Gilded Trails

Fall in Colorado’s wilderness—a brilliant display of varied yellow and hues—is best viewed from the trail. Get outside this autumn with one (or more!) of 15 hikes, from the Front to Vail to Ouray—all of which will put you in middle of the splendor.

September 2014

—Courtesy of Jason J. Hatfield

East Lake Creek Trail

Edwards | White River National Forest

Located in the Holy Cross Wilderness near Edwards, this trail may be Colorado’s holy grail of mature aspen trees. In September and October, millions upon millions of tiny golden leaves tremble and shimmer for the first two miles of the uphill hike, and at certain points along the way, it feels as if you’re standing inside the sun. The supple dirt trail is narrow but well maintained, and layers of fallen aspen leaves make the trail even softer underfoot. Two and a half miles in from the East Lake Creek trailhead, you’ll cross a wooden bridge at the trail’s babbling namesake—a good picnic spot or a turnaround point for those looking for a half-day hike.
If the mountains call you higher, continue upward on the creek’s east side. The trail skirts several 13,000-foot mountains, tiny Boot Lake, and an old mining site complete with ruins and rusting machinery. You’ll pass a series of beaver ponds and a few swampy places that will make you glad you wore those waterproof hiking boots. The trail meanders through alpine meadows toward the end of the route before its conclusion at Upper Camp Lake. Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed in the Holy Cross Wilderness, and the trail doesn’t connect to others with a closer parking area to leave a car—so if you plan to go the full 12.5 miles, camp at the lake for the night and head back the way you came in the morning. —DVB

—Photography courtesy of Jason J. Hatfield, Aurora Photos, Noelee Leavitt Riley, Todd Caudle, Judith Nelson, Brendan Bombaci, Protrails, Jack Brauer, Liam Doran, Lindsey B. Koehler, Andrew Wilz, Mike Thomas, Jeff Clark