WHERE TO PHOTOGRAPH FALL COLOR IN COLORADO
This year, I decided to embark on a road trip to capture the vibrant hues of autumn foliage, but this time, I wanted to explore a new location instead of my usual spot in the Tumwater Canyon of Eastern Washington. Contemplating between Iceland and Colorado, I reached out to a friend for advice. After mulling over the possibilities, my partner and I chose to embark on a scenic adventure through Colorado's fall landscape.
To say that the experience was breathtaking would be an understatement. The ideal time to witness the striking colors of Colorado's fall foliage is generally from mid-September to mid-October, although this can vary depending on the year and altitude. The rolling hills of Colorado are adorned with shimmering aspen trees that transform into a magnificent spectacle of gold and yellow each autumn. Thanks to the state's varied elevation, the vibrant colors can be enjoyed for most of the season, as long as you're willing to venture to different locations at varying heights. It's worth noting that the higher elevations tend to change color before the lower elevations.
We discovered that the Colorado Fall Color Map is an invaluable resource for identifying the best times and places to capture the enchanting scenery. So, we made sure to check it regularly, which allowed us to witness the beauty of Colorado's fall colors at their peak.
Crested Butte and Kebler Pass
At the end of September, we departed from Seattle, Washington, to commence our 4500-mile road trip. Our first destination in Colorado was Kebler Pass, situated close to Crested Butte. Crested Butte is renowned for its mesmerizing fall colors and is referred to as the wildflower capital of Colorado, with opportunities for mountain biking and hiking.
Kebler Pass is one of the largest aspen groves in Colorado, and it's adorned with stunning fall colors that captivate visitors. The pass is accessible to all types of vehicles, although the peak is at 10,007 feet, so it may be strenuous for those coming from sea level, and I wouldn't recommend engaging in intense physical activity. It's advisable to keep an eye on the weather as the pass closes after the first snowfall of the year. Kebler Pass also boasts beautiful hiking trails that are perfect for a leisurely stroll after a long drive.
Near the summit of Kebler Pass, there is a road that leads to Gunnison through Ohio Pass. Ohio Pass is a must-visit destination for experiencing the splendor of Colorado's fall colors, featuring numerous Aspen trees and picturesque views of The Castles and the Anthracite Range. Ohio Pass is also home to abandoned buildings that offer unique photo opportunities.
We opted to stay at the KOA in Gunnison due to its affordability, pleasant weather, and proximity to Kebler Pass, which was just a 40-minute drive away.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
If you're seeking seclusion and a tranquil ambiance, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an ideal destination. Although it's not abundant in Aspen trees, the fall colors around the canyon's low-lying shrubs are simply breathtaking. We stopped by the park for a mesmerizing sunset view, which was only an hour away from Gunnison, Colorado.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is 48 miles long, with only 12 miles accessible to the public as a part of the national park. Nevertheless, these 12 miles are the most awe-inspiring sections of the canyon, making it worth the drive to the park for sunset viewing. Additionally, not many tourists visit this location, giving you the opportunity to have the place almost to yourself.
If you plan to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, allocate 2-4 hours for your visit, unless you intend to hike some of the trails.
San Juan Mountains and the Dallas Divide
As you embark on your journey through the San Juan Mountains, the Dallas Divide unfolds before you, offering a gateway to serenity and awe-inspiring landscapes. This natural wonder is not just a destination; it's an experience that transports you to a realm where time seems to stand still.
Nestled in the heart of nature's grandeur, the San Juan Mountains stand as a testament to the breathtaking beauty that Colorado has to offer. Among the many gems that adorn this picturesque range, Dallas Divide emerges as a captivating destination that beckons adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike.
For photography enthusiasts, Dallas Divide is a haven of inspiration. The captivating vistas and ever-changing play of light make it a paradise for capturing stunning moments in time. Whether you're an amateur with a smartphone or a seasoned photographer with professional gear, every frame tells a story of the untamed allure of the San Juan Mountains.
