On Fall's Trail in Colorado

What to Do and Where to Do It

Hike the Passes

Hiking the Rocky Mountain passes of central and southwest Colorado in the fall will take you through golden aspen groves that virtually glow in the sun and up to wildflower strewn alpine meadows. Most of these passes are well-worn pathways through otherwise insurmountable-seeming ranges and have seen a wide variety of uses throughout history (sometimes even prehistory). Fancy Pass was a mining trail during the gold rush in the 1800s. Browns Pass, near Mount Yale, is on the Continental Divide and has great views of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

Access: Most of the state's hikable passes are in national forests.
Peak color: October
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Bike Crested Butte

Home to the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum, Crested Butte is one of the oldest mountain biking destinations in the US. Classic Rocky Mountain single track runs across timeless terrain, with enough steep climbs, technical downhills, thick forests, and alpine meadows to keep you happy four seasons out of the year. But don't let unhinged screamers occupy all your attention—these golden groves of fall foliage don't last long.

Access: To reach Crested Butte, take Colorado 135 north from Gunnison.
Peak color: Late September to early October

Fish the Roaring Fork

Come autumn, the trout fishing in the Roaring Fork is even better than it was in the summer. Crisper fall temperatures replace summer's heat, and fish return to areas of the river that were too warm for them to inhabit in August. Rainbows and browns predominate in this lively river, which flows from Independence Pass past Aspen before joining the Colorado. Top-shelf mountain scenery makes this angling package complete.

Access: Access points lie all along the river; you can reach most of them via Colorado 82.
Peak color: Late September to early October
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Drive Collegiate Peaks

Cruising through the Collegiate Peaks on an autumn afternoon with the sun sparkling off the yellow Aspen—that's as close as it gets to Nirvana for anyone that likes to recreate behind the wheel. US 24 around Buena Vista is the jumping-off point for the best Collegiate Peaks drives. Head due west for great routes through Clear Creek and Chalk Creek Canyons, over Cottonwood Pass, and along the Highway of the Fourteeners. These routes are all near the San Isabel NationalForest.

Access: To reach Buena Vista from Denver, take I-70 west to Colorado 91. Follow that south to US 24 at Leadville. Buena Vista is approximately 40 miles further south.
Peak color: Late September to early October
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Drive the Alpine Loop

Along the Alpine Loop National Backcountry Byway, you can see beautiful wildflower displays, historic remnants of mining activities from the late 1800s, and, around mid-September, blazing shows of fall colors. Look for the blue columbine signs that indicate the route. You can start your trip from Lake City, Silverton, or Ouray, high in southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains. The Alpine Loop requires some rugged climbing to high mountain passes and is largely unpaved (4WD recommended).

Access: Take US 550 south to Ouray in the Uncompahgre National Forest or Colorado 149 south to Lake City.
Peak color: Mid-September to mid-October
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Birding on the Comanche and Pawnee National Grasslands

There may not be fall foliage of the typical variety on Colorado's vast eastern prairies, but as birds fly south for the winter, autumn at Colorado's major grassland preserves takes on a character all its own. On the Pawnee, bird migrations bring the number of different pecies within its boundaires to 290. Some of the notable species you'll see on the Comanche in the fall include quail, pheasant, dove, bald eagle, longbilled curlew, lesser prairie chicken, and roadrunner. A word of caution: check weather forecasts before you visit either of the grasslands, and always be prepared for unexpected cold. Even in October, when the weather is mostly mild, a blizzard can still lurk right around the corner.

Access: The Comanche National Grasslands are divided into two sections, one beginning at the junction of US 287-385 and US 160, the other along US 350, both in southeast Colorado. The Pawnee National Grasslands are in northeast Colorado: take I-76 west to Colorado 14.
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Bike the La Platas

In the wild, wild west near Durango, some truly mountainous mountain biking awaits in the La Platas range (the lowest rides here come in at 7,000 feet). An extensive network of logging roads was built back during the timber rush in the forests here; these now serve as primo trail fodder for fat-tire buffs in town for an autumn long weekend. Stick around in the early fall and you might even hear the elk bugling in the timber.

Access: Durango lies at the intersection of US 550 and US 160 just south of the San Juan National Forest border.
Peak color: October
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Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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