Leaf Peeps, Fall Colors Are Coming. Here’s Where To Find Them In Southern Colorado

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Fall colors in the West Chicago Creek valley on Sept. 29, 2020.

The leaf-peeping outlook for southern Colorado’s mountains is looking bright this fall. September and October are normal peak times to see golden aspen leaves here. 

Accuweather’s fall foliage forecast said an active monsoon rainfall season in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico means the colors should be vibrant in those areas. But drought conditions in the northwestern part of the state could lead to stressed trees, early leaf drop and disappointing leaf-peeping.

Andy Schlosberg of the Colorado State Forest Service’s Woodland Park Field Office said while cold weather and unusual moisture patterns play a role in when the autumn colors begin, “the shorter days, the lower amounts of sunlight, is a primary trigger for the leaves to start going into dormancy.”

Timing for the color change appears normal in the Woodland Park area this fall, according to Schlosberg.

“Up here in Teller County we're just starting to see the first one or two individual leaves changing,” he said. “Not seeing any kind of significant change at this point, I expect another two weeks or so before we start seeing that.”

The U.S. Forest Service is reporting a similar outlook around Fairplay.

“We have had good rainfall,” South Park District Ranger Josh Voorhis said. “Just above average, which has been much better than the previous few years.The aspen trees, given the amount of moisture they've had this year, have big healthy leaves, and will hold on to those leaves...If we had drier weather, a lot of times what we see is the aspen trees will just go ahead and drop their leaves due to the dryness.”

USDA Forest Service
Yellow aspen leaves along the Boreas Pass road, between Como, Colorado and Breckenridge, Colorado, on the South Park Ranger District in late September 2015.

A few cold nights will really kick the color change into gear according to Voorhis. “I'm hoping we'll get that hard frost here in the next week, and then we'll see a very rapid change in color,” he said. “The trees will almost immediately start changing as they withdraw the nutrients out of the leaves, but probably within three to five days it will be a noticeable change.”

Peak colors can be unpredictable to forecast though. “Temperatures, drought conditions, changes in weather patterns vary just from one ridge to the next,” said Schlosberg. “So the timing of the change varies a lot.”

Colors typically begin to change earlier at higher elevations. The U.S. Forest Service reports that colors are beginning to pop at more than 12,000 feet on both sides of Tincup Pass between Gunnison and Chaffee Counties.

Officials remind leaf peepers to keep safety in mind too. A popular area for leaf viewing is Highway 285 over Kenosha Pass. “With the normal day to day traffic, and then the additional leaf viewing can sometimes turn that highway into a parking lot on a Sunday,” Voorhis said. “We just encourage people to pay attention to driving while they're trying to look at the Aspen colors. We would hate for wrecks to occur.”

Colorado can be a goldmine of golden leaves in the fall. Here are a few suggestions from Voorhis and Schlosberg to see colors this year:

In Teller County (probably best in couple of weeks, toward the end of September):

  • Highway 67 on the way to Mueller State Park and Cripple Creek
  • Off of Highway 67 check out Gillette Flats and Gold Camp Road on the way to Victor
  • Pikes Peak Highway
  • Catamount Reservoir

In the South Park Ranger District:

  • Highway 285 from South Park and over Kenosha pass
  • Boreas Pass — From Breckenridge across Boreas Pass into Como
  • Currant Creek Pass on Highway 9 between Canon City and Hartsel (lower elevation)

Elsewhere in Colorado: