Autumn is my favorite time of year to take photos and long drives. We have so many scenic byways and gorgeous places in Colorado and when the leaves change people flock to the mountains. Forums are already buzzing with pictures of leaves starting to change and people wondering where and when they should search for leaves... your insider’s knowledge is right here:
KEVS GUIDE TO COLORADO GOLD!
Generally the third and fourth week of September are ideal to take a long drive through the mountains, but you have to time it just right. It's difficult to predict when exactly the leaves will turn in any given location. Last year the leaves were still nice into the middle of October. Most places change leaves within one to two weeks, you have to be fast and pay attention – particularly to social media or websites that predict leaf change (there are a ton of ‘em, one of my go-to’s is http://www.weather.com/maps/activity/fallfoliage/usnormalfallpeaks_large.html). Also note that leaves change in the northern part of Colorado before the southern areas.
I think this is what stumps people the most when planning a fall foliage drive in our state. Here are my top 4 northern and top 4 southern gold hunting places, boom:
1) Boreas Pass and Breckinridge- Boreas pass is a nice drive indeed. It can get a bit crowded up there, but that is for a reason. There are a few sections of this pass where the trees bend outwards toward the road, it makes canopies of gold over your head as you walk down the road. I recommend you walk sections of this road and take it all in.
2) Mueller state park- this one doesn’t have the best aspens in Colorado, so you might ask why is it on our list? Mueller is a great place to take kids or family. It’s a hidden gem just outside of Divide. You will see many species of birds and wildlife if you sit quietly there. Once you hit Mueller, your drive home can easily go through Victor and Cripple Creek for your golden leaf payout.
3) Guanella Pass- located just outside of Conifer. This pass is paved for the most part and reaches 11.700 feet in elevation. This 25 mile road has sections of 2 of Colorado’s national forests.
4) Aspen and Minturn- more of an area than a specific drive, Minturn has easy access to many highways and loops. This gorgeous little town has vistas and a river running past groves of gold and red. Nice canyons abound to the south of Minturn. The neighboring town of Aspen has many roads around it that are breathtaking. A simple Google search of drives around Aspen and Minturn will find you may options that seldom disappoint.
1) Kebler and Ohio passes- located just outside Crested Butte. Crested Butte in the fall will talk your breath away if you time it right! The aspen grove at Kebler was once considered the largest organism in the world. One giant aspen spans for miles and it tends to change color all at once there. It is a significant drive, but it’s a pilgrimage I try to make every year. If you drive up Kebler pass there is a turn off to Lost Lake about half way which is a beautiful place to fish or have lunch. Ohio pass is Kebler’s next door neighbor; if you make the trip for Kebler, take the extra hour or two to explore Ohio too.
2) Cottonwood Pass- I believe Cottonwood pass is home to the 2nd largest Aspen grove in Colorado. The road is paved all the way to the summit of the pass and makes this a good drive for those who don’t want to drive too far into the hills. Don’t forget to stop off at Cottonwood Lake – one of the favorite places for this photog to rest and take in the natural beauty.
3) The Highway of Legends scenic byway- Google it! There is a ton of stuff on this drive. It’s about 90 miles and 3 hours of your time, but a very nice road trip. Make sure the kids’ electronics are fully charged before you go –or– that they have a better appreciation for the natural beauty around them than mine do!
4) Dallas Divide- This long drive is well worth the rewards at the end. You will pass Blue Mesa, Gunnison, and the Black Canyon. Look at your route options before you leave, at least one option will take you over Monarch Pass – a destination all its own. Once you reach Dallas Divide, the vibrant reds and yellows of fall take over the scrub in breath-taking vistas just off the highway.
These eight locations are certainly not a comprehensive list; each destination here is minivan/family friendly – no 4-wheel drive required. I intentionally left some hidden gems off my list. Part of the adventure is finding your own path and discovering the beauty of this state. I encourage you to go explore this fall and don’t forget to take your camera with you!