After one long, hot summer, it’s finally autumn…and we can fight off the COVID-19 blues by going for the gold.
For those who are not native to Colorado and fondly recall the riotous autumnal displays of their home states, the obsession with the relatively monochromatic fall foliage of the Rocky Mountains — leaves turning from green to gold to gone — might take years to understand…much less appreciate.
During my early days as a photographer at the Rocky Mountain News, I overheard one editor call a source in Pitkin County in early September and ask: “How’s your ass been? No change yet? Give it another week? Thanks.” Click.
“Seems like a very personal question,” I thought to myself.
The next week, the light dawned as I was sent west to capture the best photos I could of the changing aspen. The glorious sights I encountered along the way on that first aspen shooting made me think of the words of another newspaper man, Frederick G. Bonfils, co-founder of the Denver Post: “’Tis a privilege to live in Colorado.”
On the road to Grand Lake in September 2020.
Late last week, I made another trip through the mountains to grab some gold. A dry, hot summer and an early snowstorm changed the schedule for some favorite leaf-peeping spots, but “Eight Great Car Trips to See Fall Colors,” on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife site, is a good place to start planning your itinerary. Here’s that list, the the CPW descriptions and links:
Autumn in the Canyons
Located near the Denver metro area, Golden Gate Canyon State Park and Eldorado Canyon State Park each provide a spectacular display of the annual fall gold rush. The two parks are about 30 miles apart, allowing fall color fans to visit both parks in the same day.
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The Forests of Northern Colorado
Experience the beauty of Colorado’s timberland beginning just 75 miles? west of Fort Collins. State Forest, Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks beckon visitors to take a weekend away from the city. Find fall in the forest amid quiet paths covered in pine needles.
Up the I-70 Corridor
During the fall months, the drive up the I-70 corridor from Denver to Glenwood Springs is an unparalleled trip through the heart of the Rockies. Golden aspens paint the landscape on your way to Sylvan Lake, Rifle Falls, Rifle Gap and Harvey Gap state parks.
Pikes Peak to River Country
Come see nature’s canvas in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado. Golds, reds and oranges guide your tour from Colorado Springs to Buena Vista. Along the way, stop to enjoy the incredible views at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Mueller State Park, Eleven Mile State Park and Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. Spend the afternoon meandering along the twists and turns of the mighty Arkansas River, as you discover Colorado’s river country.
The Western Slope via the Vineyards
Pack up the car and spend a week on the road. Visit the Western Slope wine country this fall. Rush to the gold at the Colorado River State Park and Highline Lake State Park near Grand Junction. Then journey south to Ridgway State Park where you can experience the grandeur and ruggedness of the San Juan Mountains.
Fall in the Four Corners
Southwest Colorado brings a new and different flavor to fall color viewing. Desert mountains, buttes and mesas are highlighted by pockets of colorful brilliance. Two reservoirs, Navajo and Mancos state parks, offer a multitude of opportunities for you. Escape the crowded cities and rejuvenate in historic southern Colorado.
Wind your way through the extreme southern portion of Colorado on the Highway of Legends. This extraordinary drive ties together Trinidad Lake State Park and Lathrop State Park, with the Purgatoire Valley, the Culebra Range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Cuchara Valley in between. Several 14,000-foot peaks and dozens of aspen groves are speckled throughout the drive. Make a weekend seeing crisp fall colors and historic attractions in southern Colorado.
Grand Mesa Trip
Fall brings crimson splashes and splatters of saffron to the valleys and mountains of Grand Mesa. The mild climate encourages a variety of wildlife to wander in the dense forests of the area. Come explore Vega, Paonia and Crawford state parks while touring the fall colors of the Western Slope.
For another Colorado leaf-peeping itinerary, see “10 Places to See Colorado’s Fall Colors” on colorado.com.