5 Colorado Mountain Passes to Drive this Fall
Catch autumn’s brilliant displays on these superb scenic mountain pass routes.
Craving that glorious golden glow? The thrilling and soul-quenching chase of Colorado’s blazing fall colors?
It’s approaching that special and short-lived time of year. The third week in September typically signals peak leaf-peeping along Colorado’s high-country passes. Here are five drives that bring the fall wow.
Seek out the queen of Colorado aspen stands along the popular and scenic mountain pass, Kenosha Pass. Autumn leaves sing in hues of sunset red and pot-of-gold yellow as some of the state’s most impressive aspen populations thrive here. Gilded hillside trails follow part of the famed Colorado Trail and offer up expansive views of the surrounding peaks. Hiking is the best way to truly immerse yourself in the fall colors. Trailheads are well-marked and the ample parking areas fill up quickly, especially on the weekends.
This stretch of unpaved awe near Gunnison is a nature photographer’s dream. Bring your four-wheel-drive, cruise along rolling slopes and past old ranch buildings and bask in the rural area’s yellow and amber glory. The largest aspen grove in the state beams between Crested Butte and Paonia along this section of Colorado’s West Elk Loop Scenic Byway. Enjoy less congestion than neighboring Independence Pass and be sure to stop for lunch and a stroll around Crested Butte.
Travel this designated state scenic byway south out of historic Georgetown and climb to timberline where eye-level stands of golden aspen light up the mountainsides. Linger and snap postcard photos of the stunning trees and majestic Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt as you drive the 22 miles to Grant, reaching nearly 11,700 feet. Watch for bighorn sheep and pull over for a quick hike or to discover Colorado's mining history in Georgetown.
A Summit County favorite, this skinny pass climbs up and out of Breckenridge, unfolding into a popular dirt trail frequented by mountain bikers, hikers and Jeep tours. The gentle climb along the old narrow-gauge railroad route makes for a mellow hike or drive while the autumn colors evolve in sublime waves overlooking the ski town and the forested Blue River valley. Follow the pass east and watch as the glowing aspen form a snug tunnel before opening up into green meadows and twisting over to the old whistle-stop town of Como.
Colorado’s highest paved state highway crossing the Continental Divide happens to be the absolute must-do quintessential fall mountain pass drive. Follow the 32-mile route through Twin Lakes, across the divide, over the Sawatch Range and down into the Roaring Fork Valley. Not for the faint of heart, this steep and narrow ribbon twists and turns among blazing gold leaves and autumn-painted slopes, past creeks and wildlife, topping out at 12,095 feet before descending into the aptly named ski hamlet of Aspen.
By Lisa Blake