Catch Them Before They Fall
Leaves crunch underfoot. The first whiffs of smoke drift from a far-off fireplace. Autumn has arrived in Colorado—and there's no better time to take a drive into the mountains. Here, four can't-miss routes covering nearly 250 miles of fall splendor.
The Route: From Carbondale, 30 miles west of Aspen, follow Colorado Highway 133 south along the Crystal River past Mt. Sopris, past the hamlets of Redstone and Marble, up McClure Pass, and into the fruit-basket town of Paonia. Both yellow cottonwoods and golden aspens line the road along the river and sprawl up and over the pass.
Total Miles: 58
Where to Eat: Depending on the time of day you begin or end your journey, Carbondale's finest fine dining makes its home at Six89 (970-963-6890; www.six89.com). The restaurant is only open for dinner, but you don't want to miss small plates like goat cheese and roasted garlic agnolotti or large plates such as the sunflower-seed-crusted rainbow trout. If you find yourself hungry in Paonia, stop by locals' favorite Louie's Pizza My Heart (970-527-3265) for a giant calzone and a taste of live music.
Where to Stay: Resting in the middle of a 100-year-old Arts and Crafts village along the Crystal River, the Redstone Inn's (970-963-2526; www.redstoneinn.com) dark woods, classy bar, and elegant decor feels old-fashioned and fancy.
The Kids Will Love: Let the kiddos pick their own organic fruit at Orchard Valley Farms and Black Ridge Winery (970-527-6838) in Paonia. Harvest apples, pears, peaches, cherries, and raspberries before resting with a picnic along the Gunnison River. The farm also offers a huge variety of gourmet vinegars, oils, salsas, jams and jellies, syrups, butters, mustards, chutneys, and honeys in its store.
Side Trip: The view from Terror Creek Winery (970-527-3484), one of the world's highest altitude vineyards, makes this grape grower a worthy stop as you descend McClure Pass into Paonia. Fall foliage abounds across the North Fork Valley—and you can see it all from this mesa-top orchard. Plus, vintner Joan Mathewson creates award-winning Gewürztraminer. Pick up a bottle for later.
Photo Op: The Crystal Mill is one of the most photographed sites in the state. The precariously perched log structure, which was built in 1893, rests on an outcropping of rock surrounded by aspens just above the gushing Crystal River. Drive past Marble to catch a glimpse.
Bonus: If you're not in a hurry to get back home, take the 45-minute drive west from Paonia to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River (www.nps.gov/blca), a 2,000-foot-deep, vertigo-inducing chasm.