MtnAirLover’s Colorado Aspen Color Viewing Top 5 Picks

Coloradans love autumn mostly because of the much cooler nights and relatively warm, sunny days. We also like to enjoy nature and the Colorado Rockies during this time of year because of the vibrant changing colors of the aspen trees.  Typically, the trees start changing color in mid-September lasting through mid-October in preparation of their winter’s slumber. This year has seen an early slumber preparation for the high-mountain aspen, as early as late August in a few areas of the Rockies. Because of this, I’ve been planning on a few high-country excursions with family and friends. And because I was thinking about it, I decided to come up with a list of some of my favorite places in Colorado where I’ve either seen the changing foliage, or where I would love to visit during this time of year.

So, without further ado…the following are my top five Colorado Aspen Color Viewing picks, in no particular order:

  1. Cumbres and La Manga Passes
  2. Last Dollar Road
  3. Kebler Pass
  4. Buzzard Divide
  5. Mt Evans Scenic Byway

Cumbres and La Manga Passes

This route is in extreme southern Colorado and crosses the New Mexico border: I chose this combination as one pick, because these two passes are in close proximity to one another covering the same mountain range. Another nice feature besides the aspen along this route is the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad line, which one of a very few running steam trains in Colorado. So, you not only could just drive the road to the passes, you could also catch the train in either Chama, NM, or in Antonito, CO.

View of the valley below La Manga Pass in November.

Last Dollar Road

This route is in southwest Colorado: I love this area. The Last Dollar Road is actually a dirt road offshoot from the San Juan Skyway (San Juan Scenic and Historic Byway). It also features dramatic views of the Dallas Divide, one of the most photographed area of Colorado…any time of the year. This road can also be treated as a short-cut between Ridgway and Telluride. Just make sure you take it between May and October, as this is a seasonal road and is closed/not maintained in the winter months.

Road to Last Dollar Ranch with the Dallas Divide in the background in late June.

Kebler Pass

This is yet another dirt road in southwest Colorado: This road cuts between the towns of Crested Butte and Marble. It’s about 32 miles long and features an abundance of old growth aspen, which tower over cars and trucks alike. It’s like walking amongst the giants of the Northwest US…not as tall, but still as stately as the Redwoods and Sequoias. Besides the immense size of the aspen along this route, you will see various mountain peaks including Marcellina Mountain and Mt. Crested Butte. This route is also part of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway.

Red Mountain through an fern carpeted aspen forest in early August.

Buzzard Divide

This route is also a dirt road route of about 35 miles in western Colorado: You can begin this route on the west side of McClure Pass, or approach it from east of Collbran along hwy330. The road becomes forest road 265 and you need to pay attention to the signs along this route, as there are many different offshoot roads that become 4×4, or ATV/motorcycle only roads. This drive takes you up to a mountain landscape that seems to be endlessly filled with aspen as far as the eye can see. Part of this route includes a little bit of history as well with an identifying marker of the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition of 1776.

Expedition sign along the Buzzard Divide/Muddy Pass – Gunnison and Grand Mesa National Forest dividing line in late August.

Mt. Evans Scenic and Historic Byway

This route is in north-central Colorado: I chose this route as a close-to-home route for those who live in the Denver area. The Mt. Evans Scenic and Historic Byway can begin in Idaho Springs on the north side, or in Bergen Park on the south side. This road goes to the top of Mt. Evans, which sits at a little more than 14,000 feet above sea level. The road from Echo Lake Lodge to the top of Mt. Evans closes for the winter months though, so barring any heavy autumn snow, you could also go to the top of the mountain above tree-line. Also along this route are an abundance of mountain goat and big horn sheep, as well as a lot of Colorado history in Idaho Springs.

Mt. Evans through the aspen trees along hwy103 from Idaho Springs in mid-October.

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