Length: 6-plus miles roundtrip and 2,000 vertical feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Why We Love It: It’s an easy-to-follow hike that encapsulates the best of autumn in Colorado: vibrant tundra, yellow and orange aspen, and beautiful mountain views.
When to Go: As soon as you can—the leaves are already turning gold.
Pre-hike Buzz: Fuel up with a steaming stack of hot cakes or a smothered breakfast burrito at Bailey’s Cutthroat Café before heading out on your hike.
Restrooms: Outhouse at the trailhead
Distance from Denver: About 70 miles
Dogs: Allowed off leash

Some people mourn the end of summer, but here in Colorado, we welcome the turn of seasons, during which our lush summer forests transform to an ocean of golden hues. While you can venture almost anywhere in the high country to catch this natural phenomenon, one of the most popular leaf-peeping destinations is Kenosha Pass, not only because of its proximity—it’s just over an hour from Denver—but also because it boasts one of the largest white-barked aspen groves in the state.

If you want to avoid the crowds while indulging in this annual early Autumn expedition, try this hike up the 12,323-foot North Twin Cone Peak, the rounded summit that rises just east of the pass.

While it’s possible for some AWD vehicles to navigate the rough road to within 1.5 miles of the summit, we recommend driving past the rocky stream crossing (about 2 miles past the CO-126 junction) and parking in one of the pullouts available along the road. From here, proceed on foot so you can enjoy hiking through the aspens that cover the peak’s lower slopes.

After passing a series of small beaver ponds, the road begins to climb more steeply and soon reaches an aspen grove so extensive that it feels like the setting for the magical forest of Lothlorien in the Lord of the Rings. The many golden leaves that blanket the forest floor are a colorful reminder of how fleeting this idyllic season is, in part because the aspen are large clonal organisms with interconnected root systems, meaning the leaves all turn gold at the same time.

After passing through the aspens, the road levels out and enters a long, flat stretch of stately evergreens before reaching a parking area where the road now ends. From here, a former continuation of the road climbs steeply to tree line, where you get an excellent view of your objective: the rounded summit to the east with a small building on its summit.

Once you’ve reached the tree line, continue to follow the well-worn route to the base of the summit block. Instead of climbing directly up, which would damage the fragile tundra, stick to the former road as it ascends a nearby saddle and then follows the east ridge to the top. Your efforts are amply rewarded with sweeping views of South Park, the Mt. Evans massif, and the southern Front Range, as well as the colorful grove of aspens stretching above Kenosha Pass.

A sample of the sweeping views from the top of North Twin Cone Peak. Photo by Logan Abbott

Directions: From Denver, head south on U.S. 285 to the town of Bailey, then continue south about another 18 miles to Kenosha Pass’s clearly signed summit. Just beyond the pass, turn left onto Colorado 126 and follow this dirt road for 0.1 miles to a junction. Turn right here to remain on Road 126. If you have an AWD car, we recommend parking about two miles past this junction.

Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.