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15 Breathtaking Scenic Drives to See Fall Colors in Colorado


Every year from mid-September through mid-October hillsides across Colorado light up in gold as aspen trees begin prepping for winter. One of the best ways to see the changing fall colors is with a scenic drive. There are countless breathtaking scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado and this post will steer you towards some of the best!

Fall is one of the best times of year to visit Colorado because temperatures are typically mild, the weather is pleasant, and kids are back in school so crowds have died down. The spectacular fall foliage in the mountains is just an added bonus!🍂

The 15 scenic drives on this list will take you to some of the best mountain views in Colorado. Whether you’re local or visiting from out of state, you don’t want to miss the magic of Fallorado this year!

Overlooking a golden aspen forest in the mountains at sunset along Last Dollar Road in Telluride, Colorado.

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The Best Scenic Drives to See Fall Colors in Colorado

  1. Peak to Peak Highway
  2. Kenosha Pass
  3. Guanella Pass
  4. Trail Ridge Road
  5. Independence Pass
  6. Castle Creek Road
  7. McClure Pass
  8. Cottonwood Pass
  9. Kebler Pass
  10. Million Dollar Highway
  11. Alpine Loop (4×4)
  12. Last Dollar Road
  13. San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway
  14. Grand Mesa Scenic Byway
  15. Divide Road

Where to See Fall Colors in Colorado

If you’re looking for colorful fall foliage in Colorado, just keep an eye out for aspen trees. During the fall the leaves of the aspen tree turn from green to golden yellow, adding a pop of color to the forest. Aspens share a singular root system and grow in large groves, which means you can often find large swaths of colorful fall foliage in one area. 

You’ll find groves of aspen trees in forests across Colorado. Aspens can grow anywhere from 6,500-11,500 ft. in elevation, but prime aspen groves typically grow between 8,000-10,000 ft.

Some of the best areas to see large groves of aspen trees in Colorado include:

  • Aspen (of course)
  • Crested Butte
  • Telluride
  • Breckenridge
  • Vail
  • Estes Park
  • The Grand Mesa
A forest of golden aspen trees in front of snow capped mountains near Kebler Pass in Crested Butte, Colorado.

The other prominent tree that changes colors in Colorado is the cottonwood. Cottonwoods can be found near waterways and turn golden yellow in the fall. They thrive at lower elevations and provide most of the fall foliage in cities like Denver and Grand Junction. Scrub oaks and other tree species also provide orange, red, and purple hues during the fall.

If you’re flying into Colorado to see fall colors, then renting a car is essential!

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When to See Fall Colors in Colorado

You can find fall colors in Colorado throughout September and October. Trees in Northern Colorado usually begin changing first, followed by the Central Mountains, then the Southern Mountains. The exact timing of when peak fall colors will occur across Colorado changes year to year.

During years with a wet monsoon season fall colors typically peak a little later in the season and are more vibrant. During periods of drought, aspens start to change and peak earlier. An extra wet or cold start to fall could also cause the aspens to lose their leaves quickly after changing. You’re really at the mercy of mother nature when it comes to seeing fall colors in Colorado!

A large forest of golden aspen trees, with a group of orange trees and mountains in the background near Kebler Pass, one of the best scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado.

Here are my predictions for when to expect peak fall colors in Colorado in 2023:

Northern Mountains: The Northern Mountains (around Steamboat Springs and Estes Park) usually peak earliest around mid-September. The aspens in this area experienced solid rainfall this summer, and combined with a wet winter, they may end up peaking a little later than usual. The amount of moisture the area gets in early September will likely have a big effect on the timing and duration of peak conditions.

Central Mountains: The Central Mountains in Colorado (around Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, and Crested Butte) typically peak in late-September. Locations on the Western Slope of the Continental Divide experienced drier conditions than other areas this summer and may peak a little earlier.

San Juan Mountains: Located in Southwestern Colorado, the San Juan mountains (around Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton) typically see aspen trees peaking in early-October. After a dry summer, aspens in the San Juans are already started to change as of August 27, 2023, so I predict that peak colors may happen a little early (late-September) and may not last as long as usual.

For up to date leaf peeping conditions look at social media and Facebook groups!

