Best leaf-peeping locations near Denver
Get all the natural fall beauty (and none of the crowds) with these nearby trail routes.
For a few short weeks each year, traffic on Interstate 70 rivals the busiest winter ski days.
And no wonder: That’s when Colorado’s quaking aspens turn from green to spectacular shades of yellow and thousands head to the trails for an unbeatable fall foliage show. But if you don’t have time for a mountain trip, that’s no problem, says Bryan Ferguson, associate director for Outdoor Pursuits and Leadership at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“While I would never deny the value of a trip to the higher mountains for fall colors, staying low and closer to home saves drive time, extends the season and helps reduce our carbon output,” he said.
High up in the mountains, you mostly see those dazzling aspen yellows from a distance. But on trails at lower elevations, you’ll have more opportunities to really get in among a beautifully varied canopy of autumn colors, primarily coming from an eclectic mix of cottonwood, willow, boxelder and Gambel oak trees.
Besides taking in the spectacular fall colors on the towering aspens, take time to look closely at the understory, Ferguson says. (Those are the small trees, saplings, shrubs, vines and undergrowth hidden beneath the larger trees’ branches.) You’ll find yellow rabbitbrush, dogwoods in amazing shades of red, the deep purples of late-blooming dotted gayfeather and the bright whites of various bursting seed pods.
People naturally hope for a mild fall because that brings a brighter and broader spectrum of colors, but nobody wants things to be too boring. During the fall, a bit of cloudy and breezy weather can add some welcome drama to a trail visit as the colors change, the branches sway and the beautiful leaves cascade down.
Ferguson’s favorite Colorado spots for leaf-peepers:
Find some wonderful views among the well-planned trails and abundant open spaces of this charming area.
You’ll find excellent scenic views in the foothills around this lake just southwest of Denver.
Check out the gorgeous mountain vistas and enjoy the natural seclusion of this route through Denver and Golden.
Explore the trails near this National Historic Landmark, just by the famous Flatirons at Boulder.
Take your pick of several tempting trails — Meadowlark, Homesteader, Golden Eagle — that incorporate stunning fall vistas.
This hidden treasure in Boulder’s back yard features some really interesting trails and incredible views.
– Colorado’s aspen trees generally hit peak magnificence between mid-September and mid-October (although a hot, dry summer or early freeze can accelerate the process).
– The best viewing times are early to midmorning and early evening.
– To avoid crowds and traffic, opt for weekday visits rather than weekends.
– North-facing slopes tend to feature more diverse plant species and thus have a greater variety of fall colors.
Head to Mount Galbraith Park (located in the canyon) for 5 miles of steep trails with commanding views of Golden and the Continental Divide — and trees, of course.
This meandering trail up into the foothills is perfect for spotting a wide range of birds — and you know what birds live in, right?
This heavily wooded, gradually ascending trail boasts some spectacular colors at this time of the year.
Catch some great views along the trail from the canyon up to Strontia Springs Dam and beyond.