Leaf Peeping In Aspen
Fall in Aspen is kind of like a romantic fling: its startling beauty leaves you awe-inspired and wanting for more, all the while knowing the moment can’t last. Unlike the heartier oak and spruce trees that turn colors in locales to the east, the Aspen tree’s foliage cycle is brilliant but painfully short. The entire cycle lasts only a few weeks, turning first at the higher elevations and then gradually making its way down the valley, where yellow leaves can still be found on the trees in late October.
Here’s your local’s guide to the best leaf peeping by car, bike, and foot. Enjoy it while it lasts, and love it before it “leafs” you!
ASPEN FALL FOLIAGE BY CAR: INDEPENDENCE PASS TO TWIN LAKES
Even when the leaves aren’t turning, Independence Pass has to be one of the most scenic mountain passes in Colorado. But when the yellow leaves are firing, this road is magical. Begin in downtown Aspen and head up Highway 82 East. Make your way through several Aspen groves that canopy the road between Weller Lake and Lincoln Creek. Save the best for last when, just before the summit, a panoramic view of the entire valley affords patchwork-quilt like bursts of color. Drop on over the other side for more jaw-dropping beauty as the road descends via steep, heart-stopping switchbacks before landing in the lush valley. Grab lunch at the Twin Lakes Inn where views of the colors reflecting in the lake are postcard perfect.
Get the full scoop on driving Independence Pass in the fall.
ASPEN FALL FOLIAGE BY BIKE: THE TWO VALLEYS AKA “THE SISTERS”
Road cyclists from all over the world come to Aspen to test their legs and their lungs on this classic ride that affords some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the Roaring Fork Valley. Affectionately known as “the sisters” because of the two valley’s resemblance as striking beauties that require some serious effort, Maroon Creek Road and Castle Creek Road are the crown jewel of Aspen’s repertoire of world-class road rides. Both offer unparalleled scenery and very few cars—the hallmark of a perfect ride.
These routes can be ridden separately but to tackle them both at once is the standard for anyone who takes their time in the saddle seriously. The spectacular scenery meter goes up a few notches during fall foliage, especially if you’re lucky enough to catch the colors just after a dusting of snow on the high peaks. Just when you think the Maroon Bells can’t get any more spectacular, they do. And the Castle Creek Valley offers similar rewards for the 14-mile climb (and on the flip side, epic 14-mile downhill), especially in the last two miles when the high peaks of the Elk Range reveal themselves at the top of the valley.
ASPEN FALL FOLIAGE BY FOOT: CATHEDRAL LAKE
This local’s favorite offers a lot of reward for the effort from the trailhead to the top with awesome scenery pretty much the whole way up. This is especially true during the fall season, when the first mile of the trail meanders through deep Aspen groves that feel especially magical when littered with a ground cover of soft, gold medallions and a canopy of brilliant yellow against a majestic blue sky. Within the first hour, you pop out of the trees and get your first glimpse of the high alpine valley with its open meadows and the cascading waterfalls of Castle Creek. From there it’s a steep climb up a series of switchbacks to the final traverse above tree line across open tundra to this especially scenic high alpine lake at 11,888 feet with its cathedral-like towers of rock and a lake of deep turquoise blue. Another great thing about this hike is the distance: at 5.6 miles round trip, it’s an easy hike to accomplish in less than four hours, so it doesn’t require an early start or an all-day commitment.