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Fall Colors in Aspen: A Leafer’s Guide to Viewing the Fall Foliage

Aspen trees begin their transition from green to gold in early September, starting at higher elevations and moving lower as seasonal temperatures drop. The peak typically occurs in the third or fourth week of the September, and, depending on the year, fall colors may extend into mid-October. Leaf watchers from around the country come to Aspen Snowmass to witness the area's gold glow against a stunning backdrop of bluebird skies and snowcapped peaks. From the Maroon Bells to Independence Pass, the Aspen area has some of the most stunning leaf-peeping territories. There's plenty to see, but here are a few areas that you don't want to miss.

FALL COLORS AT MAROON BELLS

The Maroon Bells are the most photographed peaks in Colorado, and they're especially photogenic during the fall. This pair of 14,000-foot peaks features a picture-perfect mirror lake at their base as well as groves of aspen trees framing the scene. Many visitors arrive at the Maroon Bells Recreation Area before the sun rises to catch the first light hitting the maroon-colored peaks, but the surrounding trails are ideal to explore during all daylight hours. Car traffic to the Maroon Bells is limited from mid-June through early-October, but visitors can drive the 10 miles up to the recreation area before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. ($10 entry fee). After 8 a.m., hop on the bus that departs from Aspen Highlands and includes educational narration on the ride up ($6 - $8 per person, roundtrip).

INDEPENDENCE PASS FALL COLORS

If you head east out of town on Highway 82, you're on your way to Independence Pass and the Continental Divide. The twisting and turning drive passes a number of aspen groves backdropped by breathtaking scenery. At a leisurely pace, the drive should take about 45 minutes from downtown Aspen to the top of the pass, and there are plenty of places to pull off and shoot photos, explore, or have a picnic. At the top of Independence Pass is a paved viewing area, additional trails, and even more photo ops. Careful: the top of the pass is well above the tree line, and there is very sensitive tundra all around. Please be sure to respect the trails and use the paths at all times. From the top of the pass, you can continue east along Highway 82 to Twin Lakes, a small community about 20 minutes east.

FALL COLORS ATOP ASPEN MOUNTAIN

Ride the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain to get a bird's-eye-view of Aspen's colorful landscape. Once at the top, take in the views, explore hiking trails, or grab a bite to eat at the Sundeck. The Gondola runs on weekends only between Labor Day and early October. Check the schedule and purchase tickets at the Aspen Mountain lift ticket office.

HIKES TO VIEW FALL FOLIAGE

Looking to explore more on foot? The Crater Lake Trail is a perfect hike if you're looking to be surrounded in fall colors. Meandering through aspen groves for four miles roundtrip, hikers are treated to an even closer view of Maroon Bells. This well-traveled trail is good for moderately active adults or groups that include younger hikers.

The Ute Trail originates in east Aspen and, for especially ambitious hikers, can continue to the top of Aspen Mountain. Most hikers sweat to the top of the first set of switchbacks and are treated to aerial views of fall colors from downtown Aspen to Independence Pass from the rock outcropping. After the Ute lookout, the trail ascends steeply and meanders through established aspen groves and across cut ski runs. Hikers that reach the top of Aspen Mountain enjoy incredible views, lunch at the Sundeck and a free ride down in the Silver Queen Gondola (during seasonal operating hours).

The Castle Creek valley offers amazing fall color viewing. Hikers in the know head to American Lake and Cathedral Lake, two of the best trails in the area with picturesque alpine lakes at their turnaround points. For an easy stroll through colorful aspen groves, head to Ashcroft Ghost Town and explore the network of easy trails. Tack on a trip to Pine Creek Cookhouse, located at the end of Castle Creek Road and offering gourmet cuisine with incredible views.

Other great hiking trails to explore during the fall include the Tiehack trail on Buttermilk ski area, Smuggler Mountain Road, and the Ditch Trail in Snowmass.

For more information on these hikes or additional fall foliage viewing tips, contact the Frias Concierge desk at (970) 429-2449. If you're planning to come to Aspen for fall colors, contact our reservations team now to secure your lodging early. Condominiums book fast during leaf season!