The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
Taking time to gaze in wonder at the aspens’ sweeping seasonal transformation ranks as a must-do activity for all Centennial State residents. But why squeeze fall’s splendor into a single day? Plan a whole weekend—or if your work-from-home schedule will allow it, a few days mid-week—for a trip to the mountains. Here are five great destinations in Colorado’s high country perfect for autumnal overnights.
Tucked away on Grouse Mountain, within the boundaries of Beaver Creek Ski Resort, the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch offers a chance to stay on one of the Vail Valley’s aspen-covered hillsides. Here, guests can belly up to the Fireside Bar on the Mountainside Terrace and listen to acoustic classic rock covers, sip cocktails in front of the three-story stone fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows of the Great Room, or curl up with a book on their balcony for a little lazy leaf-peeping before retiring to their room, updated in 2022 with modern mountain touches including wood accents, deer busts and even stone fireplaces in some suites. Those who prefer to peep more purposefully can book a Rocky Mountain Adventure experience through the hotel concierge—perhaps a 4×4 mountain tour or horseback ride? For those in the mood to meander, simply head out the hotel’s front door to find an extensive network of hiking and mountain biking trails. Nightly rates starting at $349.
Give One Year of 5280 for just $16.
Peep this pro tip: Learn the rule of thirds and the importance of picking a focal point—and how to apply these photography basics to your fall-color-capturing efforts—from a pro. National Geographic photographer Jad Davenport will share tips and tricks with The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch guests (both amateur and seasoned shutterbugs alike) from September 21–24. No Nikon? No problem. Smartphone cameras welcome.
Soak up both the splendor of fall in the San Juan Mountains and the healing properties of Colorado’s soothing hot springs: That’s the gloriously simple itinerary for your getaway to The Springs Resort & Spa. Fed by the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring—the “Mother Spring,” which sits on resort property, plunges more than 1,002 feet below the earth’s surface—the resort has 25 different soaking spots ranging from around 95 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Each pool contains an all-natural mix of 13 minerals—including potassium, iron, and magnesium—shown to reduce blood pressure, strengthen bones and muscles, and heighten energy levels, among other health benefits. There’s more to The Springs than soaking, however. Vinyasa-based aqua yoga classes and balancing sound baths (both free for overnight resort guests), along with a robust menu of on-site spa treatments (we love the stress-busting Magnesium Muscle Melt) stretch bodies and soothe minds. Yes, the five-hour drive to Pagosa Springs from Denver looks may seem long, but given the most direct route takes you over multiple aspen-flanked mountain throughways (including Kenosha Pass, which is a destination in itself), think of the ride as pre-gaming for the main event. Nightly rates starting at $299.
Peep this pro tip: While the hot springs are open to the public between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., overnight resort guests get 24-hour access. Take advantage. Rise before the sun, and walk over to River Bend, a roughly 105-degree pool in the adults-only VIP section. The infinity-pool-style ledge looks out over the foliage along the banks of the San Juan River with the snowcapped heights of Sand Mountain and Blackhead Peak in the distance.
Looking for a fall camping experience—complete with the tent and campfire—but with a little (OK, a lot) of luxe thrown in? Book an overnight in the canvas-covered cribs available through Collective Retreats, Vail (open through September 25). Go big for your home away from home with one of the 440-square-foot Summit Tents; inside you’ll find a king-size bed covered in Pendleton blankets, a coffee credenza with locally roasted grounds, and a bathroom complete with flushing toilet, shower, and premium Byredo bath products. Given that it’s foliage season, however, you’ll want to spend most of your time lounging in an Adirondack chair on your front patio, admiring the dusty ambers and sage greens of the more than 1,000 acres of untamed ranchland unfurling around you. No question the aspen groves adorning peaks in the distance will be worth peeping, too. Once the sun sets, mosey over to the group fire ring for a smoked old fashioned and s’mores under a star-studded night sky. Nightly rates for Summit Tents starting at $450.
Peep this pro tip: The season’s bounty isn’t just for your eyes. Let your tastebuds sample the goods too with the chef’s tasting menu, a six-course culinary journey complete with Palisade peaches, zucchini, and other hyper-local ingredients. Dine on-site, outside, to get the full fall effect. Available Friday and Sunday nights; 48-hour advance notice required.
Over the course of its 130-year history, Hotel Colorado has hosted American presidents, notorious gangsters, and Molly Brown, (aka, the Centennial State’s least-sinkable citizen). But like any Grand Dame of the Rockies, as the hotel was known in its early years, the stress and strain of life leads to more than laugh lines. A full facelift was in order, and earlier this year, Hotel Colorado unveiled its multimillion-dollar overhaul. Taking care to maintain architect Edward Tilton’s original Italianate-inspired design, the renovation turned an eye to the guest rooms, hallways, elevators, and stairways. Now, rooms in the pet-friendly hotel feature updates like marble-topped bedside tables, leather chairs, and oversized, upholstered headboards alongside modern must-haves like a Keurig coffee maker and high-speed internet. The multiple groupings of deciduous trees around the hotel, however, were untouched in the update. Take in their beauty from the comfort of your well-appointed room–and get 10 percent off the room rate, along with two complimentary drink tickets, when you use promo code FALL10. Prefer to avoid I-70 to get there? Ride out on the Rocky Mountaineer, which lists Hotel Colorado among its partner lodging options. Nightly rates starting at $159.
Peep this pro tip: For a hearty serving of the Hotel Colorado’s history, we suggest booking the Molly Brown Suite, an opulent ode to the Denver philanthropist and socialite who survived the sinking of the Titanic. Cozy up in your Turkish cotton bathrobe and enjoy Glenwood Springs’s take on fall from the comfort of one of your two private balconies.
Outside of Crested Butte
Looking for something a little more low-key? Plan a no-frills camping excursion to Lake Irwin Campground, which has first-come, first-served sites available through the end of its season (September 30). You’ll access your site via a dirt road. Cell service is spotty (or for some carriers, non-existent). Water must be packed in–there’s no well. And pit toilets…enough said. But a front-row seat to the lake on the east, the Ruby Mountain Range on the west, and Colorado’s largest aspen grove (and some argue the biggest organism in the world) will expose all of these (minor) inconveniences for what they are: Worth it. Nightly rate $22
Peep this pro tip: Bike, hike, paddleboard, fish, forest bathe, hammock: The list of outdoor activities available steps from your tent reads like the best kind of choose-your-own-adventure novel. Peep on.