Warm sun lingers, but a slight chill in the air whispers the inevitable: Change is coming. The new season beckons us to the high country where Colorado’s iconic aspen trees are turning brilliant gold against the deep blue sky. Where can you discover the best gilded views and immerse yourself in the shimmering leaves? Simple—head west! But if you prefer a more guided journey and specific destination, check out these five scenic drives that will put you in some prime Colorado leaf peeping and fall color. Track leaf color progression by the U.S. Forest Service at smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map.
The Journey: Follow your own personal gold rush as aspens put on a color show along this classic, easily accessible route. Its proximity to Colorado Springs means it’s sure to be busy on fall weekends, so plan accordingly and enjoy the journey.
Route: Take U.S. Hwy. 24 through Woodland Park to Divide, then CO Hwy. 67 south to Cripple Creek. 90 miles round trip
Pit Stop: Gamble your gold in town, or discover the true treasure just outside Cripple Creek at the Pikes Peak Heritage Center.
Stretch Your Legs: Enjoy the 5.4-mile Cheesman Ranch Loop in Mueller State Park (entrance fee, no pets on trails). Or hike the 6-mile Pancake Rocks trail, just off Hwy. 67 between Cripple Creek and Divide.
Go Farther: Put some dirt under your tires and make a complete loop around Pikes Peak by taking Old Stage Road and Gold Camp Road up to Cripple Creek. The sometimes rugged but scenic route follows a former railroad route through aspen groves and past towering rock outcroppings around the south side of Pikes Peak.
The Journey: It’s hard to shake the autumn allure of a town named Aspen. Aspen groves abound on this breathtaking drive. And if the fall color doesn’t take your breath away, the sheer drops and narrow curving road just might.
Route: Follow U.S. Hwy. 24 through Buena Vista, and turn left onto CO Hwy. 82 at Twin Lakes. 315 miles round trip
Pit Stop: Aspen is full of options for shopping, dining, nightlife and culture. Or just kick back in the John Denver Sanctuary nestled along the Roaring Fork River in the Rio Grande Park.
Stretch Your Legs: Take a deep breath of thin air and stretch your legs on the trails at the top of the pass, or explore the ghost town cabins of Independence about 4 miles down the west side.
Go Farther: From Aspen, catch a shuttle to Maroon Bells for the most iconic of photo ops.
The Journey: High above Breckenridge, this dirt road was a gold mine route, stagecoach road and railroad before opening to cars in 1952. Aspen groves line sections of the road and cover nearby hillsides, adding to the sweeping views of the Tenmile Range and Blue River Valley below.
Route: From Hwy. 24 just past Lake George, turn right onto County Rd. 77 (Tarryall Road). Turn left on U.S. Hwy. 285 at Jefferson, then right on Boreas Pass Road at Como. 200 miles round trip
Pit Stop: Wherever else you stop, don’t miss the Thai rolled ice cream at Stir-Pan Creamery in Breck.
Stretch Your Legs: At the top of Boreas Pass, hike around through 1800s-era cabins and take in the views. Or if you’re adventurous, find solitude on the trailless 3-mile round-trip hike to the top of 13,082-foot Boreas Mountain.
Go Farther: Continue down the pass to Breckenridge where seasonal festivals offer food and drink for every palate. Plus, enjoy more mountain beauty riding the free gondola to the base of Peak 8. State Hwy. 9 over Hoosier Pass provides a quicker route home.
The Journey: Popular for good reason, Kenosha Pass is quintessential Rocky Mountains, offering convenient access to dense, stunning aspen groves that thrive on its slopes.
Route: Take a right on Hwy. 67 in Woodland Park. At Deckers, veer left onto County Rd. 126 (Deckers Road) to Buffalo Creek and Pine. Turn left on U.S. Hwy. 285 at Pine Junction. 185 miles round trip
Pit Stop: The Bucksnort Saloon is off the beaten path and out of the ordinary, but the mountain bar in Sphinx Park (a 1.5-mile detour at Pine) is your spot for a Buck Burger and signature Antler Ale.
Stretch Your Legs: Parking can get hectic at the top of the pass, but don’t let it deter you. Sections of the Colorado Trail extend into the golden canopy both east and west of the road for moderate hiking, dense fall foliage and spectacular views.
Go Farther: At Grant, take a right turn on County Rd. 62 / Geneva Rd. / Guanella Pass Rd. and head to the top of Guanella Pass. The 26-mile round-trip detour adds majestic views of 14ers Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans.
The Journey: An easy drive from the Springs takes you over Wilkerson Pass, across South Park and on to inspiring views of the Collegiate Peaks in Buena Vista. The leaf-peeping turns up a notch as you ascend into aspen groves up the pass.
Route: Take a left in Buena Vista onto recently paved County Rd. 306 to the summit of Cottonwood Pass. 226 miles round trip
Pit Stop: Buena Vista makes the perfect stop whether you’re looking for coffee on Main Street (Buena Vista Roastery), burgers and fries by the park (K’s Dairy Delight), or dinner on the patio (Simple Eatery, House Rock Kitchen, or Eddyline Brewery).
Stretch Your Legs: Walk along the Continental Divide at the top of the pass, or take the trail from the parking lot for a 2.5-mile out-and-back hike to the lesser-known Lost Lake.
Go Farther: Head down the west side of Cottonwood Pass, past Taylor Park Reservoir and on to Crested Butte for an overnight. Then continue your quest for gold over Kebler Pass. One of Colorado’s premier leaf viewing areas, the two-lane dirt road is lined with trees that form one of the largest aspen groves in the U.S.