falls: If you can swing a trip to Telluride during gold season, it’s my absolute favorite spot to see the fall colors. While you can peep at just about any spot driving past the Dallas Divide on your way into town, Bear Creek Falls offers an up close and personal view of aspen the quaking aspens. While the hike itself is 2.5 miles one way to the falls, you can shorten this by letting your little ones hike as far as their legs will carry them then walk back into town. My favorite part about this jaunt is that it can be accessed from town so once you arrive at your accommodations you don’t have to drive anywhere further. You can also take the free gondola up to mountainside village so you can have a bird’s eye view of the aspens lining the soon-to-be-snow lined -ski-hill below. For bonus aspen tree peeping, take the Last Dollar Road on your way into town and find yourself surrounded by trees and views of Mt. Wilson peak. Pro-tip: don’t drive this road if it’s recently been raining or snowing, we almost went off the road and got stuck due to excess mud from a recent storm.

4.       Maroon Lake: No leaf peeping list would be complete without a mention of the Maroon Bells Wilderness. This landmark is so popular that access is restricted during the summer and fall. Before 8am and after 5pm, you can drive all the way to Maroon Lake for a $10 vehicle fee. Otherwise plan on taking the bus from the Aspen Highlands Ski Area where you can purchase tickets from Four Mountain Sports and the ticket office. Call the Maroon Bells hotline: 970-945-3319 for information about the status of the scenic area and parking. What makes this area so amazing is that it’s accessible to everyone (even dogs on leash!) and if you’re feeling motivated you can hike past Maroon lake and on to Crater Lake where you’ll find the crowds start to thin. We camped at the Lost Man Campground, which is a first come, first-served site situated directly across Independence Pass road from Lost Man Trailhead. This gave us an affordable way to stay near town without having to pay resort prices.
after a gorgeous summit day on S. Maroon

Maroon lake as seen from summit of S. Maroon

5.       Ouray and Silverton: Last fall my husband, daughter and I flew to Montrose (perks of being a flight attendant!) rented a car, then drove to Ouray and began the ultimate leaf peeping adventure. True to all great adventures, we had no definite plans. We stayed at the Victorian Inn which has natural hot springs pools (perfect for kids) plus free breakfast and popcorn in the lobby. We spent a day driving over Red Mountain pass into Silverton for lunch then driving down any dirt road that held the promise of gold. Many might not have known our daughter was with us since she slept in the car for half our leaf peeping experience, which made this activity perfect for our family. My husband and I got to jump in and out of the car to take photos, my daughter got great naps in, and at the end of the day we soaked and ordered room service from the Tiki bar.
somewhere off red mountain pass

There you have it, my top picks for peeping around the state. Of course, I didn’t even mention hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park or a drive over Trail Ridge Road but that’s because the options for viewing fall colors in this state are only limited by your imagination. While there are many times in life to be a planner, and trust me I love to plan, soaking in the colors of Fallorado requires more spontaneity which will allow for a truly incredible adventure for your family. So gas up the car and get ready for a road trip because before you know it all those beautiful aspens will be bare and winter will be on its way.