Driving or hiking, Denverites get to enjoy dazzling fall foliage year after year. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts the peak in Colorado hits early to mid-October this season, but the viewing opportunities always stretch from mid-September to mid-November, beginning with the Aspens turning their signature gold in high elevation before spreading down to the foothills and Denver itself.
To kick off the 2021 leaf peeping season, we’ve rounded up our favorite hot spots for some undoubtedly memorable views both near and far from downtown Denver. Just remember: some parks require a reservation and/or have implemented special visitation guidelines, so be sure to check online before visiting.
Between its thick stands of aspens, relatively close proximity to Denver, and easy terrain, Kenosha Pass is probably the most popular stretch of the 500-mile Colorado Trail. We suggest taking it in on a weekday if you can swing it, but no matter when you go, you’ll be greeted by lots of fall foliage as well as wildflowers adding to the show. The 12-mile round trip Kenosha Pass North Trail near Jefferson, CO is easy-to-moderate and boasts panoramic views of the South Park Valley plus vistas including the Rocky Mountains.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The highest and longest paved road on the continent, Trail Ridge Road, stretches 48 miles west from Estes Park to Grand Lake and includes eight winding miles with an elevation over 11,000 feet. An approximately three-hour picturesque drive in the park can be found along Colorado’s oldest scenic byway, Peak to Peak Highway. It begins in Estes and passes Lily Mountain and Twin Sisters before turning south just past Allenspark and continuing through Blackhawk and Clear Creek Canyon, harboring wide swathes of golden aspens contrasted against evergreens.
We always prefer hikes that include bodies of water this time of year as they deliver an even bigger dose of color, thanks to large lakes and rivers acting as mirrors for the foliage. Enjoy listening to the roaring Big Thompson River as you hike along Fern Lake Trail to The Pool, a bit over three miles round-trip, or take a steeper trip up Gem Lake Trail through aspen groves to be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Estes Park lookout over the entire valley and Longs Peak.
San Juan Skyway
If you’re looking to upgrade your fall foliage viewing party into a full-fledged weekend getaway, head straight to Durango, CO for the 236-mile loop known as the San Juan Skyway. With many opportunities to zipline along the route, you can get up close and personal with the seasonal colors. There’s also the nationally landmarked Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that runs their passenger steam locomotive deep into the San Juan Mountains, and you won’t want to leave before taking a drive down the spectacular 70-mile stretch known as The Million Dollar Highway.