Best trails to see fall foliage (and get some exercise)
These great leaf-peeping locations are also perfect for hiking, cycling and embracing the great outdoors.
One good thing about the abundant rainfall this year: It’s going to translate into a banner season for leaf peeping.
All those extra downpours have encouraged more growth, which in turn will enhance the vibrancy of the fall foliage. This should be among the most colorful seasons in 20 years.
Thousands of Coloradans are already heading out to the mountains to witness the changing fall colors — a fantastical blend of gold, yellow and orange. But it would be a shame to drive so far and then just hang around the car, gawking at the leaves and taking snaps. So our expert, Lincoln Davie, assistant professor of Outdoor Recreation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, has selected some beautiful locations that are also perfect for an active day out.
Whether you prefer hiking, cycling or just strolling, these options will soothe your spirit and raise your heart rate.
Why it’s special: Known for its geothermal hot springs, Steamboat Springs is a year-round outdoor haven. And in the fall, its aspen trees lend a radiant golden hue to the surrounding mountain ranges.
Recommended trails: Emerald Mountain is an outdoor aficionado’s paradise. Trails such as MGM, Lupine and Larry’s offer varying levels of difficulty, making them perfect for novice hikers as well as seasoned veterans. For the best aspen leaf-peeping, head to the Flash of Gold Trail — it’s accessible by hiking or riding up Spring Creek or by driving to the Buffalo Pass car park.
Bonus: Stopping off at Strawberry Hot Springs isn’t just about getting a luxurious soak. You’ll find a restful, nature-immersed experience that provides a chance to reflect on the day’s journey.
Why it’s special: Leadville holds the dual distinction of being America’s highest incorporated city above sea level and a former mining boomtown during the Wild West days. Visitors will find that the autumn leaves surrounding this richly historical town provide a spectacular backdrop.
Recommended trails: Around Colorado Mountain College, trails such as Wheeler’s Way, Elk Run and Cold Feet offer mixed terrains and dramatic overlooks of the Rockies. And at 10,158 feet, you’re getting some pretty amazing views.
Local flair: Many of Leadville’s shops, including Melanzana and Galena, are run by local artisans who craft bespoke gear and apparel. Shopping there will support the community and deepen your connection with the town’s outdoor culture.
Why it’s special: Though it’s dubbed “the Wildflower Capital of Colorado,” Crested Butte is known for more than its vibrant, blooming flowers: The town also boasts remarkable fall foliage.
Recommended trails: The 401 Trail offers eye-catching wildflowers while the 409 Trail serves up a more challenging experience, with switchbacks and steep grades. The Teocalli Ridge Loop adds an extra touch of adventure with its undulating paths.
Must-do: Crested Butte hosts several fall festivals that celebrate the arts, local food and the general joys of an outdoor lifestyle. Visiting during this time should transform your trip into a multisensory experience.
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Why it’s special: The name is no accident. Named for its famous trees during the 1880s, this delightful spot tucked away in the mountains has become synonymous with natural beauty and breathtaking scenery. Best of all, the town turns into a gold mine of aspen foliage in the fall, offering amazing views and unbeatable photo opportunities.
Recommended trails: The Aspen resort trails are a fail-proof option for autumn lovers. Whether you’re a casual stroller or an avid hiker, you’re certain to find a path here that suits your pace.
Why it’s special: Primarily known as a skiers’ winter wonderland, Granby Ranch also provides stunning fall views and trails, making it a true four-season destination.
Getting there: Driving through Berthoud Pass (at 11,307 feet), you’ll find some awesome panoramic views that give a brief taste of the wonders to come once you reach your destination.
Recommended trails: This lovely location is renowned for its family-friendly trails. Whether you’re hiking or biking, you’ll find a range of scenic viewpoints that capture Colorado’s autumnal splendor in glorious technicolor.
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Herman Gulch Trail to Herman Lake
Why it’s special:
Denverites — fancy a quick escape from the bustling pace of city life? This unbeatable, easy-to-reach trail provides a tranquil setting, replete with fall colors and even an alpine lake.
Recommended trails: Although Herman Gulch Trail is a moderate hike, it brings high rewards. Vibrant foliage lines the path as you go, and the remote, serene lake is beautifully clear and clean.
Recommended après: You’ll build up quite a thirst with so much walking. And on the way home, the Guanella Pass Brewing Co. in Georgetown (the town’s first brewery since Prohibition) offers a tasty range of local microbrews.
BONUS: Colorado takes on New England: Carbondale
Why it’s special: Nestled in a broad valley south of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale is a hidden gem.
The small but mighty scrub oak trees you’ll see here (traditionally found in the Eastern United States) bring a flavor of New England’s fall colors to the region.