The Colorado fall crisp mornings set in late August or early September in high country. Then the bright golden yellow colors start popping from the Aspen groves. Colorado’s leaf peeping season is upon us. Time to hop in the car and enjoy a spectacular drive to your favorite mountain town. Or maybe visit a town in Colorado to which you’ve never been before. We do just that every fall. Here are our favorite scenic drives in Colorado for fall colors along the way. These all also end at a fun destination to play.
Seeing as 2020 is the year for road trips. There’s no better time to make plans either for a day trip or weekend getaway to see Colorado’s autumn colors. Some of these byways are historic. Others are simply scenic. No matter what, plan your fall travel to include drives through our majestic national forest lands.
Fall is also possibly the best time of the year to view Colorado’s National Parks. Looking for scenic views? You won’t be disappointed. From Rocky Mountain National Park to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, you will find bright golden aspens here.
Top 5 Scenic Drives in Colorado for Fall Colors
Drivers beware, some of Colorado’s most spectacular drives are also on quite scary roads through the Rocky Mountains. Ahh, but they are so worth it. Some of the most spectacular drives in Colorado can be made along these routes to see Colorado fall colors.
Independence Pass from Vail to Snowmass, Colorado
Some of Colorado’s mountain passes are not for the faint of heart, Independence Pass included. This pass is paved the entire way so no four wheel drive is needed. But it is a winding road with steep cliffs. However, these characteristics yield some some of Colorado’s most spectacular fall golden aspen colors.
Make your way over to Snowmass, Colorado at a leisurely pace. This ski town built up the mountainside charmed our entire family. Take a hike on the Rim Trail and find the Yin-Yang about a mile and a half in. You will enjoy spectacular views of the mountains beyond as well as the village and ski mountain. Perhaps you will even get to shake tails with some deer, or dodge bear scat on the trail. Then hike back and recharge with a delicious breakfast and coffee from Fuel.
Enjoy an invigorating day on the mountain challenging yourself in Lost Forest or whizzing down the new Forest Flyer alpine coaster. Or, enjoy dinner at the Artisian in Stonebridge Inn. The Artisian is sure to impress every member of your family. Our five-year-old devoured his huge bowl of mac and cheese and informed me that it was even better than my homemade extra cheesy mac and cheese. Our foodie daughter savored her Mahi from the kids menu. My certified organic “Ora-King” salmon, palisade peach and olathe corn relish, herb risotto was so delicious I didn’t offer to share. And, my husband certainly enjoyed his grilled NY striploin.
Snowmass has plenty of spacious slopeside condominiums perfect for families with many more new lodging offerings coming soon. We really enjoyed the slopeside balcony of our Top of the Village condo. It really was the top of the village where the street dead ended into the mountain. It was spacious and I could imagine spending a week there with family.
Insider Tip: Snowmass is a pretty fun winter destination too.
Hoosier Pass from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs
Once upon a time I actually spent a fair amount of time on this pass during peak aspen leaf season. A few years back my car died here. Phone service is limited and I was finally able to make the calls I needed by waving my phone about in the air. But there is possibly not a more beautiful place to be stranded. And, if you get lucky enough you might get to ride with a tow truck driver who can enthrall you with stories of demolition derby they have with the unclaimed broken down vehicles on their lot.
This pass is actually not scary. Drop offs are scarce but golden aspens are not. This is the back road through Breckenridge to Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is a beautiful destination too. With Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo there is no shortage of fun family activities.
For family lodging, plus fun accommodations check out the newish Great Wolf Lodge Colorado Springs. Your hotel room comes with entry to this large indoor water park. From a wavepool to a variety of water slides it is sure to keep all the kids in the family entertained regardless of the weather.
Drive from Glenwood Springs to Gateway Canyons Resort
Glenwood Springs is a great destination all on its own. There are so many fun things to do with kids in Glenwood Springs. Relax (or play) in the hot springs, explore caves or have some thrills at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. It is also a spectacular hiking area.
The terrain surrounding Gateway Canyons Resort is different from the many other mountain towns of Colorado. South of Grand Junction feels like the middle of nowhere on a winding road sandwiched between canyons. The area to the north of Gateway Canyons Resort has the most vibrant orange and red colors of fall that I have seen in Colorado. These may perhaps be the most unique fall colors in Colorado.
Insider Tip: The best way to see the fall colors of Gateway may be a horseback ride at Palisade Ranch.
Don’t be fooled into thinking there won’t be much to do at Gateway Canyons Resort just because it is in the middle of nowhere. The resort was created by John Hendricks, the founder of the Discovery Channel. It seems he has designed it to share his interests and story with those who visit.
Where else in the world could you view breathtaking canyons from a helicopter, play realistic outdoor laser tag, ride a horse amongst spectacular scenery, relax at the spa, mountain bike, hike, see an one-of-a-kind 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car, take a fast sports car out for a drive or learn the history of the area from a Curator of Curiosity?
Gateway Canyons Resort, is a luxury oasis in the middle-of-nowhere, Colorado. Surrounded by canyons on all sides this resort is an interesting blend of New Mexican design stye and enchanting vistas mixed with Colorado colors and locale.
Red Mountain Pass from Vail to Durango, Colorado
This is a bit longer of a drive from our neck of the woods but has a couple of spectacular mountain pass options. The most spectacular is Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton through the San Juan mountains. I’ve driven Red Mountain pass in the summer, fall and even winter. It is perhaps the most scary and most beautiful of Colorado mountain passes so has to be included on the list.
Insider Tip: Colorado train rides are a unique way to take in the fall foliage.
If you don’t want to drive the pass you can get to Durango via another route. Then take the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to see some of the most spectacular fall colors in Colorado. There are brew and wine trains running now, a fall photography train September 22 and 23. Then in October they offer a Great Pumpkin Patch Express.
If you have time while in Durango take a day to see Mesa Verde National Park. I imagine the fall colors are beautiful here too. But the history is most impressive. Thus UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a glimpse into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made these cliffs their home from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300.
Insider Tip: There are a ton of fun things to do with kids in Durango!
Drive to Piney River Ranch from Vail
Fro the Vail area take Red Sandstone Road up to Piney River Ranch. It is a bumpy dirt road lines with spectacular fall foliage and mountain views. A little over ten miles will take around 40 minutes. Upon reaching Piney River Ranch hike the Upper Piney Lake Trail to the falls (about 4 hours round trip) and then return to the ranch for lunch or dinner. Or, if you want to experience this special place with few people around make it an overnight glamping trip at Piney Lake Vail.
Disclosure: We were hosted by Aspen Snowmass, Piney River Ranch and Gateway Canyons to experience their areas. As always our opinions are our own.
Are there any fall leaf drives or towns we missed? What is your favorite scenic drive in Colorado? Let us know in the comments below!
Insider Tip: For a change of spectacular scenery, be sure to check out scenic drives and road trips in Utah.