Iconic Fall Road Trips in Colorado
Our top five favorite fall Colorado destinations
Although Colorado is known for fresh powder days in the winter and sizzling summer music festivals, fall in the Centennial State is something just short of magical. With the changing of the seasons come crisp mornings, with the sun peeking through the trees; harvesting apples, pumpkins and squash; and a slow-down sensibility reminding us to reconnect and cozy up. With that in mind, there’s no better time to hit the road and check out these quintessential Colorado destinations.
After the summer rush has passed and before the winter ski season gets underway, Steamboat is prime for fly-fishing, biking and, of course, soaking at Old Town Hot Springs or Strawberry Park. But it’s also become a culinary powerhouse with the Steamboat Food & Wine Festival, which will take place Sept. 29-Oct. 2 this year. This intimate event welcomes everyone to the table to collaborate, discover and relish in the good life with Colorado chefs, winemakers, mixologists and specialists such as Dana Rodriguez, Axel Seidel, Mark Stanford, Jon Schlegel, Kelly Kawachi and Laura Posiak.
Make the trek to this tucked-away Southwest Colorado mountain town for a secluded escape among the San Juan Mountains. The soaring peaks will inspire an array of outdoor adventures, such as a ride on the historic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which passes through remote areas of the San Juan National Forest, perfect for leaf-peeping. And you must see the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. Guide yourself through a driving tour or hike into the dwellings with a National Parks ranger for a closer view and in-sight into the daily life of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Or take a sunset drive west to La Plata Canyon, where steep canyon walls, waterfalls and golden aspen trees as far as the eyes can see will have you oohing and ahhing.
The gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park slows its visitor intake as winter approaches, making for an idyllic Colorado mountain hamlet hideaway. Chances are good that you’ll see wildlife any time you visit Estes Park, but during fall, it’s practically a guarantee since it’s rutting (aka mating) season for elk— and their bugle love song will capture your heart. Fall is also the perfect time to cast a line in Lake Estes or the Big Thompson River for rainbow trout. If you’re looking for a more leisurely weekend, book a riverside bed-and-breakfast and kick back and soak up the beauty of the natural surroundings.
Founded in 1859 during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, George- town is a colorful and historic area that was not only a hotbed for silver mining (aka the Silver Queen of the Rockies) but for the railroad as well. It radiates romance with its elegantly restored Victorian hotels and museums such as Louis Dupuy’s Hotel de Paris (now a museum), quaint restaurants and easy-access train rides. Plus, the beautiful Rutherford Trail up Guanella Pass has multiple trails for soaking up the scenery or putting in high mileage.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
If you go to the Great Sand Dunes in the fall, there won’t be water flowing—as there is in the spring and early summer—but you’ll find cooler temperatures, perfect for hiking. The park is home to the tallest dunes in North America, covering close to 19,000 acres of constantly changing landscape. The dunes—including the famed Star Dune, which rises 750 feet from the San Luis Valley floor—aren’t the only thing to recommend the park, though: Great Sand Dunes encompasses another 65,000 acres, including six peaks of more than 13,000 feet offering a stunning juxtaposition of high desert and the craggy heights of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Sandboarding and sand sledding are also popular activities, but a regular sled or snowboard won’t work, so pick up a rental in Alamosa. While the park has something to offer year-round, fall is an ideal time to make a pilgrimage to the quietest national park in the Lower 48.