The changing of the leaves is one of the beautiful hallmarks of autumn. Before admiring the fall foliage turns to raking them out of the front yard, why not take a trip to marvel at Colorado’s colors?
Peak leaf-peeping has already begun, with summer’s dry, hot weather leading to early changes in foliage color. The prime viewing time frame across the state is expected to be the next two weeks. Here are some of the best spots to catch the early colors without straying too far from Longmont.
For those who want to appreciate the splendor of nature from the comfort of their cars, the Peak to Peak Highway is an ideal route. From Longmont, it’s a short jaunt down Colo. 66 to Lyons, then to Colo. 7 until it meets Colo. 72. Once on the Peak to Peak Highway, one of the state’s 26 scenic byways, the splendid views are right out the window.
Driving through the winding mountain road, bands of aspens cut through the conifer forests like rivers of gold and orange. The quaking aspen, native to Colorado, are distinctive with their medallion-shaped leaves and white bark. Found most commonly between 6,500 feet and 11,500 feet elevation, these trees draw excited travelers from all across the state.
Plenty of turnouts are available on the side of the road for vistas and photographic opportunities, though caution is advised with soft shoulders and areas without guardrails.
Taking either Colo. 7 or U.S. 36 west will eventually lead to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Though visibility conditions are lowered due to smoke from the 102,000-acre Cameron Peak fire that touches the northern area of the national park, Trail Ridge Road is still a prime choice for a day driving to see the changing leaves. Rocky Mountain National Park is still operating on a reservation system for day-use parking and entry, so plan your trip accordingly.
Adventurers that prefer hiking to take in a more up-close and personal view of the leaves have some excellent choices and Hall Ranch is among them.
The ranch, just outside Lyons, is part of Boulder County Open Space. The hike up to the Nelson Loop, where most of the tree stands can be found, is a lengthy one no matter which route you take, but the whispering of the aspens in the mountain breeze makes it worthwhile.
Further up U.S. 36, the Lion Gulch Trail to Homestead Meadows provides some history among the trees.
If you travel the Peak to Peak Highway, Brainard Lakes Recreation Area, a part of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, has gentle trails for those not up for a significant hike. The highway continues on to Nederland, with access to Caribou Ranch and Mud Lake. Past Nederland, Gross Reservoir has stunning views of the Rocky Mountains and sprawling forests.
Where are your favorite leaf-peeping spots?
Do you have a favorite not-so-secret place to take in the autumn colors? The Longmont Leader would love to hear about it and your other favorite outdoor activities for fall. Share your best leaf-peeping spots and fall traditions in the comments. We can’t wait to hear from you.