Watch the Leaves Change in the West

A guide to experiencing fall color in the Rocky Mountains


Tahoe may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of fabulous leaf-peeping destinations, but there’s nothing more beautiful than the reflection of yellow aspen trees in the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe.

Compared to more northern regions, fall color comes late to the Sierra Nevadas. Foliage normally starts to turn towards the end of September and peaks through October, although this varies from year to year (

Photo courtesy Resort at Squaw Creek

The southwest shore of Lake Tahoe offers up more than just colorful aspens and cottonwoods. This area is home to Vikingsholm, considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States. Completed in 1929, it is now part of the Harvey West Unit of the Emerald Bay State Park and is open for tours in the summer months.

It can be reached by a moderate one-mile hike from a trailhead off of Highway 89 and makes an excellent fall destinations for photogs.

For more information on leaf peeping in Lake Tahoe, visit

Photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort


Forget the Sunday afternoon leaf-peeping drive, in Wyoming they are taking to the air and there are three ways to see color from above in the Cowboy State.

The Jackson Hole Aerial Tram is a unique way to get a bird’s-eye view of autumn in all her splendor. Jump on the 100-passenger tram in Teton Village (6,311 feet above sea level) and travel to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain at 10,450 feet above sea level.

Enjoy 360-degree views of the surrounding Tetons as the tram ascends into the clouds. At the top, riders can disembark to hike various trails on the mountain or hop on the Teton Crest Trails that leads into Grand Teton National Park.

A hot air balloon ride is another way to take to the skies during fall in Wyoming. Imagine seeing the Yellowstone Plateau, Teton Village, and seven mountain ranges all in one memorable ride. These morning outings include breathtaking views of the Wyoming sunrise.

Photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Lastly, for the more adventurous traveler, go paragliding high above the Teton forests. This ride will furnish you with bragging rights for a lifetime. Just don’t forget to open your eyes to take in the astounding views.

Photo courtesy of


Colorado’s four national parks are ideal leaf-viewing destinations. We visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in early October several years ago and were awed by the variety of dark reds and oranges we encountered as we hiked in the park.

Of course, Rocky Mountain National Park is very busy during peak color season, as it also is a great time to see elk in the park, walking the streets in Estes Park, or camping out in the Stanley Hotel’s big lawn.

To avoid crowds, I’d advise heading to Mesa Verde National Park or Sand Dunes National Park. There aren’t as many aspen trees near these parks unless you get up into the more mountainous areas, but it’s surprising how much color occurs even in the scrubbier types of trees and plants that dot the south central and southwestern parts of Colorado.

Categories: The Heidi Guide