4 Fantastic Fall Hikes in Colorado that You’ve Never Heard of
The Aspens have a special kind of sound as they turn their fiery yellows and reds. Flickering like flames in the wind brings these magnificent dying appendages to life. I’ve always been a sucker for fall in all forms. The color brings a festive vibe to the season, while the surprise high-alpine snow dusts everything in a powdered sugar that creates a contrast too sweet for words. Nothing quite compares to the fall colors in Colorado. These are a few of my favorite spots to enjoy a fall hike in Colorado. But shhh…don’t tell anyone, they are well-kept secrets!
The 2018 Fall Foilage Predictions in Colorado
Fall will arrive early this year to the Rocky Mountain state. Colorado underwent a horrible drought this year, causing the colors to change about a week earlier than normal. The leaves in the cooler, northern region of the state will turn first around the 18th of the month, while the southern part of the state will see peak colors in early October.
For daily updates, check out Crested Butte’s fall color coverage.
Ptarmigan Lake at Cottonwood Pass
Last year, I camped at Cottonwood Pass and got hit by an unexpected snowstorm. The experience may have blind-sided us a bit, but it made for some stunning scenery. We decided to head up to Ptarmigan Lake and were greeted with amazing pops of fall color gently powdered with snow. The trail itself is moderate, with a few steep sections, but nothing too difficult. There are several lakes along the trail, each one worth exploring.
Trail Facts: This is a 6 mile out-and-back trail with 1.5k vertical gain. The trail is right off of Cottonwood Pass. At the time of this post, the road in is closed from the western side of the pass. However, this trail can still be accessed from the east, or Buena Vista side.
Segment 4 of the Colorado Trail For Fall
Segment 5 and Segment 6 of the Colorado Trail get absolutely mobbed during the Aspen season. Unless you want to be on the trail with literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of people, avoid this area like the plague. Instead, consider tackling Segment 4 of the Colorado Trail. This will be a tough hike. There are plenty of long grinds on this hike, as the elevation gain is over 3,200 feet. However, you will hike through pristine Aspen groves. Go ahead, take a minute and walk into the middle of a grove, stop and listen to the serenity around you.
After climbing, the hike opens up to a stunning alpine meadow. The variety of grasses will have you sailing in a sea of color. It’s a magical experience that’s just a stone’s throw away from Denver.
Trail Facts: This is a 15.6-mile point-to-point trail, so it’s best to shuttle cars unless you can hike over 30 miles in a day. Another option would be to hike from the start of the segment up to the valley, have a snack, relax and enjoy the variety of vegetation, then head back.
Burro Trail to Windy Peak in Golden Gate State Park
When most people picture fall in Colorado, the first thing they think of is the aspens in autumn. With a place like the Burro Trail to Windy Peak, it’s easy to see why. However, I’ll be the first to admit that this is certainly a heavily-trafficked trail on the weekends. The Burro Trail gets my vote for the best weekday escape for fall foliage in Colorado.
Golden Gate Canyon is only about 20 minutes from Golden. When I went here on a Friday morning I had the entire place to myself and it was magic, making it my favorite fall hike near Denver. Another great spot to immerse yourself in the glory of the turning Aspens. Although this trail is rated as difficult on AllTrails.com, it is more of a moderate trail. The top of Windy Peak offers a stunning view of the foothills, complete with Colorado fall colors that will make you weak in the knees.
Trail Facts: Burro to Windy Peak is a 6.4-mile loop trail with about 1,900 feet of vertical gain. Located just off of Drew Hill Road, it’s easily accessible for any vehicle.
Salmon and Willow Lakes in the Gore Range
Fall in Colorado goes beyond the fantastic aspen foliage. High Alpine lakes have their place in the best fall hikes in Colorado. As you know, the Gore Range is near and dear to my heart. Its rugged, remote, and beautiful. Salmon and Willow Lakes is no exception. It’s one of the more popular areas in the range, but that doesn’t mean you don’t earn it. For starters, there’s no overnight parking at the nearest trailhead.
What it lacks in ease, it makes up for in beauty. Although I wasn’t here in the fall, I could tell by the slight tinge in color that this place would be magnificent come mid to late September. East Thorne and Red Peak dominate the valley with their impressive ridge lines and striking dihedrals. The trail culminates at upper Willow Lake, where you come face-to-face with the iconic Zodiac Spires. Colorado, you are simply sexy.
Trail Facts: We backpacked in, coming from the North Rock Creek Trailhead. If you are day tripping, or don’t mind risking parking on the street, start at the South Willow Creek Trailhead. Starting from here this is an 11.6-mile trail gaining over 3,000 feet of vertical. Most of the approach is through deadfall and beetle kill pine. Be prepared for little shade and a lot of stepping over downed trees. You didn’t think this would be easy, did you? It’s the Gores after all.
There you have it. A few of my secret spots to score sweet fall scenery in Colorado this fall. These Colorado fall hikes are sure to inspire the leaf peeper in all of us.