People who know me, know I live in Colorado to enjoy the summer and the fall as I am not a cold weather person. Specifically, I prefer from mid-July to early August for wildflower season and mid to late September for fall colors. In fact, I’ve become a bit of a hiking snob, and no longer hike much outside of these time frames. As a result, I try to find the best hikes in the state.
Below is a list of five fall hikes within 1.5 hours of Denver off the 285 corridor:
The Meridian Trail is the closest of the five fall hikes near Denver and is located off Park County Road 47 (dirt) in Pike National Forest. Generally speaking, there is no WOW factor for this six-mile, roundtrip hike that climbs 1,700 feet to a saddle with no view. In fact, if it weren’t fall, I probably wouldn’t hike the trail.
However, in mid to late September, the numerous aspen groves glimmer in gold and feature some pockets of orange and red. The trail not only passes through the aspen groves, but also it offers views of far off green hillsides dotted in red and yellow.
Very few people hike this trail, so it is a nice option for avoiding crowds while getting some exercise. The more adventurous may extend the hike by three miles and go off trail to summit Rosedale Peak.
Ben Tyler Trail
Ben Tyler Trail is the second closest of these five fall hikes near Denver. While it may be walked as a point-to-point, beginning at the trailhead on US Hwy 285 and ending at the Rock Creek Campground, most day hikers do an out and back.
The limited parking for the trailhead is on US Hwy 285 not too far west of Bailey. The first-half mile of the trail climbs steeply via switchbacks up the mountain. This abrupt start coupled with highway noise at the beginning leaves little to be desired at first. But there is a reason why the Ben Tyler Trail, named for a man who ran a lumber mill during the gold rush, is so popular…the aspen!
During the second half-mile, the path levels off as it follows a creek through the aspen grove. Be sure to enjoy the reprieve from the steepness as the trail climbs again, gaining 1,800 feet in the next three miles. At least during the climb, leaf peepers are rewarded with golden aspen leaves both in the trees and dotting the trail.
Eventually hikers emerge to an open area which features a spectacular view to the northwest. The entire mountainside is blanketed in a continuous stand of yellow aspen. It is a sight to behold at peak season.
The path continues up until it connects with Craig Creek Trail. Hikers may go right, left or turn around. Personally, I think reaching the open view is as far as anyone needs to go, making for an eight-mile roundtrip.
The hike to Abyss Lake is absolutely spectacular and may be my favorite of these five fall hikes near Denver. The trailhead is located near the top of Guanella Pass Road which is a beautiful drive itself.
Fortunately, hikers do not have to trek the entire 16 miles to Abyss Lake to enjoy the view of the golden hillside with a backdrop of granite peaks. I recommend following the creek up to the Rosalie Trail Junction in the meadow. That shortens the hike to eight miles, giving leaf peepers some good exercise while enjoying the colors.
Just as the views are marvelous, so is the trail which is loaded with aspen groves. Abyss Trail is a treat and is worth the effort of wading through the creek if a bridge happens to be out. I’ve found this trail, located in the Mount Evans Wilderness, to be a little more rugged. The area is popular, so arrive early for parking.
The Colorado Trail – Segment 5
Segment 5 of the Colorado Trail is located on the south side of US Hwy 285 at Kenosha Pass. This might be one of the most popular places to leaf peep in the state. The substantial parking fills up quickly and cars literally line both sides of the highway in the fall.
The attraction is threefold. It is only 1.5 hours from Denver (assuming no traffic). Both sides of the highway are blanketed in aspen. And it is easily accessible for all abilities as the aspen groves are just steps away from the trailhead. Grandparents, parents and kids can snap their family photo with limited effort. The trick will be getting it without anyone else in the background!
For those who wish for a little more solitude, walk a few miles in as the crowd thins out, and the trail features some lovely views of valleys filled with golden trees. For expansive groves of aspen, Segment 5 of the Colorado Trail might be the best of these five fall hikes near Denver. As a result, however, it attracts leaf peepers in droves. For a quieter experience, visit mid-week.
The Colorado Trail – Segment 4
Segment 4 of the Colorado Trail begins on Park County Road 68 (dirt) near Bailey, Colorado. It is also known as Wellington Lake Road. The segment is 16.6 miles long, and I wouldn’t recommend walking the entire point-to-point path for the fall colors.
Most of the aspen are toward the beginning or at the end near Long Gulch. While the groves aren’t as expansive as the previously mentioned trails, the aspens are very pretty. Hikers choosing to leaf peep near Hwy 68 will be rewarded with old aspen featuring massive trunks.
Those coming from the Long Gulch end will bask in the beauty of aspen with fiery red leaves. I might also mention, that the drive to the Long Gulch trailhead is lined with the colorful trees.
What the trail lacks in quantity of trees (and it’s not lacking), it makes up for in its peacefulness. In addition, the gradient is gradual and the mileage is optional, making it a nice option for some.
In all, these are some of my go to fall hikes near Denver when I’m not out exploring something new! For directions and more details, check out the All Trails app. ETB