Even if you’re a little early or late in the season, it’s not hard to find a pocket of aspens at their peak. I’d personally rather visit an area a little bit early, than past peak fall foliage conditions!

Woman standing in an aspen forest near Kebler Pass in Crested Butte, Colorado during the fall.

Important Considerations During Scenic Drives to See Fall Colors in Colorado

Appreciate the Aspens

Please do not carve into the aspen trees. Not only does this hurt the tree, but it also makes them more susceptible to disease and fungus. Because an entire grove of aspens share a single root system, harming one tree hurts them all. It’s also worth noting that aspens are uniquely vulnerable to climate change, and many groves in the area are suffering from long term impacts of drought. Please treat the trees respectfully so they can continue to thrive with vibrant fall colors!

Drive Carefully

It’s hard not to gawk while leaf peeping in Colorado, but if you’re tasked with driving make sure you keep your eyes on the road. People can get a little wild around fall colors, so stay out of busy roads and avoid parking in dangerous locations.

It’s also important to drive the speed limit. While it’s tempting to drive slowly and soak in the views, remember that not everyone is on the road to leaf peep. Some people may just be trying to get to work, especially on the highways on this list. Driving slowly is more appropriate on the dirt, backroads on this list, but make sure you never stop or park in an active road. If you’re driving slowly on a backroad and someone approaches driving faster, pull over to let them pass.

A black dog sitting on a trail in the middle of a golden aspen forest during the fall in Colorado.

Park Appropriately

While it can be tempting to pull over every time you see a photogenic aspen grove, this can obstruct traffic and cause a dangerous situation. Be sure to only park in designated parking areas or in pull offs when you want to stop and admire the foliage.

Leave No Trace

With so many people leaf peeping in Colorado, it’s important that everyone does their part to minimize their impacts on the environment in these natural spaces. Here are the 7 Leave No Trace principles to help you guide your decision making while hiking and enjoying the fall colors in Colorado:

  1. Plan ahead & prepare.
  2. Travel & camp on durable services.
  3. Properly dispose of waste.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.

The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.

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The Best Scenic Drives For Fall Colors in Colorado

There are no shortage of stunning scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado. Any road that takes you through an aspen forest is going to provide the colorful fall foliage you’re looking for if you time your trip right, but the 15 scenic drives on this list guarantee you’ll see some epic views!

Many of these scenic drives can be combined to create the ultimate Colorado fall colors road trip

For a leaf peeping road trip from Denver, take Kenosha Pass-Guanella Pass-Independence Pass-Castle Creek Road-McClure Pass-Kebler Pass-Cottonwood Pass. 

For a fall colors road trip from Grand Junction, take Divide Road-Last Dollar Road-San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway-Million Dollar Highway-Alpine Loop (if you have a 4WD vehicle)-Kebler Pass-Grand Mesa Scenic Byway.

In addition to a being the best scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado, many of these roads also provide access to hiking trails that will take you up close and personal with the fall foliage. The scenic drives that don’t provide immediate access to hiking have trails in the vicinity.

Get ready to hit the road on one of the best scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado!

A dirt road lined with fall foliage and evergreen trees on one of the best scenic drives for fall colors in Colorado.

Best Scenic Drives to See Fall Colors in Colorado: Front Range

1. Peak to Peak Highway

Driving Peak to Peak Highway is a great opportunity for people living in Boulder or Ft. Collins to get into the hills for an idyllic fall getaway. The road is Colorado’s oldest Scenic Byway and winds past golden aspen trees showcasing some of the best fall colors in Colorado.

As you journey down Peak to Peak Highway you’ll pass quaint towns like Nederland, where you can stop to grab some coffee or a quick bite to eat. In my opinion, the drive is best undertaken on a moody, rainy day for maximum ~cozy, fall~ vibes. Despite being close to Denver and other Front Range cities, Peak to Peak Highway will transport you to a serene mountain haven where you can watch autumn’s colors unfold before your eyes.

Total Distance: 55 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 2 hours

Location: Nederland-Estes Park

Drive Time From Denver: 30 minutes

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

2. Kenosha Pass via U.S. 285

For a captivating fall drive close to Denver, head down U.S. 285 towards Kenosha Pass. Kenosha Pass sits at about 10,000 ft., making it prime habitat for aspens. During the fall Kenosha Pass boasts an incredible display of fall colors, painting the landscape with vivid shades of gold and orange. 

