Trying to gauge the foliage season around here has been touch and go for the past couple of falls. Our first fall here, the aspens were in glorious bloom well into October. Last fall, by the end of September it was waning or gone. This year is a bit better with the fall colors cascading across the mountains and hillsides by the end of September and into October. Having been disappointed last year, I developed some “can’t miss” sights for foliage viewing.
1. Guanella Pass. Easily entered just behind Georgetown, which is only about 45 minutes from Denver on I-70, Guanella Pass is a delight any time of year. But in the fall, when the foliage is blazing, looking down over the neon-dotted hillsides is a treat. And the best views are not far from the beginning of the road. There is a parking area with overlook just past the switchback after the waterfall. From that vantage point you can see what appear to be vast groves of brightly lit aspen groves literally lighting up the hillsides.
2. Boreas Pass. When you hit it just right, this narrow rutted dirt road which begins when you pass through Breckenridge, is like a fairy tale. It is a trip through endless canopies of brilliant aspens. The scenery is spectacular of the distant mountains near Breckenridge. The one caveat (aside from hitting it at the right time for the foliage) is to go early in the day. By mid- to late-afternoon the sun is blinding as you try to take in the incredible views below and beyond. Photos tend to be hazy. The dirt road is very narrow, very rough and rutted, and really hard on your vehicle. The narrow route was carved out for a narrow railway, evidence of which you can see in the large red-orange water tank, and the railway cars remaining at the top of the pass.
3. The Camp Hale lake area near Leadville. No matter what, this area seems resplendent with intensely colorful foliage in late September-early October. There is a lake with interesting mountain views in the distance, with foliage galore in the foreground. Even in a rain storm, when we went this year, the brightly colored foliage seemed to light up the gloom. And don’t miss the ski fenced house in Leadville, or the other gingerbread houses. Quincy’s $8.95 filet mignon dinner is almost worth the trip itself.
4. Aspen and Snowmass. Even though a bit farther from the Denver area, the town named for the tree is always a sure thing for abundant fall foliage. Because some of the more scenic areas are quite high, the foliage seems to “bloom” a bit earlier. The Maroon Bells in Aspen Highlands, between Snowmass and Aspen is jaw dropping when you get there at just the right time. For us it was late September last year, when a rainstorm turned out to be a light dusting of snow on the red bells, and the reflection of the foliage and white-tipped bells when the sun came out was a photo op not to be missed. The lake and the Maroon Bells are surrounded by boundless aspen groves. Standing in their midst is enthralling.
These are my favorite places where I am unlikely to be disappointed even if I misjudge the “bloom” time. They are all spectacular any time of the year; but catching them just right is well worth the day trip from the Denver area.