Top spots to see aspens in Colorado

Hike, cycle, ride a horse or take a scenic drive. Don't miss your chance to see Colorado's stunning aspen trees.
September 7th, 2018
A view of golden aspen trees in the foreground with Crystal Reservoir and Pikes Peak in the background.
Crystal Reservoir in the fall with Pikes Peak in the background. Photo by Steve W. Krull/Getty Images.

Fall is in the air. Snow is dusting Colorado’s peaks. And the crisp Rocky Mountain mornings and evenings mean it’s time for aspen trees across the state to turn bright yellow and orange.

Some people call the trees “quaking aspens” because the leaves rustle and shimmer in the wind.

September is prime time for aspens, so don’t miss your chance to see slopes painted in gold.

Crystal Henderson poses with her dog along the Yampa River in Steamboat.
Crystal Hederson loves working in Craig and living in Steamboat Springs because she has such great access to trails. Here, she spends time with her dog on the Core Trail along the Yampa River in Steamboat.

Hiking and cycling are great ways to see fall color. You can also ride a horse through a forest full of white bark and yellow leaves. Or you can see aspens from your car window.

Crystal Henderson is a nurse practitioner at the UCHealth Primary Care Clinic in Craig.

She loves living and working in one of the most beautiful parts of Colorado precisely because she so easily can mountain bike, run, hike or ski just about every day of the year.

“It helps you both physically and mentally,” said Henderson, who specializes in primary care and family medicine.

Crystal Henderson mountain biking near Steamboat Springs.
Crystal Henderson mountain biking on one of her favorite trails near her home in Steamboat Springs. She’s a nurse practitioner at the UCHealth Primary Care Clinic – Craig.

Henderson encourages all her patients to get plenty of exercise, eat a healthy diet and spend as much time as possible outdoors — wearing sunscreen of course.

And she takes her own advice.

“Being outside is my form of relaxation. I try to go for a run, a ride or a hike every day,” said Henderson, who lives in Steamboat Springs. “I love having such great access to trails.”

She’s also a fan of the fall.

“It’s one of my favorite times of the year,” said Henderson, 35. “It’s not so hot. I love the colors and the coolness. I just love the four seasons.”

Henderson shared recommendations about some of her favorite places to bike, hike and drive to see aspens. The leaves have started to turn in northwestern Colorado. And, don’t worry. If you live far from Henderson’s neck of the woods, but still want to enjoy seeing the aspen leaves, we’ll give recommendations for other parts of the state too.

Crystal Henderson’s advice for hiking and cycling near Craig and Steamboat Springs:

Stroll: Yampa River Core Trail

The 7.5-mile Core Trail runs along the Yampa River through the heart of Steamboat Springs. It’s a great place to walk your dog, run, bike and even rollerblade if you’re in a retro mood. Henderson said the foliage along the river is beginning to show fall colors. Click here for more information.

Mountain bike: Emerald Mountain

Henderson loves the Lupine Trail. You can pick the distance you want to ride and can log up to 20 miles in this Steamboat Springs park. Click here for a detailed trail map.

Hike: The Devil’s Causeway in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area

Hikers cross a narrow, rocky trail called the Devil's Causeway.
The Devil’s Causeway in Flat Tops Wilderness. Photo courtesy of Steamboat Springs Chamber.

(Please note: not for beginners). You can do a 10.5-mile roundtrip hike starting at 10,280 and climbing to 11,820 vertical feet. The hike leads to great views and includes a section that’s only three-feet-wide with steep drop-offs on both sides. This section is the actual “causeway” or a land bridge. If you’re nervous about heights, you can skip this section and head back the way you came. Click here and here for more information.

Bike, hike and picnic: Elkhead Reservoir State Park near Craig

Along with boating, the park offers more than 10 miles of trails. Click here for details.

Drive: Rabbit Ears Pass

You’ll see spectacular aspens along Rabbit Ears, especially near Dumont Lake, 22 miles southeast of Steamboat Springs along U.S. Highway 40. Click here for more information.

Northern Colorado

Drive, hike and cycle: The Cache la Poudre River Canyon

The canyon, about 20 minutes northwest of Fort Collins is a great place to enjoy the fall colors whether by car or foot, and if you don’t mind traffic, even by bike.

The Cache La Poudre River with yellow fall lives on trees and some mountains in the background.

Heading up the Poudre Canyon (pronounced pooh-der) you can take Colorado Highway 14 west from U.S. Route 287. Within the first quarter mile, you’ll begin to see the Poudre River, Colorado’s only nationally designated Wild & Scenic river. The highway also is designated as a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway.

Along with many aspens, the road is also lined with beautiful ponderosa and lodgepole pine trees, sagebrush and mountain mahogany.

