The Top 10 Most Colorful Mountain Drives in Autumn

Fall colors are almost here. Start planning your road trip now
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Maroon Bells

One of the best times to tour the Rockies is between early September and early October, when the leaves are changing and before the snow blows in.

Let our roundup of the top 10 scenic drives guide you through the best of the high country’s places for leaf peeping.

Trail Ridge Road

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Rocky Mountain National Park is very busy during peak color season, as it also is a great time to see elk in the park. Trail Ridge Road winds high through the alpine countryside in Rocky Mountain National Park. Colors fill the hillsides and valleys nearly the whole way.

Another perk to the park is the fall elk rut, which generally lasts from mid September to mid October. Tens of hundreds of elks gather in one spot, with bull bugling heard from afar.

Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

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“The Grand Mesa is one of Colorado’s largest hidden gems,” says Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer, founder of HeidiTown.com, the place for Colorado festival and travel stories, and author of  ML‘s The Heidi Guide.

Grand Mesa is the largest flat-top mountain in the world; at its highest point it sits at 11,333 feet above sea level. The scenic byway runs between Cedaredge on the south and Powderhorn Ski Resort on the north. The drive winds through aspen groves, green meadows and forest.

A tip? “Applefest takes place annually in Cedaredge during the first full weekend of October, and it’s a great reason to visit the Grand Mesa region,” says Kerr-Schlaefer.

Kenosha Pass

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On Highway 285 between Grant and Jefferson is the iconic Kenosha Pass, one of the best places to see Colorado’s golden aspen groves in action.

It will likely be busy with other leaf peepers, photographers and visitors. Hop of out your car and take a hike through along the easy trail for more spectacular views.

West Elk Loop

This is also one of the most diverse scenic byways in Colorado, encompassing everything from vistas of pine to wide open, nearly desert-like country.

Begin in Carbondale, drive towards the town of Marble and then over McClure Pass into the North Fork Valley.

Here, turn south towards the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, another incredible and yet under-visited area of Colorado.

Lastly, head towards Gunnison and end this scenic drive in picturesque Crested Butte, a place that stands out during every season.

Maroon Bells

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Maroon Bells, two towering 14,000-foot mountains nestled in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, are some of the most iconic peaks in North America.

Located in the White River National Forest, the Maroon Bells tower over numerous hiking trails that offer amazing views of golden aspen trees.

Tip: You must have a reservation, so make it here.

Kebler Pass

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Secluded away in the center of the Rockies, Kebler Pass features lush hillsides of color.

You’ll find the most fall foliage on the Paonia side of the pass, although Crested Butte is a town known for its natural beauty.

The pass is part of the West Elk Loop, a 205 mile journey through the heart of Colorado.

Peak to Peak Scenic Byway

Peak to Peak scenic and historic byway is Colorado’s oldest, established in 1918. Starting in Boulder, it offers unmatched views of the Continental Divide and its dramatic fall colors.

Along the route, you can stop off in Rocky Mountain National Park, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, all of which offer their own unique vantage points for leaf peepers.

From Ridgeway to Telluride

Between Ridgway and Telluride in the fall. Photo courtesy of HeidiTown.com

“Without a doubt, experiencing southwest Colorado in autumn is one of my top 10 travel experiences,” says Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer. The drive between Ridgway and Telluride should be on every leaf peeper’s list.

From Ouray through Ridgeway to Telluride, you be treated to fabulous colors and can stop at some hot springs, stay at a number a amazing lodging establishments and spectacular view of the Dallas Range, part of the San Juans, some of the most photographed mountains in the world.

Check out The Heidi Guide’s full story dedicated to A Southwest Colorado Road Trip in the Fall.

Highway of Legends

Highways Of Legends rolls through the southern foothills of Colorado. It’s an often overlooked destination for those up north, but it’s one of the most scenic and welcoming parts of the state,” according to Matt Thomas at Uncover Colorado.

At its peak on the Cuchara Pass you’ll have fantastic views of the Sangre de Cristos and Spanish Peaks.

See more information about camping, lodging and more here.

Guanella Pass

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Guanella Pass is full of autumn color and is close to Denver. It peaks at 11,670 feet, where Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt hover in the distance.

Historic Georgetown has a number of restaurants and is home to the Georgetown Loop Railroad, a memorable way to see the sights. In Grant, there’s usually a BBQ stand open at the start of the pass, and Kenosha Cafe.

SEE ALSO: Fantastic & Unique Fall Outings in the Rockies

Categories: Mountain Travel