Just a Colorado Gal

The Seven Best Drives for Colorado Fall Colors

Winter is awesome and summer is almost perfect, but there is something truly special about autumn. And while I know Colorado doesn’t quite have the spectacular fall colors that New England sees, I’m still absolutely enamored with the golden color of the state’s aspen groves. They’re beautiful!

If I could design my perfect lazy day, it would involve waking up at my family’s house on the Western Slope and hopping into town for some apple cider. After gathering up some pumpkins from the local patch {because carving}, I’d mash everyone into the car for scenic fall colors drive.

Best Colorado Drives for Fall Colors

{Sure, hiking is the best way to catch the color, but sometimes you just want to be lazy about it!}

All photos by my husband, Will Rochfort

All of these drive are stunningly beautiful with hillsides covered in glittering yellow trees. Peak fall colors can be hard to nail down so maybe do what we do: we blocked out two weekends on our calendar months ago! We know when we’re going but the location may change depending on where peak foliage is. Don’t forget: peak colors hit earlier in Colorado than in other states, thanks to our altitude. Prime color usually falls near the end of September-early October, and it widely varies across the state.

What are you waiting for? Go find the gold!

The Poudre Canyon Highway

Located in the northern part of the state, the Poudre is just to the west of Fort Collins. Hop on highway 14 from FoCo and head into the Cache la Poudre River Canyon. Not only do you get to follow the beautiful river, but you’ll get to enjoy the dozens and dozens of aspen stands. They continue all the way to the top of Cameron Pass, and even into State Forest State Park.

If you’re feeling sprightly –and want to sit in the car a bit longer–drive all the way to Walden. Not only will the fall color continue, but you stand a really good chance of seeing a moose. I’ve seen a handful in the state of Colorado and they are always in this area!

The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

Ok, I may be biased because our family has some property in this neck of the woods, but the Grand Mesa is not to be missed!

Not only is the Grand Mesa the largest flattop mountain in the world but it is also relatively pristine. This side of the state is unvisited and the Grand Mesa is no exception. Highway 65 steeply drives up the Mesa, exposing glorious aspen trees all the while. Once you hit the top, the colorful aspen continue only they now dot the shores of dozens and dozens of small lakes and ponds. Wildlife is a plenty too– word on the street is that a bear has been poking his head around our family house!

Guanella Pass

Of the group, Guanella is the closest to Denver and as a result, may be crowded. That said, the views are worth it and– if you’re feeling like a hike– Mt. Bierstadt is located smack on the top of the pass!

Both sides of the pass are equally pretty, so drivers can access Guanella from the town of Georgetown off I-70 or the smaller town of Grant off highway 285. A small portion of the road is paved, but the rest is dirt. Take my advice and throw in your hiking shoes. Even if you just jump out for a 30-minute hike, you won’t regret it!

Kebler Pass

In a word, Kebler is a beaut!

Home to one of the largest aspen groves in the country, Kebler is breathtaking. Visitors can see the trees by taking County Road 12 from downtown Crested Butte {and if you are worried about finding the road, don’t be. CB is a small town and you will immediately see signs directing you towards the pass.} The road starts paved but eventually turns to well-maintained gravel. If you follow it all the way over the pass, you will eventually drop onto highway 133 near Paonia.

There is something for everyone on Kebler: day hikers, drivers, photographers and campers. There is plenty of space and even more unbelievable vistas. It’s well worth a look.

Cottonwood Pass

If the color isn’t as vibrant on Cottonwood, it will well make up for that with its incredible surroundings!

From downtown Buena Vista, hop on Chaffee County Road 306 and follow the signs for Cottonwood. Aspen groves alternate with evergreen trees, leaving a speckled medley of gold and green along the hillsides. If you are willing to make the trek {and the road is still open– it closes for winter}, you can follow it for 60 miles as it traipses up to 12,126 feet at the Continental Divide. From there, it drops back down to the Gunnison River. The BV side of the pass is littered with towering peaks from the Collegiate Range: Mt Yale, Columbia, Oxford, Belford and Missouri are all there, to name a few.

Peak-to-Peak Scenic Highway

This highway rivals Guanella Pass in terms of proximity to Denver and as a result, it is quite popular. That said, it’s totally worth it and you get to see some adorable mountain towns!

Form the revived mining town of Black Hawk, take highway 119 towards the ever-unique Nederland. From there, follow highway 72 towards Raymond. Finally, hook up with highway 7 and drive passed the towering Longs Peak before popping into Estes Park. Not only will the fall colors be gorgeous, but the town of Estes is always a great place to end a day in the mountains.

Trail Ridge Road

Known for its ridiculous snow levels in the winter, Trail Ridge is worth it for anyone– visitor or local alike!

Drivers can begin in either Estes Park or Granby, taking highway 34 through Rocky Mountain National Park. The road tops out at 12,183 and y’all? It’s stupid pretty. Some of the overlooks in the park are ridiculous!

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