Sneak a peek at Garfield County’s fall colors
It’s that time of year when the weather cools, and the colors start to change.
On the Front Range, people scramble in their cars each weekend to head west, in hopes of catching breathtaking views while getting stuck in traffic with all of the people who had the same idea.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, many people take Independence Pass east from Aspen to Leadville, which can also be jam-packed — with like minded sight-seers — and even dangerous, with a high chance of large vehicles (like campers and trailers) also trying to travel the pass with a scrum of commuters.
Yet, Garfield County offers many breathtaking viewing options with less traffic and out-of-town tourists. For locals, it can be a leaf-peeper paradise.
To help make it as easy as possible, our guide goes from the earliest anticipated color change to latest color changes. With this seasonal warmth sticking around, you might be able to view them all over the course of the next few weeks.
Higher elevations between 9,000 to 11,000 feet are predicted to have their peak timing around Sept. 28, said Jim Kravitz, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ director of naturalist programs. The following three weeks will be ideal for higher altitudes and aspen color changes, while later into October will be a great time for lower elevations and cottonwood color changes.
“I think maybe not this weekend, but the following weekend and then the weekend even after that,” he said. “Then, we go even later when you start to consider cottonwoods, and you’re getting into the first two weeks in October — that’s when the cottonwoods really start showing up.”
From Carbondale to Marble, there is the additional gem of Mount Sopris adding to the beauty of the fall color spectacle.
Most of this guide will feature places to drive and hike, but one fun place for people who wish to stay put is the Penny Hot Springs, up Colorado Highway 133, about almost to Redstone between Carbondale and Marble.
While rivers are getting too cold to enjoy, the Penny Hot Springs is still a relaxing place for a dip, and you can take in the fall colors up the side of Sopris (with or without a swimsuit). But, be sure to be respectful about parents who bring their young children to enjoy the sites, too.
On that same note, a local favorite is to continue driving up Highway 133 past the hot springs toward Marble and up McClure Pass. Although McClure Pass is outside of Garfield County, the drive through the county has some of the best places to spot changing aspens at the bottom of Sopris, Kravitz said.
When hiking near Carbondale, there is always the possibility of summiting Mount Sopris itself. Thomas Lakes and Dinkle Lake on the route to the summit of Sopris are beautiful in themselves and don’t require the same level of commitment as summiting Sopris.
Glenwood Springs has multiple places to view colors, but one local favorite for viewing high-altitude autumn colors on top of a mountai is driving up Four Mile Road to Sunlight Mountain Resort.
“My family loves to hike at Sunlight Mountain Resort when the aspens are at their peak,” said Angie Anderson, president and CEO of Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association. “When the lighting is just right, the entire mountain looks like it’s glowing. The beautiful views, combined with the warm sun and cool, crisp fall air makes for a perfect day. The drive up Four Mile itself is also spectacular.”
Some obvious and easier hiking trails are Doc Holiday and Red Mountain trails overlooking Glenwood Springs.
“One of my favorite places to enjoy fall foliage in Glenwood Springs is on a Doc Holliday Trail hike,” said Lisa Langer. “The valley-wide views from Linwood Cemetery are spectacular.”
Another example of a way to relax and enjoy the colors without moving around is enjoying the hillside of Red Mountain in West Glenwood. This could be enjoyed from either Iron Mountain Hot Springs or Glenwood Hot Springs Resort Pool from a different angle.
“The hillside of Red Mountain is covered with a variety of shrubs that turn shades of gold, orange, red and green, and it looks like a patchwork quilt in the fall,” Langer said.
New Castle to Parachute
The Buford New Castle Road through New Castle to the Flat Tops in Meeker is a popular drive to view a spectacle of color in the middle part of the county. It is also a great way to drive to Trappers Lake for a drive and a hike — but make sure to plan it as a full-day outing because the drive and the hike are long.
You can drive Colorado Highway 325 in Rifle to Coulter Mesa or go through New Castle on County Road 246 to County Road 226 and then reach Highway 325 to Coulter Mesa. But, these routes are not ideal for people driving vehicles without four-wheel drive.
“It’s possible, but it’s tricky if you’re in a smaller car,” said David Boyd, public affairs specialist for the northwest Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management located in Glenwood Springs.
Getting above Rifle to one nice hiking trail does involve a 30-minute drive north of Rifle on Highway 325 to Three Forks Trail. This trail is a lush area at high altitude offering the chance to experience some up-close color changing.
For some late farther western views, Parachute Ponds State Wildlife Area is some of that last stretch of vegetation to catch some colors that can be accessed through driving and offers many hiking trails to get great vantage points.
“It’s autumn in Colorado; so, on any one day, you might have all four seasons that you’re experiencing, so be ready for all conditions,” Boyd said. “There’s a ton of great places to go, and sometimes it’s fun to just explore and kind of find them yourself.”
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