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 to find the most beautiful fall foliage.
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 from mid-September to mid-November.
Starting in mid-September, expect to see aspens turning gold at elevations from 8,000 to 10,000 above sea level. Later in the season in October to mid-November, you can see spectacular color down in the foothills and along the plains in Denver.
Here's a guide of where and when to go:
MID-SEPTEMBER TO EARLY OCTOBER ABOVE 9,500 FEET
Guanella Pass, located just one hour from Denver, climbs to 11,670 feet and has many high aspen groves on both sides of the pass. 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, about one hour and thirty minutes from Denver, has many groves of high aspens around Bear Lake. There are also many high aspen groves on the way to the park on the scenic Peak to Peak Byway (Colorado Hwy. 72 and 7) from Black Hawk to Estes Park.
Hop in a Polaris Slingshot open-air roadster from Great Outdoors Adventures and tour the Pikes Peak and Mount Evans Areas. Guests get to choose between many tours and scenic stopping points like Cripple Creek. The company also offers off-road tours.
LATE SEPTEMBER TO MID-OCTOBER, FROM 7,000 TO 9,000 FEET
Georgetown and Silver Plume, located approximately one hour from Denver (40 miles) are surrounded by aspen groves. An interesting way to see the fall colors is by riding the Georgetown Loop Railroad, where a vintage steam locomotive pulls passengers up the steep grade between the two towns.
The area around Lake Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne is filled with aspen groves and is just a 75-minute drive from Denver. An 18-mile paved bike path circles the pretty lake, offering mountain and fall views in every direction.
MOST OF OCTOBER, FROM 6,000 TO 8,000 FEET
Several 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 Central City and another old mining town, Idaho Springs.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park, located 20 miles west of Denver in the foothills (45-minute drive), has many aspen groves at lower elevations, as well one of the best panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains.
Despite it's name, several spots around Evergreen, Colo., put on a show in autumn. Try hiking near Maxwell Falls or in Alderfer/Three Sisters Park, or drive the Lariat Loop Scenic Byway from Evergreen on Hwy. 74 to Bergen Park and back down through Golden.
Gazing out from a historic train car is a spectacular way to view fall foliage.
EARLY OCTOBER TO MID-NOVEMBER, 5,280 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL
Selected by USA Today as one of the top five bike paths in the country, the Cherry Creek Bike Trail is a paved off-road path that follows the tree-lined creek for more than 40 miles from downtown Denver to Cherry Creek State Park.
Another 40-mile-plus bike path, the South Platte River Bike Trail, follows the South Platte 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 Colorado Trail is considered a hiking and technical mountain bike trail.
The High Line Canal Trail meanders through Denver for more than 70 miles, and almost all of it is lined with old Cottonwood trees that turn brilliant yellow in the fall. There are more than 200 parks in Denver city limits, many of them connected by a necklace of bike trails — and all of them will boast beautiful fall colors:
WASHINGTON PARK: Denver's grand traditional park has two lakes, two flower gardens and a tree-lined, two-mile gravel running path.
SLOAN'S LAKE: Denver's largest lake offers city and mountain views and an expansive tree-covered park.
CITY PARK: Denver's largest park is home to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Denver Zoo, several lakes and the Mile High Trail — a running trail that follows the 5,280-foot contour so that much of the path is exactly one mile high.
Wash Park is a spectacular spot for leaf peeping right in town.