Best Time to See Changing Aspens in Colorado - Day Hikes Near Denver (2022)

When Do the Aspens Change in Colorado?

The peak color of changing aspens only lasts for about a week in Colorado. However, the shoulder weeks bring to the state about a month of golds, greens, oranges, and reds from mid-September to mid-October. So, the best answer to the question, “When is the best time to see the fall colors of Colorado?” is best answered as, between September 15th and October 15th, but there will be an optimal 7-10 day period sometime within that date range. That optimal time when the aspen colors are most intense and brilliant, depends on four factors: temperature, moisture, sunlight, and altitude. For instance, a dry season will dull the fall colors. An early frost can cut short the season, too. The best kind of mountain weather requires a bit of moisture, gradually decreasing temperatures, and a good amount of sunlight.

If you are interested in why certain aspens turn red, orange, or yellow, or wonder why they change color in the first place, then read on. I also give a set of recommendations for places to hike where you can take in the Fall colors of Colorado near Denver. If you are looking for hikes to take this fall, then check out our Top 10 Best Fall Hikes Near Denver.

Why Do the Aspens Change Color in Colorado?

Let’s start off with the familiar. We know that the compound, chlorophyll, is what provides food to trees through the process of photosynthesis–and that chlorophyll is what makes leaves green. It helps to think of the power of Chlorophyll as similar to the intensity of the sun that blocks out the stars during the day. During the Spring and Summer, the other chemicals in a leaf that produce the yellows, oranges, and reds get overpowered by the green of chlorophyll. When the chlorophyll flow gets shut off in the Autumn, these other colors get to shine. This is triggered when trees respond to longer and colder nights by essentially blocking off the flow of chlorophyll into and out of the leaves. At this point, three other compounds get trapped in the leaf and begin to show their hues. Let’s take a look into each of the colors.

Best Time to See Changing Aspens in Colorado - Day Hikes Near Denver (1)

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Why Do Aspens Turn Red?

Red is the most rare, and it is created by anthocyanins. These are generated by sugars that get locked into the leaves in the fall. You may notice that certain groves of aspens will turn red year after year, and that others will never turn red. Researchers as Colorado State University found that this is due in part to genetics: some apsens will produce anthocyanins and others just don’t. They also found that weather plays an important role. The reds will become more intense if the fall season starts out warm and sunny then gradually cools, without getting down to freezing at night.

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Why Do Aspens Turn Yellow?

Another compound, Xanthophyll, creates the yellow tones in fall leaves. Going back to our sun and stars metaphor, Xanthophylls might be similar to the moon. Its yellow pigment can stand up to the intensity of the green in chlorophyll and can be seen year-round–similar to how you can often see the moon during the intensity of the day. However, once the chlorophyll is blocked, its golden hue radiates!

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Why Do Aspens Turn Orange?

You probably guessed it, the orange is caused by another trapped compound with a funny name! Carotenoids (think carrots) produce and orange pigment–Go Broncos!
Carotenoids are not as strong as xanthophylls, but they are more prevalent than their red cousins, the anthocyanins. That’s why you’ll see more oranges in the mountains than reds when the fall colors carpet the landscape.

Once all the yellows, oranges, and reds are spent, the only thing left are the tannins, which turn the leaves brown. Then comes the white of winter.

The Best Places to View Changing Aspens Near Denver

I’ve written an entire post with the Top 10 Best Fall Hikes Near Denver–check it out. But if you are looking for a quick guide, here are a few of my recommendations.

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  • Drive: Guanella Pass Road to 285 to Kenosha Pass

  • Easy access from Denver; pick up Guanella Pass Road by taking interstate 70 to Georgetown, Colorado. The road winds up to the top of Guanella Pass, where hikers can get out and go for a light stroll, or make the demanding climb up the 14er, Mt. Bierstadt (prepare accordingly). The road continues over the pass and terminates at highway 285 in Grant, Colorado. Taking a right (going West) onto 285 leads to Kenosha Pass about 7.5 miles down the road. Kenosha Pass is arguably the best place to view the changing aspens within 90 minutes of Denver. Check out our Kenosha Pass and Guanella Pass Trail profiles for more details.

    (Video) When is the best time to see the peak fall colors in Colorado?

    Best Time to See Changing Aspens in Colorado - Day Hikes Near Denver (6)

  • Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Trail Ridge Road is further from Denver, but worth the drive. It will also require drivers to purchase a Rocky Mountain National Park pass. I find it most affordable to buy a yearly pass because I make multiple trips into the park each year. September is a great time to visit the park because the Elk are in rut and bugling. However, that does mean that the traffic in RMNP is high, so I recommend going on a weekday. We have profiled over 50 hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, so for more info, explore our Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Trails page.

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  • Maroon Bells – Worth the Drive

  • Maroon Bells is about 4 hours from Denver, and if you have the time, it’s worth taking a long day-trip to witness the breathtaking landscape. There are several hikes around the Maroon Bells area and we’ve profiled them, as well as several campsite options, in our Ultimate Guide to Hiking Maroon Bells. Be sure to take time to read it because there is limited parking, an access fee, and you may need to take the shuttle to access the trailhead.

Photo Credits
Thanks goes out to Pacheco for the photos of the orange and red aspens; to Matt Santomarco for his photo of the changing aspens at Mt. Sneffels; Gwendolyn Stansbury for her photo of Trail Ridge Road;and to Alistair Nicol’s photo of the golden stand of aspens.

FAQs

Best Time to See Changing Aspens in Colorado - Day Hikes Near Denver? ›

A good rule of thumb is to plan your hikes and drives to take in Fall colors during mid-September through mid-October. Near Denver, the temperatures tend to be warmer, so aspens will change later along the Front Range and earlier up in the mountains.

What is the best time to see the leaves change in Colorado? ›

Colorado's peak time for fall foliage color is usually from mid-September to mid-October and can vary by season, altitude, and the weather. Colorado's fall colors are unique because of the golden aspens that paint the mountains with shades of gold and yellow each autumn.

What is the best time to see fall colors in aspen Colorado? ›

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 September, and, depending on the year, fall colors may extend into mid-October.

Where is the best place to see the aspen trees in Colorado? ›

Photographer's Favorite: Kebler Pass

Gunnison is home to Kebler Pass, which boasts the largest aspen grove in North America and is one of renowned photographer John Fielder's favorite places.

Where can I see aspens in Denver? ›

Rocky Mountain National Park, about one hour and thirty minutes from Denver, has many groves of high aspens around Bear Lake. There are also many high aspen groves on the way to the park on the scenic Peak to Peak Byway (Colorado Hwy. 72 and 7) from Black Hawk to Estes Park.

Are the aspen turning in Colorado yet? ›

In general, September and early October mark when stands at higher elevation (and those that are farther north) will show colors. Lower, more southerly locations will follow. Aspens take their cue to change as the days get shorter in the fall.

How is the drive from Denver to aspen? ›

From Denver to Aspen by Car

The drive is around 200 miles and takes about four hours on the faster route. It is important to note that if you are renting a car in winter, Colorado has strict winter driving traction laws that go into effect when it snows on the highway between Denver and Aspen.

How long does fall foliage last in aspen? ›

Autumn Colors of Aspen

Explore by foot, car or bike around our beautiful golden forests, you will not be disappointed. Nature is unpredictable in our mountains; however, peak foliage season is typically the 3rd & 4th week of September.

Does Estes Park have aspen trees? ›

Aspen trees in Colorado can be yellow, orange, or sometimes red. If you visit Estes Park in the fall, you can expect to see many aspen trees dotting the town and the surrounding mountains — a beautiful sight, indeed, to behold. Stay at Rams Horn Village Resort to see this not-to-miss display by Mother Nature.

Where are the aspens turning in Colorado? ›

The Best Places to View Changing Aspens Near Denver
  • Drive: Guanella Pass Road to 285 to Kenosha Pass.
  • Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Maroon Bells – Worth the Drive.

How do I prepare for a Denver hike? ›

Start with a moisture-wicking shirt next to your body, then a fleece layer, a down or synthetic jacket and a rain/wind shell. Hiking shorts are fine, but pack in a pair of rain/wind pants. Wear moisture-wicking socks and make sure your hiking boots are sturdy and broken-in.

Where can I see aspen trees in Boulder? ›

6 Fall Hikes Around Boulder to See Aspen
  • Hessie Trailhead, Eldora, CO. ...
  • Fourth of July Trailhead, Eldora, CO. ...
  • Caribou Ranch, Nederland, CO. ...
  • Reynolds Ranch Open Space/ Roosevelt National Forest, Nederland, CO. ...
  • Forest Lakes or East Portal Trailhead, Rollinsville, CO. ...
  • West Magnolia Trailhead, Nederland, CO.
Oct 16, 2020

Are the leaves turning in Colorado? ›

Mid-September is the beginning of change in Colorado: the aspen leaves start to turn from green shades to golden hues, the temperatures cool off, and the daylight hours shorten. Now is the time to start your hunt for fall colors in Colorado's forests to about mid-October when the changes are done.

Is it too late for fall colors in Colorado? ›

Colorado Fall Colors Featured in

Peak fall foliage usually arrives in Colorado between mid-September and mid-October, but this can vary from season to season, as it is dependent on the temperatures. It is well worth the effort to see colors in colorful Colorado, however.

Are the leaves still changing in Colorado? ›

Colorado's peak fall foliage season doesn't last for long, so be prepared! Enjoying Colorado's changing aspens at their most colorful can be a tricky endeavor. The leaves can peak at any moment, usually throughout September and October, and you might only have a week before they fall to the ground.

What time of year do leaves change in Colorado? ›

Typically, colors peak in the Colorado's northern mountains throughout the month of September. The central mountains peak the last week of the month. For our southern mountains, it's the first week of October.

Where are the leaves turning in Colorado? ›

Top places to see the leaves change in Southern Colorado

Towns like Telluride, Ouray, and Crested Butte are perennial favorites, but don't overlook other options like Ridgway and Pagosa Springs. One of the best drives in the southern half of the state is the San Juan Skyway.

Are the colors changing in Colorado? ›

Mid-September is the beginning of change in Colorado: the aspen leaves start to turn from green shades to golden hues, the temperatures cool off, and the daylight hours shorten. Now is the time to start your hunt for fall colors in Colorado's forests to about mid-October when the changes are done.

Videos

1. When is the best time to see the fall leaves in Aspen Snowmass, Colorado?
(Kerjan Donovan)
2. Fall in Colorado || Where to find 🤔 Beautiful Aspen changing colors
(Desiree Ajoc Wheat)
3. Best Places to see the Autumn colors in Colorado
(Ryks Video)
4. Aspen to Denver’s Rocky Mountains in Colorado - My Trip (Days 5-6)
(RetroPixel)
5. Autumn in Colorado - Colorado's best Aspen Viewing. 4K
(Living Art)
6. Best Place to See Colorado's Fall Colors (1) - San Juan Mountains
(熊猫媳妇)

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