In early fall, the shimmering leaves of the aspen, the quintessential Colorado tree, turn to a positively glowing shade of gold, sending locals and visitors rushing to the mountains. The glorious colors don’t last long, however – usually from mid-September to the beginning of October.
Here’s a look at some of the best day-tripping, aspen-peeping drives closest to Denver.
Georgetown Loop Railroad
One of the most spectacular ways to view Colorado's changing of the aspens is from an open gondola car pulled by a steam locomotive on the Georgetown Loop Railroad. The Loop takes you between Georgetown and Silver Plume, over two miles apart, the tracks scale an elevation of 640 feet over mountainous terrain.
GETTING THERE: The Georgetown Loop Historic Mining and Railroad Park is located 45 miles west of Denver, just off Interstate 70.
TIME SPENT: 55 minutes to Georgetown, 75 minutes to ride the train.
Guanella Pass Road Scenic & Historic Byway
Just south of historic Georgetown, the 22-mile Guanella Pass Road Scenic & Historic Byway was originally an old wagon trail used by miners. Drivers today pass through a succession of distinct environments, from lush creeks and wetlands to rugged and beautiful mountainsides, at one point reaching 11,699 feet above sea level. All along the drive, aspen groves glow with a luminous, otherworldly quality in the legendary Colorado sunshine. Once you reach the town of Grant, turn right on US 285 and travel for 15 minutes to the top of Kenosha Pass, where aspens grow in multitudes.
GETTING THERE: Take I-70 west of Denver to Exit 228 in Georgetown. Follow the signs from the Gateway Visitors Center. The byway follows first NM 381 and then NM 62 for 23 miles and ends in Grant.
TIME SPENT: 1 hour to drive the byway
St. Mary's Glacier
This road near Idaho Springs is certainly curvy, but its worth the twists and turns for the abundance of golden aspens that populate the hillsides. The road ends at the St. Mary's Glacier trailhead - if you're in the mood for more Colorado gold, take the 3/4 mile trail, about a 45-minute roundtrip, for a hike surrounded by aspens.
GETTING THERE: Take I-70 west past the town of Idaho Springs. Then take exit 238 (marked "Fall River Road"). From there, take a right on Fall River Road.
TIME SPENT: 40 minutes to drive the road