Guide to Colorado’s best fall colors, scenic drives, ghost towns and farm experiences
posted by: Mile High Mamas
While it’s true Colorado boasts amazing adventures and scenery in the summer, the four-cornered state’s golden season is fall. Mountaintops and scenic byways are lined with fiery autumn trees, and the state’s cities and towns enjoy a slower pace with more than 135,000 acres of wide-open spaces to explore. From remote ranch and farm experiences to ghost towns and haunted experiences and winding autumn road trips, Colorado provides spacious outdoor, socially distant and car-friendly viewing options to safely enjoy the upcoming change of season.
Scenic Fall Drives and Activities:
Kebler Pass, west of Crested Butte, is one of the most magnificent fall drives for leaf-peeping in Colorado. The large aspen stand that covers the top of the pass (some claim it’s the largest living organism on the planet as a result of the connectivity between aspen trees underground) turns to gold each fall and the golden hues are made that much more magnificent by the cerulean sky that results from incredibly mild weather that time of year. From Crested Butte, a great drive is due west, up and over Kebler Pass and up to Lost Lake (a short drive from Kebler Pass Road to the south along the northern flank of East Beckwith Mountain). While you’re in the area, head west toward Kebler Pass and you’ll descend down the Ohio Creek Valley, where working ranches cover the valley floor and elk frequently can be seen, before coming to the intersection with Highway 135. Simply take a left and enjoy the fall scenery on the way back to Crested Butte.
Cruise through the San Juan Skyway: Known as “America’s Most Beautiful Drive,” fall foliage along the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway is one of the most iconic and photographed experiences within Colorado. This byway traverses the heart of the San Juan Mountains, forming a 236-mile loop through Mesa Verde Country, with stops in several towns including Durango, Silverton, Telluride and Ouray.
Cycle Down Pikes Peak Highway, Colorado Springs: If you’re looking for beautiful views and a challenge, cycling up and down (or just down) Pikes Peak is a great option. The route is fully paved but intense, ascending more than 4,800 vertical feet with 150 turns leading to a 14,115-foot summit. With reservoirs and other stops along the way, there’s plenty to take in along with the surrounding fall colors and scenery.
Discover the North Colorado Loop Tour: Extending across the Denver & the Cities of the Rockies region, and into The Great West, the North Colorado Loop stretches through 360 miles of canyons and rivers, and offers sweeping views of beautiful fall sights. The loop is also great for wildlife watching. Visitors should be on the lookout for moose, elk and other wildlife as they make their way through various destinations including Greeley, Loveland, Estes Park and Walden. Be sure to stop by Big Thompson Canyon to see granite walls that tower thousands of feet in the air and acres of vividly hued cottonwoods.
Fall Fishing at Lake San Cristobal, Lake City: Enjoy the state’s second-largest natural lake against the backdrop of vibrant aspen trees. This deep blue jewel is rich with trout–and the area’s best-kept secret is that fall is the best time of year to go fishing, as fewer anglers are out and fish begin to bulk up for the winter. After a long day out on the water, head to the south end of the lake, in the Red Gulch Day Use Area, for dynamic views.
Leaf Peeping in Aspen: Named after the spectacular golden hues of its native tree, the town of Aspen boasts unbeatable sights of fall foliage, snow-capped mountains and bluebird skies. Visitors can explore the colors through an adrenaline-pumping mountain bike ride, or trek up and over the 12,096-foot Independence Pass by car (or guided Jeep tour with The Little Nell). For spectacular views, take a hot air balloon ride or paraglide off the summit of Aspen Mountain.
Soak in the Splendor of Fall Colors at Glenwood Hot Springs: As autumn arrives in Glenwood Springs, the change of seasons brings a spectacular show of color above the mist of the hot spring. Fall lodging packages and lower admission rates abound, as summer crowds disperse and warm daytime temperatures prevail. For guests, it’s pure gold—a season highlighted by nature’s beauty, paired with down-to-earth value.
Take an Audio Tour of the Highway of Legends Historic and Scenic Byway: Travel beneath the iconic Spanish Peaks on the Highway of Legends Scenic Byway, a highway wrapped in tales and tradition, and packed with natural wonders, fall foliage and spiritual mythology. Through this digital audio tour, roadtrippers learn about the landscape’s geologic changes and hear stories from the old West, as they zip pass historic cities and towns, former mining camps and ghost towns. The tour also provides local tips on hikes, museums and parks.
