Fall Foliage Walks

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  |  Gorp.com
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Imagine millions of gold coins hanging from hundreds of trees on thin fragile stems quivering in the wind.

Imagine walking among trees with leaves the exact color of sunlight.

Quaking aspens are North America's most distributed tree species, found from New England forests to sandy washes in New Mexico and just about everywhere in between. But nowhere are they as radiant as in Colorado, where whole hillsides burst into golden flame every September.

Rocky Mountain National Park boasts more than 300 miles of hiking trails, and many of them are less than ten miles long, making them perfect for dayhikers. One warning, as you pick your route: You'll doubtless want to drive along legendary Trail Ridge Road, which rises above the treeline and offers a non-stop panorama of the park's high peaks. Beware: From Trail Ridge Road the trails all go downhill. Don't forget that you'll have to regain all that elevation at the end of the day.

Recommended Ramble
Start your walk with a climb. If you begin at Glacier Gorge Junction, you can choose from several hikes: a short .6-mile walk (perfect for families) to pretty Alberta Falls; a comfortable 2.8-mile hike to magnificent mountain-framed Mills Lake; or a much stiffer 4.6-mile climb up to beautiful Sky Pond at the base of the Continental Divide itself. Choose based on your fitness, the amount of time you have, and how well-acclimated you are to the elevation. If you live at less-exalted altitudes, expect to feel a little winded because of the elevation. It helps to drink plenty of water and take your time.

Special Extras
The hills are alive with... well, you might call it music. In September and October, you'll hear an otherworldly ruckus that combines the song of an ethereal flute with the growl of a jazz trombone. What you're hearing are male elk, competing among each other for the attentions of the ladies. You can see elk in the meadows at dusk, sometimes calling, sometimes sizing each other up, and sometimes clashing.

For More Information
Rocky Mountain National Park, (970) 586-1206. The nearest town is Estes Park, with a wide range of accommodations and tourist facilities. Best time to go to catch both aspens and elk is mid-to-late September.


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