Arts and Culture

Ten Places to Go Leaf-Peeping This Weekend

Guanella Pass
Guanella Pass Courtesy of Colorado Parks & Wildlife
The turning of the aspens marks the changing of the seasons and the coming of winter to the Rockies. For a few weeks, the state is graced with sweeping golden landscapes, one of Colorado's claims to fame.

Why are the leaves yellow? Chlorophyll — the chemical that allows leaves to turn energy from the sun into sugars and starches for sustenance and gives leaves a green tint — wears away in the fall. Without it, the yellow of the leaves shines through.

But this beauty only lasts a few weeks before leaves begin to turn brown and fall. So get out now and enjoy the changing of the seasons at these ten destinations for spectacular leaf-peeping near Denver and across the state — before the snow gets here.

click to enlarge Golden Gate Canyon State Park - WILDERNEST42 / WIKICOMMONS
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Wildernest42 / WikiCommons
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Located 45 minutes outside of Denver, this is a stunning day trip destination. Enjoy a scenic drive up Golden Gate Canyon Road and 42 miles of hiking trails in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Be sure to take $8 in cash for vehicle entry.

click to enlarge Kebler Pass - U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY / WIKICOMMONS
Kebler Pass
U.S. Geological Survey / WikiCommons
Kebler Pass
This high-mountain pass is one of the state's top destinations for leaf-peeping. Part of the great West Elk Loop, a national scenic byway, Kebler Pass connects Crested Butte to Paonia. Situated in the Gunnison National Forest, the pass also offers opportunities for camping, hiking and biking.

click to enlarge Guanella Pass - DOUG SKIBA / WIKICOMMONS
Guanella Pass
Doug Skiba / WikiCommons
Guanella Pass
The Guanella Pass Scenic Byway runs between Grant and Georgetown, providing awe-inspiring views of the changing colors, as well as the towering peaks of Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt. This 23-mile drive is also a promising place to spot wildlife, including bighorn sheep and beavers.

click to enlarge Peak to Peak Highway - COURTESY OF COLORADO PARKS & WILDLIFE
Peak to Peak Highway
Courtesy of Colorado Parks & Wildlife
Peak to Peak Highway
This scenic byway winds between Estes Park and Black Hawk, making it another convenient destination from Denver. In addition to its proximity to the city and the spectacular views, the drive also offers charming towns to explore. Have a brew in Nederland and take a stroll — and roll the dice — in historic Central City.

Bishop Castle
Hustvedt / WikiCommons
State Highway 165
The 28.3-mile stretch between Rye and McKenzie Junction is a convenient destination for residents of southern Colorado. Located outside Pueblo, this section of road winds through the Wet Mountains, offering fall colors, as well as an opportunity to visit the inspiring Bishop Castle.

click to enlarge Every color of fall. - CHARLES WILLGREN / WIKICOMMONS
Every color of fall.
Charles Willgren / WikiCommons
State Highway 67
This stretch of scenic roadway traverses the former route of the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad through Phantom Canyon, showcasing the gorgeous foliage of Mueller State Park. The park is a wonderland for camping, fishing, hiking and photography. Wildlife sightings are likely.

click to enlarge St. Elmo ghost town. - RON ZEIDLER / WIKICOMMONS
St. Elmo ghost town.
Ron Zeidler / WikiCommons
St. Elmo
Founded in 1880, St. Elmo is now one of Colorado's most well-preserved ghost towns. Located between Buena Vista and Gunnison, the journey to this former mining town offers plenty of leaf-peeping, as well as an opportunity for spooky exploration.

click to enlarge Kenosha Pass - KIMON BERLIN / WIKICOMMONS
Kenosha Pass
Kimon Berlin / WikiCommons
Kenosha Pass
Another one of Colorado's most popular leaf-peeping destinations, Kenosha Pass is located just over an hour from Denver. Connecting Bailey and Fairplay, this drive is a technicolor dream, where opportunities for hiking and photography abound.

click to enlarge Fraser Experimental Forest - LAUREN ANTONOFF
Fraser Experimental Forest
Lauren Antonoff
Fraser Experimental Forest
Located just outside the town of Winter Park, this beautiful forest offers changing leaves as well as striking meadows, ponds and pines. With tons of hiking and biking trails, it's a hotbed of active leaf-peeping excursions. If you're lucky, you'll see moose.

click to enlarge Rocky Mountain National Park - ANNE DIRKSE / WIKICOMMONS
Rocky Mountain National Park
Anne Dirkse / WikiCommons
Trail Ridge Road
This iconic drive through Rocky Mountain National Park traverses a wide array of landscapes, including prime elevations for leaf-peeping. Rocky Mountain National Park is a great destination if you're looking for all of the amenities of a national park, as well as the opportunity to explore the welcoming town of Estes Park. If you're going, plan ahead for park entrance fees.

So get out as soon as possible and enjoy Colorado's natural beauty. But before you do, a few reminders. Fall brings not only the changing of the leaves, but also the beginning of hunting season. If you're hiking, it's good practice to wear bright clothing and stick to the trails. And if you're staying in the car, be sure to carry these ten essentials. You'll thank yourself for not having to cut your trip short because someone was unprepared.

What are your favorite leaf-peeping spots? Let us know at [email protected]
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lauren Antonoff is a Denver native dedicated to telling Colorado stories. She loves all things multi-media, and can often be found tinkering in digital collage. She joined the Westword team in 2019, where she serves as the Audience Engagement Editor — connecting people, ideas, and the stories that matter.
Contact: Lauren Antonoff