It’s leaf-peeping season: Here’s where to find fall colors in Colorado

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Fall colors along the Eagle River upstream from Gypsum on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022.

Fall colors are just around the corner in Colorado. But the change and peak colors may feel somewhat delayed this season compared to recent years. 

While the state struggled with harsh drought conditions in years past, which caused leaves to change colors earlier, much of the state had a wetter than usual year.

“We got a decent amount of spring precipitation and summer rain that really made our aspen trees just take off,” said Dan West, an entomologist with the Colorado State Forest Service. “And so this year our aspens look better than they've looked at least in the last five years or maybe more.”

Southwest Colorado still has some moderate and severe drought conditions so the trees there aren’t doing as well as elsewhere in the state. How that affects the fall colors in this area is yet to be seen.

West said he’s hopeful Mother Nature cooperates the next few weeks and that a snowstorm, frost or gusty wind doesn’t knock the leaves down before the bright colors pop. The vibrant colors of fall require 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. 

Colors in our state are expected to peak starting in mid-September and through early October, West predicts. He likes to think of the state in three chunks based on latitudes — northern, central and southern Colorado. By mid-September, northern Colorado should see changing leaves, then late September for central Colorado and early to mid-October for the southern portion of the state.

The 2023 fall foliage prediction map has a similar forecast. It analyzes data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration like historical temperatures and precipitation among other markers.

Some of West’s favorite areas to view fall colors include Kenosha Pass, about an hour east of Breckenridge, and La Veta Pass in Southern Colorado near Walsenburg.

“That area is always so pretty, it's just filled with oaks and aspens and all kinds of just beautiful colors,” he said. “And then of course, in and around Gunnison Valley … is just stunning and beautiful.”

He does caution that a beetle in Kenosha Pass has caused an issue for the trees this year so colors may not materialize there. 

Meanwhile, in the foothills outside Fort Collins, Denver and Colorado Springs, trees struggled with fungi due to wet weather in the spring followed by a warm summer, which caused the leaves of both narrowleaf and plains cottonwoods to turn brown at lower elevations.

Despite the areas negatively impacted, West believes there are plenty of other areas around the state to check out a good leaf show.

“Go for a drive, keep driving past one pass to the next. If one doesn't look great, you'll probably be in awe of the next one,” he said. “We really are just seeing really great conditions leading into the season.”

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