Colorado’s fall leaves may appear more brilliant this year thanks to this summer’s monsoon rains

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
West Chicago Creek above the campround.

Cooler evenings, shorter days, all the pumpkin-themed drinks and foods you can think of — the start of fall is just a few days away. And that means seasonal fall colors are right around the corner, according to state forestry officials.

“It’s not an exact science,” said Dan West, a Colorado State Forest Service entomologist. Fall leaf colors will have average timing this year, he added. 

When predicting fall colors, West breaks the state into thirds — northern, central and southern Colorado. By the end of September, northern Colorado should see changing leaves, then early October for central Colorado and mid to late October for the southern portion of the state.

The 2022 fall foliage prediction map predicts similar peak colors. It analyzes data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration like historical temperatures and precipitation, and other markers.

This year, monsoon moisture through the summer helped drought-stressed trees recover, West said.

That means leaves likely won’t have brown edges like they’ve had the last few years when drought was more prevalent. So while he said this year’s autumn colors will be quite average relatively, they’ll seem more brilliant than in recent years.

“The next month or so looks fantastic for the state of Colorado for leaf colors,” West said. “I think that we're gonna have a pretty good year as opposed to years past.”

The best fall foliage conditions are a combination of abundant sunshine to get rid of chlorophyll — which gives leaves their green color — and cool nights to produce sugars that create brilliant reds and purples. And you’re in luck because West said NOAA’s 30-day forecast predicts that kind of environment. (Word to the wise: We live in Colorado so you and I both know this weather forecast could always change. And if it snows, say goodbye to the cool colors.)

When taking in the views, West said he likes to follow Colorado’s fall colors from north to south. He starts in Routt National Forest near Steamboat Springs and moves southwest near La Veta Pass into Alamosa and toward Durango.

“The Oaks give you a beautiful show of that red and orange in the bottom of the forest and then the aspens over top of that, it's just, breathtaking,” West said.

Although many areas of Colorado should expect beautiful scenery, some places in the southwest part of the state impacted by severe drought or burn scars like the Spring Creek fire will take more time to recover and produce similar foliage.

West’s best advice for checking out the scenery: “If things don’t look good in your favorite spot or where you normally drive, I’d say just keep for a couple more minutes and I think your chances are pretty good that you’re going to get into a good spot. Enjoy beautiful Colorado.”

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