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Nature has a way of calming the mind, body and soul. This fall, spoil yourself with a trip to Colorado’s high country. Here, five spectacular adventures to see autumn’s most vibrant shades of orange, gold, and red:
Crested Butte (Gunnison Valley)
Drive Time: 4.5 hours
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Why You Should Visit: Kebler Pass in the Gunnison Valley is home to (arguably) the world’s largest living organism—an aspen grove—that’s worth visiting, especially during the fall. Although the 30-mile mountain pass is mostly unpaved, the drive is half the fun. Traversing the entire pass takes less than two hours, but we recommend you ditch the car to enjoy one of the area’s many biking or hiking trails (it’s home to 750 miles of single-track pathways).
Where to Stay: Perched high above Crested Butte, WestWall Lodge offers a relaxed atmosphere surrounded by alpine forest. The mountaintop lodge offers five different suite options (starting at $525). If you’re not looking to break the bank, we recommend the historic Elk Mountain Lodge in downtown Crested Butte—a romantic, family-owned B&B with old-world elegance (rates start at $119).
For Peak Viewing: Take a stroll on Woods Walk Trail, which is just five minutes from Crested Butte off Kebler Pass. The trail offers a mix of aspens and fir, as well as beautiful views of Lake Peanut and Mt. Crested Butte. The 2.8-mile trail can be completed in an hour and a half.
When to Go: Now until the end of September
Drive Time: 3.5 hours
Why You Should Visit: Of course you can drive or take a shuttle to Maroon Bells, the most photographed peaks in North America. Or you can enjoy some less trafficked activities. Hike or bike more than 50 miles of trails or hit the 42-mile Rio Grande Bike Trail for up-close fall color viewing. For even more adventure, rent a four-wheeler and take a trip up to Ruedi Reservoir or Independence Pass to check out the foliage. If you’d rather have a bird’s eye view, catch a ride on the Elk Camp Gondola and Chair Lift to the top of Snowmass Mountain.
Where You Should Stay: Viceroy Snowmass is a luxury hotel and resort that offers multiple restaurants, a Ute Indian-inspired wellness spa, and year-round pool terrace and café. Details like reclaimed timber, textural stone, and embossed metals lend some high-country sophistication to this high-end resort. Rates start around $225.
For Peak Viewing: Take a drive down Owl Creek Road, which offers great views of farm homes, open spaces, and of course the turning aspens.
When to Go: Third week of September, give or take a couple of weeks.
Smith Fork Ranch, Crawford
Drive Time: 5 hours
Where You Should Stay: Surround yourself in cozy mountain charm at the adorable Smith Fork Ranch in Crawford, where rustic style meets unpretentious comfort. The ranch boasts five log houses of varying sizes. For example, the two-person Spruce Cabin has chinked-log walls, a vaulted ceiling, slate-tiled bathroom, and the ubiquitous antler chandelier in the sitting room. Families and friends have the option of staying at the larger digs, all with great views of the surrounding Gunnison National Forest. Rates begin at $248/person.
Why You Should Visit: Smith Fork Ranch offers more than a place to sleep. This fall, find all-inclusive adventure packages to suit your tastes. Enjoy a horseback ride that ends at a scenic overlook of the North Fork Valley and take in the foliage while sipping on cocktails and eating hors d’oeuvres; try fly-fishing or skeet shooting; or forage with a private chef and learn about the edible gifts to be found in nature. The valley is also home to many wineries where you can indulge in tasting tours during harvest season (Paonia is just a 25-minute drive away). Fall is a great time to make the once-in-a-lifetime trip—if you can fork over the dough.
For Peak Viewing: We’re told nothing beats the hilltop scenic overlook of the North Fork Valley while on horseback, included with your stay at the ranch.
When to Go: Mid-September to mid-October. The ranch closes October 31.
The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Drive Time: 4 hours
Why You Should Visit: All aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad for a first-class trip on their Fall Colors Explorer. Passengers depart Alamosa at 9:30 a.m. and travel east through Colorado’s southern desert valley and mountainsides for a day of enjoying views of the changing foliage. Appetizers, lunch (fresh water trout and chicken cordon bleu are on the menu), and drinks will be served along the way. The scenery changes dramatically as passengers ride up mountain passes and to the other side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The train will stop a couple times for photo ops, and rest in La Veta for one hour so you can explore the small town. On the ride back you can relax peacefully or listen to an on-board educational speaker.
For Peak Viewing: There are a couple great viewing spots on the train, depending on what you like. The open-air coach car is complete with rustic benches and standing room that has open views unobstructed by glass—a favorite for photographers and those wanting to take in the fresh air—while elevated seating and panoramic views are available in Dome Car 510, also called the Sunset View. Here you’ll find rounded, ceiling-to-tableside glass windows for a higher vantage point.
Where You Should Stay: Accommodations are limited in Alamosa. If you want to stay near town, grab a room at The Hampton Inn Alamosa (starting at $149). Just a 30-minute drive away, Zapata Ranch offers “ranch vacations,” where guests can help around the working livestock ranch and stay in comfort at night. Or if you’re looking for an adventure, try camping around the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
When to Go: The train runs from September 17 to October 16. Tickets start at $129 for adults.
Grand Mesa Scenic Byway
Drive Time: 4 hours
Why You Should Visit: This 63-mile scenic road takes you through western Colorado on your way to the top of the world’s largest flat-top mountain, Grand Mesa. There are 300 lakes on this mesa (check out Land O Lakes), along with abundant wildlife, including bears and moose. Veering off to the seasonal Land’s End Road, you’ll find breathtaking views of Grand Valley, the red cliffs of Colorado National Monument, a vibrant forest, and even eastern Utah. Traveling further south on the CO-65 toward the town of Cedaredge, you’ll drive through apple orchards and white ash trees before stopping at the Grand Mesa’s southern slopes, where the Uncompahgre and Gunnison River valleys meet.
For Peak Viewing: The laid-back ski resort of Powderhorn, which is along the way, is hosting their Color Weekend September 24–25, complete with live music and food. Purchase a $10 lift ticket and ride the Flat Top Flyer above the trees for a unique vista of the magnificent fall colors. You can get off and hike at the top, or remain seated and enjoy the 20-minute round-trip excursion.
Where You Should Stay: Grand Junction’s Two Rivers Winery and Chateau is the snazziest place you can stay at in the area. There’s a two-night minimum on weekends—the hotel can accommodate when there is no wedding going on—and wine tours for groups under eight are complimentary. Explore the vineyards against the grand landscapes of western Colorado and enjoy the literal fruit of the area. Rates start at $92–$155.
When to Go: The last week of September to the beginning of October.