You can take the two-hour drive, climbing above 10,000 feet, to Cameron Pass and enjoy the colors along the river from your car the entire way. Take it about 40 minutes farther for even more colors and arrive in Walden, Colorado.

Or stop at one of the many trailheads along the way to see the fall colors by foot. Along the way, you will notice the remnants of the devastating High Park Fire, which burned more than 87,000 acres in 2012, mostly on the south side of the highway. Click here to find details of the trails on the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers website.

Central Colorado:

Hike: Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Enjoy a beautiful, relatively easy loop hike by starting at Bear Lake, hiking 1.3 miles to Bierstadt Lake, then hiking 1.5 miles down the side of a moraine, a steep hill carved long ago by glaciers. As you hike down switchbacks, you’ll see sweeping views of yellow aspens. Take the Bear Lake Shuttle Bus. You’ll start at Bear Lake and end at the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead. Click here for bus information and here for a hiking map.

A steep slope with some yellow aspens and green pines with a peak called Mummy Mountain in the background.
A view of Mummy Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park with aspens beginning to change colors in the foreground. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Ride a horse:

Rocky Mountain National Park offers trail rides. Click here for more information. The YMCA of the Rockies also offers horseback riding at both the Estes Park Center on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park and near Granby at Snow Mountain Ranch.

Drive: Peak to Peak Highway

This stunning 55-mile drive is Colorado’s oldest Scenic and Historic Byway and showcases beautiful aspen trees. The byway includes Colorado Highway 7 on the north and connects with Colorado Highways 72 and 119. Click here for a map.

Drive: Guanella Pass

The 22-mile drive leads from Victorian towns, Georgetown and Silver Plume, up to timberline on the flanks of famous 14-ers, Mount Bierstadt and Mt. Evans. This drive is also another one of the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways. Click here for a map.

Southern Colorado:

Hike, cycle or ride a horse: Rampart Reservoir, Rainbow Gulch Trail

Easy. Great views of aspens with Pikes Peak in the background. This trail is a 2.6-mile roundtrip hike with just 284 feet of elevation gain. Dogs are allowed on leash. To get there, take U.S. Highway 24 west from Colorado Springs 17 miles to Woodland Park. Turn right onto Baldwin Street. Go three miles to Loy Creek Road. Turn right and go 1.5 miles to Rampart Road. Turn right. Go 2.3 miles and you’ll see the parking lot on your left. Click here for more information.

Hike: The Crags

Moderate. Great for families. The trail leads to pinnacle rock formations known as the Crags. From Colorado Springs, take U.S. Highway 24 west through Woodland Park to Divide. Turn south on Colorado Highway 67. Drive 4 miles. Turn left on Forest Service Road #383. The trailhead is nearly 3 miles up the road approximately 1/8 mile before the Crags Campground. Foot, horse, and cross-country ski trail. One-way distance: 2.1 miles. Elevation gain: 800 feet. Click here for more information.

Hike: Mueller State Park – Cheesman Ranch Loop

A view from a hillside of a pine forest speckled with yellow aspen trees.
Mueller State Park is a great place to see golden aspen trees in southern Colorado. Photo by Alicia Cohn/ Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Moderate. This 5.4-mile loop weaves in and out of aspen groves and meadows on the north side of the park. Click here for a trail map. Mueller State Park also features cabins and campsites and there are evening walks in the fall to hear elk bugling. To get there from Colorado Springs, take U.S. Highway 24 west to Divide. Turn left on Colorado Highway 67 and go south 3.5 miles.

Drive: Gold Belt Tour

On this drive, you’ll get a double dose of gold: beautiful aspens and a glimpse of historic mining towns that sprang up during Colorado gold rush days back in the 1890s. This 131-mile, 5-hour drive is another one of Colorado’s Historic and Scenic Byways. Start in Florissant and head south into the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. From there, you’ll head to the old mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor. Look for beautiful views of aspens on the flanks of Pikes Peak near Victor. South of Victor, the roads get rougher and won’t accommodate trailers or RVs. But, with four-wheel drive, a section known as the Shelf Road is an exciting stretch, cut into a canyon, 200 feet above the stream bed below.

Yellow and orange aspen trees sit on a hillside below Pikes Peak.
The drive to Victor in southern Colorado leads to great views of aspen trees with Pikes Peak in the background. Photo by Deb Idleman for UCHealth.

Drive: Cripple Creek

For a shorter drive, head west on U.S. Highway 24 from Colorado Springs, then take Colorado Highway 67 through Divide to Cripple Creek. You’ll find spectacular views at the Pikes Peak Heritage Center in Cripple Creek.

Contributors: Kati Blocker, Erin Emery, Deb Idleman, Katie McCrimmon and Lindsey Reznicek.