The San Juan Mountains, with Dallas Divide at its forefront, beckon adventurers, nature lovers, and those seeking solace in the midst of nature's grandeur. As you explore this haven of tranquility, remember the importance of preserving its legacy for future generations. Let's unite in support of conservation efforts and ensure that the magic of Dallas Divide continues to captivate hearts for years to come.
Nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, Ophir, Colorado, stands as a testament to the wonders of nature. Amidst the majestic landscapes and serene beauty, one of Ophir's most captivating features is its twisted aspen trees—a spectacle that adds a touch of whimsy to this already enchanting destination.
As you wander through the trails of Ophir, the twisted aspen trees immediately catch your eye. These arboreal wonders, with their contorted branches and whimsical shapes, create a surreal atmosphere that is both mesmerizing and unique to this particular region. The play of light through the twisted branches adds an ethereal quality, transforming Ophir into a fairy-tale-like landscape.
For those with a passion for photography, Ophir's twisted aspen trees offer a captivating subject. The unique shapes and textures create an endless array of composition possibilities. Whether you're an amateur capturing the moment with a smartphone or a seasoned photographer with professional equipment, the twisted aspen trees provide an enchanting backdrop for creating truly memorable images.
Million Dollar Highway
The last full day of our trip in Colorado was cold and rainy, but we still wanted to drive part of the Million Dollar Highway. The highway stretches for about 25 miles from Silverton to Ouray and is one of the most stunning roads for fall color. As you leave Ouray, the road becomes steep with numerous hairpin corners, so it's important to be cautious when driving. One of the highlights of the drive from Ouray to Silverton is a stop at Crystal Lake. There's a large pullout with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, and the lake is surrounded by plenty of aspen trees.
There are various theories as to why the road is called the Million Dollar Highway. Some say it's because of the high cost of building it, while others attribute it to the stunning views. However, my favorite theory is that there's a significant amount of gold ore in the roadway fill. Regardless of the true reason, the Million Dollar Highway is definitely worth a drive.
Fall Color Hikes in Colorado
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness: Located near Aspen, Maroon Bells is one of the most iconic spots for fall foliage in Colorado. The Crater Lake Trail offers breathtaking views of the Maroon Bells peaks and is surrounded by groves of aspen trees that turn a brilliant golden hue.
Rocky Mountain National Park: With its diverse ecosystems, Rocky Mountain National Park provides a wealth of fall color opportunities. Trails like the Bierstadt Lake Loop, Bear Lake Loop, and Fern Lake Trail offer picturesque views of golden aspen groves against the backdrop of towering mountains.
Kenosha Pass: Situated on the Colorado Trail, Kenosha Pass is renowned for its expansive aspen groves that create a stunning display of yellow and gold. The Colorado Trail offers a relatively easy hike and rewards visitors with panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains.
Kebler Pass: Located in the Gunnison National Forest, Kebler Pass is famous for its aspen groves, often referred to as one of the largest living organisms on Earth. The pass offers scenic drives and hiking trails, such as the Lake Irwin Loop and the Lost Lake Trail, that showcase the vibrant fall foliage.
Telluride: The town of Telluride and its surrounding area are known for their captivating fall colors. Hikes like the Jud Wiebe Trail and Bear Creek Falls Trail provide opportunities to immerse yourself in a kaleidoscope of autumn hues while enjoying breathtaking mountain vistas.
Indian Peaks Wilderness: Just outside of Boulder, the Indian Peaks Wilderness offers a variety of trails that meander through stunning fall foliage. The Isabelle Glacier Trail and Mitchell Lake Trail are popular choices that showcase the vibrant colors of the aspen trees set against the rugged alpine landscapes.
Grand Mesa: As the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, Grand Mesa boasts a diverse range of ecosystems and a multitude of trails for exploring fall colors. The Land O' Lakes Trail and Crag Crest Trail offer breathtaking views of aspen groves and the surrounding mesas.
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.