Kenosha Pass is one of the best places to see fall colors close to Denver and because of that, it can get extremely crowded during peak conditions. Consider hitting the road early to avoid heavy crowds, especially when the foliage is at its peak. Not only will you have a more pleasant experience, but you’ll also be able to secure a coveted parking spot at Kenosha Pass.

Total Distance: 50 miles along U.S. 285

Scenic Drive Time: 1 hour

Location: Conifer-Jefferson

Drive Time From Denver: 30 minutes to get into the foothills

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

View of golden aspen forests and fields with mountains in distance in Colorado during the fall.

3. Guanella Pass

Guanella Pass connects U.S. 285 to I-70 in Georgetown, taking you past towering 14’ers (14,000+ ft. mountains) as you drive up through aspen forests and over alpine tundra. 

Because Guanella Pass is paved, it makes a great option for adventurers with low-clearance vehicles looking to get into Colorado’s high country (an activity usually reserved for those with high-clearance 4WD vehicles). Please remember that alpine tundra is incredibly fragile. Be sure to stay on developed trails and park in designated areas while enjoying the fall colors along Guanella Pass.

Total Distance: 22 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 1 hour

Location: Grant-Georgetown

Drive Time From Denver: 1 ÂĽ hours to Grant; 1 hour to Georgetown

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

Fall in the tundra of Colorado along Guanella Pass.

4. Trail Ridge Road

Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road has the distinct honor of being the highest continuous paved road in the United States. The lower elevation sections of Trail Ridge Road take you past aspen trees, while the higher elevation sections take you over alpine tundra. While there are no trees in the tundra, the lichen and other plants turn deep shades of red and purple during the fall.

Be aware, Rocky Mountain National Park requires timed entry reservations during peak hours through October 15, 2023. You can also access Trail Ridge Road without a reservation before 9:00am and after 3:00pm (the Bear Lake Corridor requires a separate entry reservation with extended hours).

Total Distance: 48 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 2-3 hours

Location: Estes Park-Grand Lake

Drive Time From Denver: 1 ½ hours

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

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Best Scenic Drives For Fall Colors in Colorado: Central Mountains

5. Independence Pass

To embark on an unforgettable fall journey, make your way to Twin Lakes or Aspen to drive over Independence Pass (aka Colorado State Highway 82). Independence Pass takes you over the Continental Divide and reaches heights of over 12,000 ft. with truly epic mountain views.

As you wind your way along the serpentine road, you’ll find yourself immersed in a Colorado fall fairytale. Like many other scenic fall drives in Colorado, Independence Pass can draw a crowd. Two sections of the road are one-way only, which backs up traffic even more (there are stop lights to control the flow of traffic). Getting an early start will allow you to beat the crowds and enjoy soft morning light ideal for photographing fall colors.

Be aware vehicles over 35 ft. are prohibited from driving over Independence Pass. The road closes for the winter in early November.

Location: Twin Lakes-Aspen

Total Distance: 32 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 1-2 hours

Drive Time From Denver: 2 ½ hours

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

Woman stands with a peace sign in the air overlooking twin lakes and aspen trees in the fall in Colorado.

6. Castle Creek Road

While Independence Pass is the most notable scenic drive for fall colors near Aspen, there are plenty of shorter roads you can drive around the iconic tree’s namesake town. Castle Creek Road takes you through an aspen forest and past the old ghost town of Ashcroft, making it the perfect scenic drive if you want a side of spooky with your fall colors.

In addition to being one of the best scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado, there are also a number of trailheads along Castle Creek Road for hikes that lead to spectacular views. The best sections of the road to see the aspens are paved, but the road eventually turns to gravel as it climbs towards a high mountain pass.

Location: Aspen

Total Distance: 13 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 1 hour

Drive Time From Denver: 3 ½ hours

Road Conditions: Mostly paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

A golden aspen forest with mountains in the distance in Aspen, Colorado during the fall.

7. McClure Pass

McClure Pass is part of the West Elk Scenic Byway, and takes you over the river and through woods illuminated by radiant aspen trees. The highway connects Carbondale with the small town of Paonia, and is one of the lesser-traveled scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado.

