2018 Guide to Fall Color Day Trips


Who is ready for some fall color? That foliage that seeps down Colorado’s mountainsides like honey? 

Colorado Springs Moms Blog has assembled this guide to provide you with a starting point for planning trips to see all the beauty. Load up some snacks and activities for the kids and head out for a lovely drive. Most of the following are great day trips. We did throw in a few that are a bit longer, but worth the drive. There’s even a train trip. 

Here are the dates of the peak colors in different regions. Some of the peak times for the western slope are as early as September 15-25. The areas nearer to Colorado Springs likely will peak after that.

Best times to view fall colors across the State:

Steamboat Springs/Fort Collins: September 15th – September 25th
Grand Junction/Boulder: September 20th – September 30th
Aspen/Denver: September 22nd – October 3rd
Montrose/Salida/Colorado Springs: September 25th – October 7th
Telluride/Gunnison/Durango/Alamosa: October 1st – October 10th
Pueblo/Trinidad: October 5th – October 15th

Enjoy this amazing season! As always, if you have a favorite you would like to add to this list, email us the complete details to [email protected]

Fall Foliage Day Trips

Between the towering Collegiate Peaks and changing leaves, this drive just west of Buena Vista is sure to leave you in awe of Colorado’s immense fall beauty! From Buena Vista, take County Road 306 west to the pass. Stay on this all the way to Almont. From Almont take County Road 209 east to the pass and maintain back to Buena Vista.

This year, Cottonwood Pass is closed from the Avalanche Trailhead parking lot (Chaffee County side) to the intersection of CR 209 and CR 742 (Gunnison County side) for road work. This means there will be no access to the summit of the Pass, and there will likely be some minimal traffic delays in the area, but Buena Vista is still a fabulous destination for fall colors!

The roads that lead from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek are often busy, and the peak season of fall is no different…for good reason! Hop on Highway 67 and enjoy the views of the vibrant colors on the way to Cripple Creek. And of course, stop once you get there to enjoy the little town full of entertainment. This day trip is truly one of our favorite!

This incredible drive begins in Florissant, and you should expect about 5 hours of drive time for completion. There are several beautiful drives stemming from this scenic route:
Phantom Canyon Road: an unpaved, adventurous drive; about 30 miles long with two tunnels and three elevated bridges; beautiful, golden Aspens
Shelf Road: Best for AWD/4WD vehicles; marvelous scenery; rugged and bumpy drive, but the views are well worth it
High Park Road: Located on the outskirts of Cripple Creek; paved road; views include grasslands and wildlife

Take this path from Colorado Springs to Victor, and then hop over to Colorado 67 through Cripple Creek and north to Divide

With aspens growing beautifully along the roadside, this drive is perfect for enjoying the gorgeous colors that fall has to offer. Located about an hour outside of Colorado Springs, this drive heads from Cripple Creek to Victor in a 17-mile-stretch full of mining history. There are many self-guided hikes you can take off this drive, so be sure to pack some jackets and hiking-appropriate shoes!

About 2 hours and 45 minutes west of Colorado Springs, you can find the gem of Independence Pass. If your kids are great travelers, consider this one for a day trip. (if you are still testing the waters in the car, this one may be a stretch!)
Take Colorado 82 through Twin Lakes. This road crosses the Continental Divide and continues on to Aspen. It is narrow and winding, and it also has steep drop offs. Definitely for the experienced mountain traveler!

If you want to head out from the Denver area, you can take this route from Black Hawk to Estes Park, meandering through valleys and across ridges. Take Colorado 119 from Black Hawk north to Nederland, then follow Colorado 72 to Raymond. From here, proceed on Colorado 7 past Longs Peak to Estes Park. Aspens make for a spectacular display along the entire route.

What better way to view some gorgeous fall colors than heading up our very own Pikes Peak?! Take the drive up America’s Mountain on Pikes Peak Highway. Not only is the view breathtaking, the colors on the way up the shorter drive are stunning in the peak season. And, it is always a treat to grab a donut at the Summit House on the top of Pikes Peak.
Rates and Hours of Operation HERE
Keep in mind: There are no gas stations on the drive up, so be sure you begin your drive with a nice, full tank of gas (1/2 tank at minimum). Also, the weather at the top of the Peak is, on average, about 30 degrees colder than below. Always bring a coat to wear at the summit, and please check for road closures due to snow before beginning your drive! Finally, don’t forget to gear down for the drive down – save those brakes and shift into a lower gear so that you don’t overheat and have to stop and rest your car for a bit at the brake checkpoint!