Ghost Towns and Haunted Experiences:
The Historic Stanley Night Tour, The Stanley Hotel, Now thru Dec. 31: Hear voices from beyond the grave of the Stanley Hotel’s most-famous guests. The tour is a unique way to experience the hotel’s history, architecture, folklore, and pop culture with a knowledgeable storyteller under the ambiance of nighttime in the Rocky Mountains. Each tour offers opportunities to explore, ask questions and perhaps leave with a few stories.
Breckenridge Haunted Tour, Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, Year-round: Prepare to be haunted by the eerie tales of Breckenridge’s past on this popular tour through the historic district. Guided tours are offered year-round, and even take you inside the town’s most haunted jaunt, the Briggle House, a renown site for paranormal investigations.
Dearfield Ghost Town, near Greeley, CO: One of the more unique ghost towns in Colorado, Dearfield was the only all-Black settlement in Weld County. More than 700 African Americans settled here in the early 1900’s, but the town was not able to survive the Great Depression and Dust Bowl years. Now a few deserted buildings still stand to remind us of the prominence of Black history during the wild west era.
Denver Ghost Pub Tours, Nightly Spirits, Year-round: Experience a spooky mixture of ghostly sights and chilling history on this walking tour of Denver’s downtown area. While exploring the city’s most haunted pubs and buildings, guests will also have time to enjoy alcoholic spirits along the way. The company also offers a family-friendly, all age ghost tour so that every member of the family can be spooked.
St. Elmo Historic District, near Buena Vista, CO: Founded in 1880 and rich with mining history, St. Elmo is one of Colorado’s best-preserved ghost towns. It also boasts the most hauntings and paranormal activity of any place in the state. Stroll through the sidewalks of this dusty town for a self-guided tour, and peek into some of the buildings for mysterious sightings.
Bountiful Fall Farm and Ranch Experiences:
Enjoy a Fall Harvest Festival at Miller Farms, Platteville, Labor Day thru Mid-November: Celebrate the season with a one-of-a-kind experience on a real working farm. Families can enjoy a hayride that takes them into 180-acres of fields where they can harvest a wide variety of vegetables, including potatoes, indian corn, beets, squash, pumpkins and more. The farm also has an astounding collection of antique tractors and tools, a petting zoo, a hay pyramid and other activities to enjoy.
Corn Maze at Chatfield Farms, Littleton, Sept. 18-Oct. 31: Wind through the twists and turns of the Denver Botanic Gardens’ corn maze at Chatfield Farms. Designed for kids and the young-at-heart, the maze spans seven acres, and can be viewed from two 15-foot illuminated bridges. Children under ten can enjoy a corn mini-maze and pumpkins are also available for purchase at the farm.
Ride, Ride, Ride Week at Lost Valley Ranch, Sedalia, Sept. 22-27: This week provides a perfect escape for the rider looking to explore western lure in autumn. Guests can enjoy long days on the saddle that either start on the AAA Four Diamond ranch, or in the backcountry of the surrounding Pike National Forest. Hot baths, homemade food and plush beds complement each day of this remote Colorado horseback adventure.
Adults Week at C Lazy U Ranch, Granby, Sept. 22- Oct. 1: Guests can reconnect with the great outdoors and their significant others during C Lazy U’s Adults-Only Week. The luxury ranch is set against a romantic backdrop of fall foliage, and cool crisp weather—making it the perfect time to rediscover the pleasures of sleeping in and engaging in conversations without interruptions from the kids. Accommodations, gourmet meals, evening entertainment and fall activities are included in this exclusive package.
Harvest Seasonal Produce at Berry Patch Farms, Brighton: Fall crops like apples, beets, carrots, squash and pumpkins are ripe and ready to pick on this certified organic farm. Once you’ve found your best selections, relax and enjoy a hayride tour on 40 acres. Stop by the Barn Store for additional produce to whip up an autumnal recipe.
The Campground at Big B’s Delicious Orchards, Hotchkiss: Big B’s Delicious Orchards is a working farm and organic orchard and provides unique camping options on their property. They also offer a beautiful courtyard, fun tree swings, seasonal u-pick fruits and vegetables, live music, Big B’s juices and hard cider, local wines, snacks, gifts and more. The campsites are located in different parts of the orchard.
Saddle Up at Sundance Trail Guest Ranch, Red Feather Lakes: A short two-hour drive from Denver, Sundance Trail Guest Ranch is cowboy heaven nestled in the Rocky Mountains. One of the smaller, boutique ranches, visitors can create an autumnal adventure with add-on activities such as horseback riding, fishing and disc golf. A hot tub, western-style meals and limitless cookies await. An added bonus? The ranch is pet-friendly—so Fido is welcome to tag along for free.
For more fall vacation ideas, visit www.colorado.com.
Featured photo: Matt Inden/Miles