McClure Pass’ proximity to Aspen offers comparable fall foliage, but without the crowds. Be sure to stop in the small towns of Redstone and Marble during your drive to learn about the rich mining history of the area. McClure Pass is paved and accessible with any vehicle.

Location: Carbondale-Paonia

Total Distance: 50 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 1 ½-2 hours

Drive Time From Denver: 3 hours

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

8. Cottonwood Pass

There are a few Cottonwood Passes in Colorado, but this scenic drive takes you from Buena Vista to Almont, near the town of Crested Butte. Like many of the other scenic drives on this list, it takes you through the forest and into the mountains providing both an immersive and expansive fall foliage viewing experience.

The high point of Cottonwood Pass is 12,126 ft. along the Continental Divide. Cottonwood Pass is fully paved, which makes it a great scenic drive to see fall colors in Colorado if you have a low-clearance passenger car.

Location: Buena Vista-Almont

Total Distance: 50 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 1 ½-2 hours

Drive Time From Denver: 2 ÂĽ hours

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

A view of the Collegiate Peaks in Colorado.

9. Kebler Pass

Kebler Pass is more than just one of the best scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado; it’s a mountain adventure that showcases some of the most striking fall foliage in the state. This backroad is often considered the best scenic drive for fall colors in Colorado because it takes you directly through the state’s largest aspen grove.

The majority of Kebler Pass is dirt, but there are a few paved sections along the way. The road is very well maintained and can be driven with a low-clearance vehicle. Be sure to plan some time to enjoy fall in Crested Butte after driving Kebler Pass!

Location: Crested Butte, Colorado

Total Distance: 30 miles 

Scenic Drive Time: 1 hour

Drive Time From Denver: 4 hours

Road Conditions: Mostly dirt. Can be driven with a low-clearance vehicle.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

Overlooking a golden forest of aspen trees with mountains in the distance near Kebler Pass, one of the best scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado.
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Best Scenic Drives For Fall Colors Colorado: Western Slope

10. Million Dollar Highway

Driving along the Million Dollar Highway (aka U.S. 550) is not for the faint of heart. However, it’s worth braving the road’s steep drop offs and narrow shoulders to catch some of the best fall colors in the San Juan mountains. The area’s mining history and striking views makes it one of the best places in Colorado to photograph the changing foliage.

There are a number of theories as to why the road is called the Million Dollar Highway. Some say that was the cost to construct the road. Some say it’s an homage to the gold found in the surrounding mountains. And others say it’s because the road has million dollar views. Regardless of the actual reason, the name certainly fits, which is why it’s considered one of the best scenic drives for fall colors in Colorado.

Location: Ouray-Silverton

Total Distance: 25 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 1 hour

Drive Time From Denver: 5 ½ hours

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

A small white cabin in front of golden aspen trees and evergreens with a mountain peak in the distance along the Million Dollar Highway, which is one of the best scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado.

11. Alpine Loop (4×4)

The Alpine Loop in Colorado’s uber scenic San Juan Mountains is the ultimate 4×4 adventure during the fall. Driving the Alpine Loop is not for the inexperienced. You’ll need a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle, an experienced 4×4 driver, and gear and provisions to be fully self-sufficient. There are sections of the Alpine Loop with steep drop offs, which can be dangerous.

With that said, the Alpine Loop is one of the most scenic drives in Colorado and the landscape really comes alive during the fall. Portions of the Alpine Loop take you through the forest, but most of the route is above treeline allowing you to take in sweeping vistas. 

Location: Lake City-Ouray-Silverton

Total Distance: 64 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 6-8 hours

Drive Time From Denver: 5 hours to Lake City; 5 ½ hours to Ouray; 6 hours to Silverton

Road Conditions: Dirt 4×4 roads. High-clearance, 4WD vehicle REQUIRED.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

Woman in a green dress and black hat stands in front of aspen trees while on one of the best scenic drives for fall colors in Colorado.

12. Last Dollar Road

Driving Last Dollar Road during the fall will either have you longing to be a rancher in the Colorado mountains or running to buy a lotto ticket so you can afford the 8-figure price tag to live there. This dirt road takes you through aspen forests and provides a number of scenic lookouts along the way to take in the fall colors.

