Planning a visit to Aspen in the fall? Good choice! Making the trip to Aspen is special in its own way during each season, but coming during the fall months -- September through November -- can be especially unique. The cooler temperatures, changing leaves, dcrowds, and unique events make the fall a true mountain experience. We want to make coming to Aspen in the fall as easy as possible so we've created a Top 10 Planning List to help you make the most of your autumn trip.
1) Pick a "Peak Color" Window
The Aspen trees that exist in the Roaring Fork Valley are considered one organism. They are all connected underground by a common root system. This means they all turn colors at the same time. The timing of this turning varies slightly every year, but visitors who come between September 1st and October 1st will be assured of color with the middle of September often being the true "peak".
2) Visit During Weekdays
If possible, avoiding the weekends in the fall make for more serene leaf viewing. the best spots to visit the colors can be crowded on the weekends. The Maroon Bells see almost double the traffic during the weekend and Independence Pass has loads more traffic. You'll likely only run into a few other people on the Hunter Creek hiking trails during the week, and kids will be in school and won't be swarming the local parks.
3) Know Where To Go
As mentioned previously, the Maroon Bells, Independence Pass, and the Hunter Creek Valley are all very popular places to visit the turning of the leaves. But there are infinite possibilities. Sunnyside Trail gets its name not only for the optimum sunshine it gets but also for the blinding gold colors the trees take on in the fall. Castle Creek road and Ashcroft Ghostown are some of the most beautiful spots to view the colors -- the drive twists and turns providing pops of color around each bend. Cathedral Lake and American Lake are stunning hikes up to high-alpine lakes flush with popping colors. Local Parks such as John Denver Sanctuary and Glory Hole provide quaint surroundings and are right in town making them convenient above all.
4) Bring Hiking Gear
The in-town parks are great for quick snapshots of the foliage, but getting just a little way out of town up a trail can truly open up the viewing. Smuggler Mountain hike, Sunnyside Trail, American Lake, Cathedral Lake, and Lost Man Trail are some of the best.
5) Be Weather Ready
Some of the most unpredictable weather in the mountains of the entire year happens in the fall. One day it could be 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky and the next could be snowing! Pack layers and waterproof gear for precipitation bouts as well as breathable items for warmer walks.
6) Try Other Transportation
Walking and hiking allow you to get up higher in the hills and explore areas not accessed any other way. But riding a bike, taking a bus, floating a river, riding a horse, or even gliding with a parachute all make for great viewing. Road biking and mountain biking offer access to various trails and locations that might be too far to walk. The Tom Blake Trail is one of the most popular mountain bike trails in the fall due to its canopy of leaves. The only way to see the Maroon Bells and Maroon Creek Wilderness from mid-June through mid-October is to take a bus along the gorgeous drive and your bus driver will point out areas of interest. Making trek over Independence Pass to Twin Lakes or up to Ruedi Reservoir and putting a paddle in your hand provide unique perspectives of the leaves surrounded by water. Horse lovers can take in the sights with a partner of the equine variety at T-Lazy 7 or other outfits in town. Aspen Paragliding offers flights in the fall that launch from Aspen Mountain and truly give you an aerial view of the entire network of Aspen trees!
7) Enjoy Aspen Fall Events
From harvest parties to running races to film festivals, many annual events take place in Aspen in the fall that celebrate the foliage. The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies hosts a Contra Dance, a Harvest Party, and a Fall Colors Membership Potluck all in September and October. The Golden Leaf half marathon is one of the most popular running races in the state as it traverses a route chock full of changing leaves. And The Meeting Film Festival highlights the upcoming snow season with ski and snowboard films.
8) Eat in Season
Farm to Table dining is a way of life in Aspen. Many restaurants have continually changing menus that reflect the in-season foods found locally. Peaches come into full ripeness in late summer and peach-featured desserts highlight menus into the fall. Root vegetables, apples, and other fall-harvested foods create fall comfort foods and provide great sustenance for those leaf-peeping hikes. Local beers take on a richer, loamier quality and pair perfectly with the heartier foods.
9) Pack a Camera!
At Frias we always advocate for living in the moment. And this often means not participating in screen time or other technological devices while enjoying nature. But the beauty of the changing leaves is too amazing to not take a photo or two! A simple phone will do fine, but if you have a more specialized camera collecting dust in a closet, now is the time to break it out!
10) Talk to Locals
Every local has their own hidden gems about what to do to see the most and enjoy the fall in Aspen. Because crowds are smaller than they are in the summer and the winter locals are often easier to approach while grabbing a coffee, out to dinner, or on the hiking trail. They may ask you to keep their favorite spots a secret, but most likely, they'll be happy to share with you!