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List: Best locations to catch fall colors around southern Colorado

Posted at 7:30 PM, Sep 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-03 16:12:57-04
Gene Grate - Old Gold Camp Road
Gene Grate – Old Gold Camp Road

COLORADO SPRINGS – Fall is quickly approaching, and faster than normal in Colorado.

Due to severe drought conditions across the state, especially in the southern half, patches of yellow and orange are already appearing in aspen groves.

While the drought is prompting an early start to “leaf peeping” season, there should still be a decent window for people to see the trees at peak color.

With that in mind, there are several spots in Colorado that stand out to the News 5 team.

News 5 Anchor Rob Quirk: “When it’s time to view the fall colors, it’s amazing how much you can be surprised by just accidentally driving down a dirt or winding road. By accident, I discovered two very distinctive and unique opportunities in recent years.

First, while visiting the Mount Princeton hot springs outside of Buena Vista, technically in Nathrop, Colorado, I discovered a wonderland of vivid aspen. The hot springs are located along Colorado 162, which runs west from Colorado 285, just south of Buena Vista. One day after an enjoyable outing at the hot springs, we decided to drive further west along 162. We discovered a literal tunnel of aspen, with a gold hue the likes of which we had never seen.

The further west we drove, the more impressive the view. It also boasts many hiking and biking trails around the Collegiate Peaks.  If you have the time and patience, I highly recommend this trip.

In this same general area of Colorado, I had to make an emergency run from Leadville to Denver. I chose to drive to Fairplay, and then head east along Colorado 285 which winds its way through some wonderful peaks and valleys for miles, that are dotted with clusters of aspen and other trees that bristle with color this time of year.

Heading east on 285 from Fairplay, you will drive through some hamlets that dot the highway to Denver, including Webster, Bailey and Conifer. There are plenty of opportunities and locations to pull off the road to gaze at the changing landscape, and these little towns offer plenty of opportunity for food and drink as you head east.”

No matter the path you choose, make sure you put aspen viewing on your bucket list, there are plenty of options in the high country, and the roads leading to the western slope. Those are just a couple of my favorites. Enjoy!”

First Alert 5 Forecaster Mike Daniels: “One of my favorite things to do in September is to pack a lunch, jump in the car and head to the mountains to check out the beautiful aspen.

Highway 165 between Rye and McKenzie Junction has been a favorite route for years. Once you drive west of Rye into San Isabel you get into some amazing stands of aspen. I like to pull off the road and enjoy lunch under those amazing colors!”

News 5 Weekend Anchor Zach Thaxton: “Growing up in the foothills west of Denver, a drive along State Highway 103 between Evergreen and Idaho Springs was a must-do every year.  The midway point is Echo Lake, which is worth stopping for in its own right.  Pull off at Juniper Pass for an incredible view looking down into the Upper Bear Creek valley.  Colors on the Idaho Springs side can include sizzling oranges and deep reds, in addition to the usual golden yellow.

Closer to home, I enjoy the quick trip around Teller County south on State Highway 67 from Divide to Cripple Creek, then continuing south into Victor and looping back to Highway 67 at Gillette Flats.  I recommend going on a weekday to avoid the weekend looky-loos, but no matter when you go during peak season, you’re sure to get incredible views and plenty of great pictures.

Perhaps my MOST recommended trip is a ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.  Board the narrow-gauge train in Antonito, CO and enjoy the open-air passenger cars while the train winds 64 miles through dense aspen groves as is crosses the Colorado/New Mexico border 11 times on its way to Chama, NM.  Remember that Colorado’s southern border hits its peak later than more northern parts of the state, so plan on later in September compared to more northern parts of the state.  A tour bus drives you back from Chama to Antonito along Highway 17, which is just as spectacular for its fall colors.”

News 5 Assignment Manager Elaine Sheridan:  “My favorite leaf peep in the state is between Cimarron and Ridgway over Owl Creek Pass.  This is the area where they shot much of the original True Grit movie, including the part where John Wayne shoots while galloping across a field with a revolver in one hand and a rifle in the other. You can pull right up to that spot. This is a weekend trip because it is in the southwest part of the state, but you can’t beat a couple nights in Ouray or Telluride.  If you do this trip, you may also want to throw an Ophir Pass trip in there if the snow hasn’t started to fly yet.  Ophir Pass requires a 4-wheel drive and someone who is comfortable driving on a steep road.

My favorite in our area is Phantom Canyon Road between Penrose and Victor.  This is not for people that get nervous on roads that are narrow and steep with no guardrail. It is mostly dirt, but it is crazy pretty.  You can do this drive in any type of vehicle.

News 5 Digital Producer Tom Kackley: “The name speaks for itself and it’s right in our backyard. When I explored this area late in September, I was blown away. There are plenty of pull-offs to take photos, and you’ll avoid some of the crowds that come with Highway 67 between Divide and Cripple Creek.

Also be sure to get out of the car and explore some of the lakes along the way, some of the aspen groves grow down to the water, making for gorgeous photo opportunities. Keep in mind that the road is washed out, so it no longer connects Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs. It’s also smart to travel this in an SUV or higher clearance vehicle. My Ford Fusion survived the trip, but I definitely wouldn’t take it up there again.”