Whether you have family in town this fall, or just want to get away for a long weekend, fall in Colorado is simply magical with the way the aspen trees light up many regions. We have some amazing places to see the fall foliage many of which are only a short drive from Denver.
We love to embrace this season, getting out and enjoying the fall colors as much as possible, before the first snow shows up. In this guide we will provide you with seven of our favorite fall foliage trips that are within an hour from Denver. We’ll sprinkle in some PRO Tips on recommended hikes (many of are also pet friendly… a bonus for those of us that love to get out with the pups in the fall), interesting towns off the beaten path and places to get a cold beverage or lunch along your route.
Great Places to See Fall Foliage Colors within an Hour of Denver
You can start your route in the historic town of Georgetown, or end it there by approaching the pass from highway 285 and the town of Grant. Either way a stop in Historic Georgetown is a must!
You’ll see a variety of colors as the winding mountain road climbs in elevation from 8,530 feet to the summit of 11,670 feet. At the summit you will have a unique opportunity to view two of Colorado’s 14ers’ peaks Mt Evans and Mt Bierstadt. On your route there will be plenty of spots to pull over for a hike and some incredible photo opportunities (even though they won’t do the views justice).
- Plan your trip so that you arrive at the summit for an incredible sunrise or sunset with the fall foliage in the background a true Colorado bucket list item.
- If you want an easy hike with some great views Burning Bear Trail is an easy 7.5 mile out-and-back trail located on the west side of Guanella Pass.
- End your day in Historic Georgetown with a cold beverage at Cabin Creek Brewery ranked as the top new brewery in 2020.
Eldorado Canyon State Park
Eldorado Canyon State Park is located just south of Boulder, Colorado and a short 40 minute drive from Denver. This Canyon area is ideal for avid hikers, mountain bikers, and experienced rock climbers. The towering rock outcrops and the deep red colors of the rocks are an amazing backdrop to the fall colors. The hiking trails in the park offer some amazing views of the fall foliage and the potential to view some of Colorado’s amazing wildlife including black bears, mule deers, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, wild turkeys, and more.
- On the drive into the canyon, you’ll pass hillsides covered in sumac, which turn a deep burgundy red in autumn. During the right time of day and light this can be an incredible photo opportunity.
- Before heading into the state park stop at the Eldorado artesian spring to fill your water bottles up. This spring has a rich history dating back over 6,000 years. This is a must stop before starting your adventure.
- Eldorado Canyon Trail is a great hike that has it all – sun, shade, canyon views, rock outcroppings, wildlife viewing and stunning views of the fall colors. This hike is a 6.6 mile loop that is a good challenge close to home.
Peak to Peak Highway
The Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is one of the most beautiful drives through Colorado. It is a must to have on your Colorado bucket list. Located less than an hour North of Denver, this is one of the 26 scenic and historic byways in Colorado. This drive is 55 miles long and begins as state highway 7 in the town of Estes Park, brings you past the tiny town of Allenspark on state highway 72, then heads to Nederland. From there, it goes south onto state highway 119 through Blackhawk, into Clear Creek Canyon, and ends at Interstate 70.
- Visit a historic ghost town by mountain bike or hiking up gravel County Road 1-S. This will lead you to what’s left of Nevadaville ghost town. At its peak in the late 1800’s, some 4,000 people called this place home. In the 1860s and 1870s it was known as Nevada City. Being situated next to Central City made this a bustling place to be. The town died due to gold and silver running out around 1900.
- If you want to enjoy a cold beverage along the way, stop in the town of Nederland and visit Knotted Root Brewing Company, a small, artisan brewery.
Rocky Mountain National Park
As autumn approaches Rocky Mountain National Park’s high country becomes striped with color, appearing on fire from a distance. In October, the aspens are in full bloom, moving gradually down in elevation, until mid-October when typically the whole park is bathed in color. Adding to the impressive natural display, hundreds of elk migrate down from the high country.
Photographers, wildlife enthusiasts and just about everyone else consider this time of year to be “prime time”.
- One of the most spectacular fall hikes starts at the Twin Sisters Trailhead on CO-7 just outside the park’s boundary (roughly 6 miles from Estes Park). The first few miles of trail pass under a thick aspen forest blazing with color. It is less crowded since the trailhead is located outside of the park bounds. Start early for the best light if looking to catch a few fall foliage photographs.
- A visit to the park would not be complete without a visit to Estes park. Have a late lunch after your hike at Ed’s Cantina and Grill. Locally owned and operated since the 80’s Ed’s is a classic located in downtown Estes. This place is a gem and great place to celebrate a hike well done.
Winter Park is the closest major mountain destination to Denver at just 67 miles away. It is a hidden gem full of great opportunities to see the fall colors and provides easy access to over 760,000 acres of public land. It is also home to endless adventures and unparalleled Colorado experiences.
- Jim Creek Trail is a popular hiking trail and is just 3 miles South of downtown Winter Park. The trail follows Jim Creek into the James Peak Protection Area. The sound of the creek creates a relaxing trek into the woods. The trail is approximately 7 miles round-trip, gains 1,225 feet and is considered moderate. The trail opens to beautiful meadows with views of James Peak and dozens of aspen groves that cover the mountainside, which will give you a spectacular view of the fall colors.
- Before hitting the trail, have a great breakfast at Randi’s Grill & Pub. This local’s favorite for breakfast, serving large & traditional Irish & American breakfast. No matter which style you end up ordering, make sure to come hungry.
About an hour south of Denver along Highway 285, Kenosha Pass is an easily accessible mountain pass with an elevation of exactly 10,000 ft. Kenosha Pass, is a wide and well maintained mountain pass and is one of the best drives in Colorado to view fall foliage. Vibrant reds and glowing yellows of the aspen woodlands are a striking contrast to the ponderosa pines and Douglas firs around Conifer. The pass eventually spills out into the high grassland basin of South Park, where unobstructed views of the Mosquito Range peaks appear to the west.
Pro Tip: Take a step back in time and see what life was like in Colorado in the 1800’s. Stop in the town of Fairplay and visit the South Park City Museum. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has a main street with over 40 historic buildings, moved here from the surrounding areas. The main street includes an old trapper’s cabin, a saloon, general store, blacksmith shop and other businesses that thrived in the late 1800s. This place will take you back in time and give you a glimpse of life in the old frontier.
Squaw Pass (Mestaa’Ėhehe Pass)
Squaw pass also known as Mestaa’Ėhehe Pass, which name commemorates Owl Woman, a translator of the Cheyenne tribe, is located in Clear Creek County within less than one-hour drive from Denver. The pass, which boasts an elevation of 9,790 ft, is surrounded by Arapaho National Forest. The 30 mile road starts in Evergreen and ends in Idaho Springs. This pass will show you colors that vary from vibrant reds to golden yellow. Be sure to stop and take in the incredible views at the summit. You will see a variety of colors like no other area this close to Denver.
Pro Tip: Idaho Springs has a great down town area to explore. One of our favorite place for lunch is the Tommy Knocker brewery. This place has incredible beers on tap and some great food options too. If you time your trip correctly this is a great place to have lunch and take in the local shops.