Sections of Last Dollar Road are pretty rough and require a high-clearance vehicle with AWD or 4WD. If you have a passenger vehicle you can drive up to a scenic viewpoint overlooking the Wilson range from the Telluride side of Last Dollar Road, but I wouldn’t recommend driving further than that. If you have a capable vehicle, you can take Last Dollar Road from CO-62 (part of the San Juan Scenic Byway, below) on your way to Telluride in lieu of taking the highway in.

Location: Telluride

Total Distance: 22 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 2 hours

Drive Time From Denver: 6 ½ hours

Road Conditions: Dirt. High-clearance vehicle required.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

Woman wearing a plaid shirt and wide brim black hat sits on a rock overlooking golden aspen forests in the mountains near Telluride at sunset.

13. San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway

The San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway loops through the San Juan mountains connecting the towns of Ridgway, Telluride, Rico, Dolores, Manco, Durango, Silverton, and Ouray. The entire loop is 236 miles and includes the Million Dollar Highway. The stretch of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway between Ridgway, Telluride, and Rico is worthy of its own road trip during peak fall foliage.

Seeing Telluride in the fall is a bucketlist Colorado experience, so either make it your basecamp for your fall colors road trip, or plan to stop for a few hours to enjoy the foliage in town. The drive along this stretch of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway will take you past aspen lined hillsides on mountains including Lizard Head Peak and 3 Colorado 14’ers (Mount Wilson, El Diente Peak, and Wilson Peak). Because this is a major highway it’s easily accessible for passenger cars and low-clearance vehicles. 

Location: Ridgway-Telluride-Rico-Dolores-Manco-Durango-Silverton-Ouray

Total Distance: 236 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 5 hours for the full loop with limited stops

Drive Time From Denver: 5-5 ½ hours

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

Woman in a red plaid shirt overlooking fall foliage and mountains in the distance while leaf peeping in Colorado.

14. Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

Nestled in the heart of Western Colorado, just a stone’s throw away from Grand Junction, lies the Grand Mesa. Holding the coveted title of the world’s largest flat-top mountain, the Grand Mesa comes alive during the fall when its abundant aspen forests turn their vibrant golden hue. The best way to experience the Grand Mesa is by driving the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, which connects the small towns of Mesa and Cedaredge. 

As you make your way along the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway you’ll drive through aspen forests passing dozens of lakes along the way. There is a wide network of dirt roads that you can access from the highway to explore the fall colors on the Grand Mesa even more intimately.

Location: Mesa-Cedaredge

Total Distance: 63 miles

Scenic Drive Time: 2 hours

Drive Time From Denver: 3 Âľ hours

Road Conditions: Paved.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

Woman in an orange floral dress and brown suede boots with a chunky heel runs down a dirt road lined with golden aspen trees on one of the best scenic drives in see fall colors in Colorado on the Grand Mesa.

15. Divide Road

You’re unlikely to find Divide Road on other lists of the best scenic drives for fall colors in Colorado, but not because it’s unworthy of accolades. This remote scenic drive is located on the Uncompahgre Plateau near the border of Utah and just may be Colorado’s best hidden gem for fall colors.

Divide Road is over 70 miles long and can be accessed from the San Juan Scenic Byway, Montrose, Delta, or Unaweep Canyon. Because these areas aren’t major population centers and access to Divide Road is so remote, it doesn’t see nearly as much traffic as the other scenic drives on this list.

The aspens along Divide Road are seemingly endless and if you time your drive right you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to an autumnal wonderland. It’s easy to fall into a trance by how bewitchingly beautiful Divide Road is in the fall!

Location: Uncompahgre Plateau near Delta, Montrose, Telluride, & Gateway

Total Distance: 70+ miles

Scenic Drive Time: 3 hours

Drive Time From Denver: 4 ½- 5 ½ hours depending on where you access the road

Road Conditions: Dirt. Can be driven with a low-clearance vehicle.

Fall Hikes in the Area:

Woman in white dress kicks her leg out while in the middle of a dirt road surrounded by golden aspen trees while on one of the best scenic drives for fall colors in Colorado.
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Enjoy the best scenic drives to see fall colors in Colorado!🍂

Other Colorado Fall Adventures You May Enjoy:

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