Fall Colors Last for Two Months in Denver
Denver has one of the longest periods of fall colors of any city in the country. That’s because there are five different climate zones within a two-hour drive of downtown Denver. Pick your elevation and you can find yourself at the height of fall colors for more than two months, from mid-September to Mid-November.
Make Denver your home-base for a colorful, fall foliage-filled weekend, and secure a great hotel rate at VISITDENVER.com.
Adjust Your Altitude
Aspen trees in Colorado grow from 6,500 to 10,500 feet in elevation. Although many factors make leaves turn color, as a general rule, the higher the elevation, the sooner the leaves turn gold. That means that over a period of time, you can often see a variety of shades of color on one mountainside, with deeper golds on top at 10,000 feet, blending to pale yellow in the 8,000 foot range, while down in the valley or along the plains in Denver, trees might still be green.
There are 1.9 million acres of aspen trees in Colorado – over one billion trees that if placed together would cover an area larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Aspen leaves don’t just turn color in the fall, they positively glow in a luminescent bright yellow, almost as if they had their own light source. The leaves are small, delicate and tissue-thin, with an aerodynamic shape that keep them in perpetual motion. Even a slight breeze sends every leaf on the tree shimmering.
Although seasons can vary greatly, there are generally four distinct areas and time periods for fall colors – perfectly located to enjoy as a daytrip from Denver.
Mid-September to Early October above 9,500 feet
Winter comes early to the high country. There are many roads within a short drive of Denver that climb to elevations of more than two miles above sea level. Some great places to see early fall colors above 9,500 feet include:
- Guanella Pass: Climbing to 11,670 feet, this mountain path has many high aspen groves on both sides of the pass. An excellent hike is on Abyss Lake Trail (20 miles south of Georgetown) into the Mount Evans Wilderness Area. There are aspen groves at all elevations along the trail, offering a good chance of seeing color somewhere on the mountainsides.
- Rocky Mountain National Park: This gorgeous national park has many groves of high aspens around Bear Lake. There are also many high aspen groves getting to the park on the scenic Peak to Peak Byway (Colorado Hwy. 72 and 7) from Black Hawk to Estes Park.
Late September to mid-October, from 7,500 to 9,500 feet
Many of Colorado’s resort towns such as Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Winter Park are in this elevation and all have ample groves of aspens. Some other interesting places to see fall colors include:
- Georgetown and Silver Plume: These quaint old Victorian mining towns are just 40 miles from Denver and surrounded by aspen groves. An interesting way to see the fall colors is by riding the Georgetown Loop Railroad, where a historic steam locomotive pulls passengers up the steep grade between the two towns, at one point crossing over itself on a 100-foot high trestle.
- Lake Dillon: The area around Lake Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne is filled with aspen groves. An 18-mile paved bike path circles the pretty lake, offering mountain and fall views in every direction. Bikes can be rented in Frisco or Dillon.
Most of October, from 6,000 to 8,000 feet
At lower elevations in the foothills of the Rockies and in mountain valleys, you can find brilliant fall color throughout October with riverside Cottonwoods and scrub oak trees adding more yellows and browns to the show. Some interesting lower mountain choices include:
- Central City and Black Hawk: These two old mountain gold mining towns have legalized gambling with 10,000 slot machines, poker, black jack, craps and roulette. But the real gold can be found on the surrounding hillsides, which are covered with aspen. Several historic old cemeteries near Central City have groves of aspen, and many other trees can be seen on the dirt “Oh My God Road” that runs between here and another old mining town, Idaho Springs.
- Golden Gate Canyon State Park: This state park, located in the foothills about 20 miles west of Denver, has many aspen groves at lower elevations, as well one of the best panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains (which by late October, can already be covered with early snow at the higher elevations).
Early October to mid-November, 5,280 feet above sea level
Down on the plains, Denver has a completely different climate than the mountains. Some 300 days of annual sunshine keep Denver warm enough to support most hardwood trees, from maples and ash to linden, elm, poplar and oak. There are 73 varieties of trees in Washington Park alone.
More than 85 miles of off-street bike trails are available, criss-crossing Metro Denver. Don’t have your own bike? Hop on a B-cycle, Denver’s bike sharing program with some 800 bikes available at 83 different stations. Some great places to bike or walk and see fall colors in and around Denver include:
- Cherry Creek Bike Trail: Selected by USA Today as one of the top 5 bike paths in the country, this paved off-road path follows the tree-lined creek for more than 40 miles.
- South Platte River Bike Trail: Another 40-plus mile path follows the river from downtown Denver to Chatfield State Park and Waterton Canyon, where it meets up with the Colorado Trail and continues 400 miles to Durango.
- The Highline Canal: The canal meanders through Denver for more than 70 miles, almost all of it lined with old Cottonwood trees that turn brilliant yellow in the fall.
- Boulder pumpkin patches: In the fall, many of the small truck farms between Denver and Boulder open up pumpkin patches where you can pick your own pumpkins, take a hay cart ride pulled by an antique steam-powered tractor, or bike or hike on trails over the rolling prairie with mountain vistas in the distance.
Looking for great hotel deals while you’re visiting The Mile High City? Go to visitdenver.com/hotels/specials to find special rates and packages all year round.