SOME OF THE BEST PLACES TO PHOTOGRAPH FALL COLOR IN COLORADO
This year I finally made a road trip to photograph fall color somewhere else besides the Tumwater Canyon in Eastern Washington. I called up a friend and asked him if I should go to Iceland again or to photograph Colorado fall color. The last time I was in Iceland, it was the same time of year so my partner and I decided on a road trip to photograph peak fall colors in Colorado. Boy were we not disappointed.
Photographing the fall color in Colorado is amazing. The best time is from Mid-September to Mid-October but can vary from year to year and with elevation. Colorado's hillsides are awash with aspen trees that turn gold and yellow each year. With the elevation of Colorado, it's possible to view the color for most of the fall if you're willing to drive to many locations at different elevations. The higher elevations turn color before the lower elevations. We found the best time to see fall color in Colorado by checking the Colorado Fall Color Map.
CRESTED BUTTE AND KEBLER PASS
We left Seattle to start our 4500 mile road trip near the end of September. The first stop in Colorado was Kebler Pass near Crested Butte. What is Crested Butte known for? Well, besides the fall color, it's considered the wildflower capital of Colorado, mountain biking and hiking. Kebler Pass is one of the largest aspen groves in Colorado and full of fall color. How difficult is Kebler Pass for driving? Well, any car can drive it but the top is at 10,007 feet so if you come from sea level, I don't suggest getting out of the car and going for a run. It's closed after the first snow of the year so watch the weather when you go. Kebler Pass hiking trails are nice to walk on after sitting in the car for a few days. Near the top of Kebler Pass is a road that goes to Gunnison by way of Ohio Pass. Ohio Pass has more Aspen trees and other amazing views of Colorado fall color. Ohio Pass has old abandoned buildings, views of The Castles and the Anthracite Range. We ended up staying at the KOA in Gunnison in Gunnison since it was cheap, the weather was nice, and it was only a 40 minute drive to Kebler Pass.
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NATIONAL PARK
If you are looking for solitude, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is really nice. While it doesn't have much for aspen trees, the fall color is in the low lying bushes around the canyon. We stopped there for sunset and it is about an hour from Gunnison, Colorado. The entire Black Canyon is 48 miles long and the national park is only 12 miles of the canyon. Of course, these 12 miles are the most dramatic sections of the canyon. It was worth the drive to the park for sunset so if you are in the area, make sure you stop. Not many people go so your can have the place almost to yourself. How long does it take to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison? Plan on 2-4 hours unless you do some of the hiking trails.
SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS AND THE DALLAS DIVIDE
After we left the Gunnison area, we went to the San Juan Mountains near Telluride, Ridgway, and Ouray, Colorado. We used the KOA in Ouray as basecamp since they had Camper Cabins available and the weather was getting bad. Well, bad for being in a tent but great for photography. From Ouray, the Dallas Divide and the Double RL Ranch were only 15 minutes down the road. The Dallas Divide has amazing views of Mount Sneffels with fields of fall color. The Double RL Ranch is owned by Ralph Lauren and is 16,000 acres. The dirt roads through the ranch go to wilderness so you can drive through it but stay on the road. It is still private property. When we were there we could hear elk bugling in the early morning hours.
What is unique about the San Juan Mountains? The San Juans have distinctive high altitude plateaus and peaks. This results in cities and towns that sit at high elevation. The Telluride airport is just over 9,000 feet. The towns in the San Juan Mountains consist of Telluride, Ouray, Ridgway, Silverton, and a few others.
Of course you can't for get about the twisted aspen trees in Ophir. My theory is that since these trees are next to an avalanche chute, an avalanche came down when they were young trees and got bent. As the trees continued to grow they straightened themselves out leaving the twisted look for everyone to admire. Ophir was established in 1881 as a mining town and has an elevation of 9700 feet. It's interesting how when you start to look around the mountains how many mines there are. Outside Ophir is Ophir Pass. We did not go up the pass because you need a high clearance vehicle and while my Forester could have possibly made it, I wasn't willing to take the risk. Ophir Pass is a good way to go from Ophir to Silverton and enjoy the fall color. So, how many people live in Ophir? Right now about 180 and no paved roads.
MILLION DOLLAR HIGHWAY
The last full day we were in the Colorado, it was pouring rain and white cold. We wanted to drive part of the Million Dollar Highway. Where is The Million Dollar Highway? The highway runs about 25 miles from Silverton to Ouray. Probably one of the most amazing roads I have driven when it comes to fall color. After leaving Ouray, the road has steep drop-offs and lots of hairpin corners so you need to pay attention as you drive this road. A worthwhile stop on the way from Ouray to Silverton is Crystal Lake. There is a big pullout and amazing scenery with the mountains reflecting in the lake and lots of aspens around the lake.
Why is it called the Million Dollar Highway? The theories are that it cost so much to build, or because the of the views, and my favorite, the amount of gold ore left in the that was left in the roadway fill. Not sure which theory is true if any, but the highway is worth the drive.
This was my first time to Colorado so I know I missed a few location but I'm already planning a trip for next year. You can find many of my images from Colorado in the premium fine art galleries. When is the best time to see fall colors in Colorado? Usually from mid-September though mid-October. Colorado fall color photography workshops happen throughout the fall. If you're new to photography, these are a great way to get started with the basics of fall color photography. Find the Colorado Fall Color map and be prepared for a lot of driving. The locations I mentioned aren't all the areas. Colorado fall color goes through most of the state so we had to choose where to go with the time we had.