Sure, anyone can just head west from Denver and eventually find color. Unfortunately, you’ll also find stop and go traffic before you even hit the tunnels east of Idaho Springs. Try these routes to escape the jams.
Peak to Peak
Head up U.S 6 from Golden to Co 119 north toward Blackhawk and you will miss the logjam on I-70. Of course, you will also miss a lot of green if you stop in Blackhawk for long. Instead, venture north toward Nederland, then continue north on Co. 7 to Estes Park and you’ll be rewarded with lots of changing Aspens. Once in Estes, look around and you’ll see plenty of tourists and elk. They are everywhere and it is their mating season: the elk I mean.
If you do head up I-70 west from Denver, bail out at Georgetown and head over the pass. You could ride the Georgetown Loop railroad, but why? It’s quite touristy, just runs alongside I-70 and costs $26. For the cost of just a few a gallons of gas and a few blown shocks you can drive your car over Guanella Pass and catch way more scenery. It is a bit bumpy as they haven’t fully paved the road yet but you can make it in a car (just don’t be in a hurry).
Take U.S. 285 southwest from Denver and head toward Kenosha pass. There shouldn’t be any traffic jams as there is no construction going on at this time. Of course, in Colorado that could change any minute. Stop in Grant; there’s always a beef jerky vendor right there (it is the mountains, they are everywhere) stock up on munchies and head up Kenosha pass. The Aspens will be popping on the pass and you can always stop in Jefferson to see the sight. Yes there is just one and that’s if you consider a post office a sight.
After the excitement of the Jefferson Post Office you may as well keep going toward Fairplay on 285. The colors in the distance to your right are gorgeous and that’s right where you’re headed. Go north out of Fairplay, over Hoosier Pass to Breck. You’ll not only be rewarded with extraordinary color, but you’ll end up in Breck where there is much more than a post office to enjoy.
Most of Vail Mountain is covered in Aspens, so you know it will be gorgeous. The ride over Vail pass will also be an assault on you visual senses. This is the best time to see Vail as the Aspens shed their leaves and the slopes are rather barren in the winter. Luckily the pretty people show soon after the snow flies to make up for this deficit of beauty.
The Glenwood canyon drive is awe-inspiring year round, but during the fall it is a special beauty. Between the rugged rock canyon walls and the stunning gold aspens, you will feel drunk with color. After stopping off in Glenwood, head south on Co 82 toward Aspen to sober up a bit. The Maroon Bells are the iconic site up here and they are beauties this time of year. You have to take shuttle buses on the weekends but they’re cheap and convenient; yeah right, did I mention this is Aspen? For a self-driving tour, you may consider turning off before getting to Aspen at the town of Basalt, head east on Fryingpan River Road toward Ruedi Reservoir and you’ll catch eye-popping scenery along the Frying Pan River.
by Michael Ryan