When and Where to Catch Peak Fall Color in Colorado

The Fall Foliage Map provides data-rich predictions for peak color, and we’ve got picks for prime leaf-peeping.

The golden aspen groves and blazing fall color in the Rockies are a spectacular sight. And catching those leaves at peak color can be a transcendent experience. But that’s the challenge. When are those golden aspen reaching their peak fall color? And where are the best spots for leaf-peeping during the ever-changing weeks of fall? Fortunately, the Fall Foliage Map by SmokyMountains.com has harnessed a whole lot of scientific data to help you find the best fall color in the Pikes Peak region, Colorado and even the entire country. 

The map is easy to use. You simply move a slider between every week from Aug. 30 to Nov. 15 and watch the color progression spread across the United States. “Our goal is that this data-based, interactive tool will increase the number of people that are able to enjoy peak fall in 2021,” says David Angotti, SmokyMountains.com founder and map creator. 

The map includes light outlines of every county in every state, giving some geographic reference. And it’s county by county that the Fall Foliage Map gathers its data—a multitude of data, including historical precipitation, NOAA precipitation forecasts, elevation, actual temperatures, temperature forecasts and average daylight exposure to develop a baseline fall date for each county in the continental United States.

Next, the model consumes hundreds-of-thousands of additional data points from a variety of government and non-government sources and layers this data over our own historical data from past years,” Angotti says. “Finally, with a high degree of accuracy, the algorithm produces nearly 50,000 date outputs indicating the progression of fall for every county in a graphical presentation that is easy to digest.”

As a statistical expert and former airline transport pilot, Angotti created the Fall Foliage Map for fun in 2013. It took off in popularity and has grown ever since, now reaching viral status when each new annual map releases. It makes a great guide for planning leaf-peeping forays. But Angotti says he has also heard about weddings, movie shoots and school field trips being scheduled around his predictions. 

When to Find Fall Color in Colorado

This year, the map should be more accurate than ever, thanks to the first midseason update in late September. 

“Similar to any meteorological forecast, leaf predictions will never be 100% accurate,” Angotti says. “However, after publishing our predictive fall foliage map for nearly a decade, we are quite confident in our data sources, process and algorithm. Our experience combined with a scheduled mid-season update has us especially confident about this year’s predictions.”

So when can we expect to see peak color in Colorado? The map predicts some patchy color showing up around Pikes Peak and westward across the state by Sept. 6. Near peak color is expected to be on display in central Colorado by Sept. 20, and peak fall color should be popping in the high country by Sept. 27. According to the map, we can expect peak color in Colorado Springs and along the foot of the Front Range around Oct. 11. 

Where to Find Fall Color in Colorado

Fall color, golden aspen on Kebler Pass, Colorado
Kebler Pass glows with the gold of sprawling aspen groves. Photo by Jeremy Jones.

As for where to head for prime leaf-peeping, we have no shortage of options in Colorado. You can read about our Favorite Fall Color Drives and 10 Favorite Fall Color Hikes In and Around Colorado Springs. 

Sure, the Gold Belt Tour Scenic Byway is named for the gold mining around Cripple Creek and Victor, but you’ll find plenty of gold on the trees on the west side of Pikes Peak between Florissant and Cañon City. 

In the same area, Mueller State Park makes an easy and colorful day trip from the Springs for easy hiking, picnicking, horseback riding or even camping.

Cottonwood Pass is close enough for a beautiful day trip or easy weekend getaway in Buena Vista or Salida. With a summit of 12,126 feet, Cottonwood is Colorado’s highest paved road crossing the Continental Divide. The Denny Creek Trailhead, right along the road, will lead you—steeply—up 14er Mount Yale or to the beautiful, high alpine Hartenstein Lake. 

Boreas Pass provides a golden path to Breckenridge, Frisco or Lake Dillon for a fall festival, day trip, or Summit County getaway—Brecktoberfest anyone? The grades on this unpaved, historic stagecoach route are plenty passable for 2WD vehicles. And you can stop and linger on pullouts and trails, such as the historic Bakers Tank, where steam locomotives once took on water to stay cool over the 10,850-foot pass.

To the south, the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway offers a gorgeous, and potentially less crowded, route between Pueblo and Westcliffe. You’ll enjoy glowing aspen groves as you pass through the Wet Mountains and take in majestic views of the Sangre de Cristo range from Westcliffe. 

Kebler Pass between Crested Butte and Paonia is one of the most stunning spots in Colorado when its vast aspen groves—arguably the world’s largest living organism—are at peak color.  

And if you’re venturing farther afield, Angotti and his team have also created a Top Places to See Fall Foliage in all 50 States along with this year’s map.

Whether you’re hiking, biking, running, camping, riding horses or taking a scenic drive by car or ATV, you don’t want to miss nature’s annual color show in Colorado. And when you strike aspen gold, you’ll be richer for the experience. 

What’s your favorite spot for fall color? Tag @springsmag in your Facebook or Instagram photos for a possible repost. 

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Jeremy Jones
Jeremy Jones is Springs’ co-founder, editorial director and chief outdoor officer. He loves building community by telling stories about all the people, places and culture that make Colorado Springs an amazing place to live. And he’s especially stoked when exploring new places in the Springs, Colorado and beyond. Watch for him hiking, running or mountain biking the local trails with his wife and kids.

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