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: Maneuver your car onto U.S. 285 from Denver and stay there—this well-maintained roadway winds past Red Rocks Amphitheatre, through Conifer, Pine, and Bailey to the summit of Kenosha Pass, and down into the valley of South Park. You'll get your first glimpse of stands of quivering aspen as you drive down the hill into Bailey. But it's the gold-nugget yellow spread across the summit of Kenosha and the rim of South Park that's really spectacular. End your drive in Fairplay.
Total Miles: 75
Where to Eat: For lunch on the way or a quick dinner as you're headed down the hill, stop at Hog Heaven Bar-B-Que (303-838-8814; www.hogheavenbar-b-que.com) for a chopped pork sandwich with crunchy sweet potato fries or potato salad. If all you're craving is a snack, check out the roadside beef jerky stand near mile-marker 212.
The Kids Will Love: The Coney Island hotdog stand (303-838-4210) in Bailey. This roadside gem—a giant hotdog measuring 42 feet long—seats about 10 people and serves up delicious wieners with all the fixings.
Where to Stay: It may be only 30 minutes from downtown Denver, but a night at Meadow Creek Bed and Breakfast Inn (303-838-4167; www.meadowcreekbb.com) allows you to stay in the hills among the changing colors. Coincidentally, we like the Aspen room, which is conveniently located adjacent to the inn's outdoor hot tub on the outlook deck.
Side Trip: County roads that wind their way through large aspen groves shoot off U.S. 285 on both sides of Kenosha Pass—take CR 58, CR 60, or CR 62 for an in-the-middle-of-the-color view of the fall landscape.
Photo Op: The South Park area is home to abundant wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for mule deer, antelope, coyote, mountain goats, elk, golden and bald eagles, and migrating cranes. Large bison herds can often be seen in the Hartsel area.
Bonus: If you're in the mood for a hike, the Colorado Trail (the state's premier long-distance trail, stretching from Denver to Durango) crosses right over the top of Kenosha Pass. The sixth segment of the Colorado Trail (Kenosha Pass to Goldhill Trailhead) begins here and is easily spotted from the road; however, you may only want to do a small section of this 33-mile-long portion that gains more than 4,000 feet in elevation.