More Than a Day Trip, But Oh So Worth It!

From Grand Junction, head east on I-70 through Palisade and along the Colorado River, where cottonwoods are slowly turning yellow throughout the fall months. At Colorado 65, head east and then south through canyons until you’re atop Grand Mesa, where brilliant aspens will fill your view for miles.

Head west out of Crested Butte on this improved dirt road (County Road 12) to be completely overcome with the glory of fall. Since it is a dirt road, an AWD/4WD car is recommended. At Colorado 133, you can head north toward McClure Pass for more, or return the way you came to see the beauty all over again!

This 25-mile stretch of road between Ouray and Silverton (in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado) has rightfully earned its moniker: the “Million Dollar Highway.” Enjoy a dip in Ouray’s hot springs, explore the San Juan National Forest, stop at Molas Lake for a picnic or enjoy a long weekend trip to Durango, CO. We stay in Durango for a night, and then do a day of the Million Dollar Highway (Hwy 550), and then back to Durango for a final night stay! This route is truly one that is not to be missed, and there’s no better time to take it in than as the leaves change!

One of our all time favorite Colorado treasures! This national park is amazing no matter the season, but Fall is extra special. There are miles of glorious roads to explore, spots to stop and get out of your car, and views that seem to go on forever. The fall color is literally everywhere you look in Rocky Mountain National Park.
A bonus in the fall is rutting season for the elk. Spectators line the roads of the meadows and valleys to take in the stunning creatures and listen to the bugle calls. It is worth it to time your trip during the rutting season.

Simply driving to Aspen will leave you in awe, but put these gorgeous peaks in the background and you are sure to be a bit overwhelmed – in the best way.

If you’d rather sit back and relax than be behind the wheel, take the family for a train ride to enjoy the gorgeous fall colors near Cripple Creek. This 45-minute, 4-mile trip is a great way to experience the spectacular hues of the aspens in a brand new way this year. The railroad is only open through October 7th, so don’t miss your chance to check it out early this fall!

Adults: $15/person
Children 3-12: $10/person
Children 3 and under: FREE
($1 discount for active military and AAA members)

For more information, visit cripplecreekrailroad.com

From the Springs, head south to Pueblo and then west on Colorado 96.

Along this route you’ll find yourself climbing into the Wet Mountains and then down into the Wet Mountain Valley, passing glorious aspens along the way. Return the way you came, making your way to McKenzie Junction. From there, head south on Colorado 165, a route that will allow you to see the beautiful transformation of the cottonwoods and scrub oak.

As you head south out of the historic town of Georgetown, you’ll find groups of aspens in brilliant shades. Once you reach the town of Grant, turn right on US 285 and take the highway for about 15 minutes to reach the top of Kenosha Pass, with yellow and orange sprinkled amongst the green slopes.

A bit farther from the Springs, take U.S. Hwy. 160 west from Walsenburg and branch off on Colorado Highway 12 toward La Veta.

This two lane highway allows for views of unusual volcanic formations jutting out of the Spanish Peaks. The highway takes you to Cuchara Pass right near the Spanish Peaks, and below the pass is the beautiful Cuchara Valley.

You’ll weave your way through farmland and forests, and Hwy. 12 will eventually lead to Cokedale, a National Historic District. Home to former coke ovens that were once used for smelting coal from nearby mines, these unique structures shouldn’t be missed!

If a Fall Foliage Hike is what you’re in search of, be sure to check out these awesome trails:
Seven Bridges
The Crags
Shootin’ Star Trail at the Florissant Fossil Beds
Mueller State Park ($7/vehicle)
Rainbow Gulch
Catamount Reservoir
Dome Rock State Wildlife Area

COSMB’s Guide to Fall & Halloween!

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Krista is wife to her high school sweetheart and best friend, Randy, and mom to her two sweet boys, Hudson and Jones. She’s a former first-grade teacher turned writer, using her words and heart to uplift and encourage mamas on this wild, beautiful, messy journey of motherhood. She loves spending time with family and friends, exploring the incredible outdoors, exercising (#alonetime), long strolls around the neighborhood to pass the witching hour, rooting for too many teams across too many sports to name, snuggling on the couch with her hubby and binge-watching Suits, and baring her mama heart over at Kisses From Boys with Krista Ward.