Leaf peeping season is officially underway and there’s no better time of year to take in the sights of Colorado. You don’t need to plan a weekend-long trip to enjoy the yellow whispering leaves, there are plenty of aspen-lined mountains close to Denver that offer great day hikes. Note that the season doesn’t last long—it typically ranges anywhere from early September to mid-to-late October—so plan accordingly. To help you get started, here are five fall hikes for families. Remember to pack a lunch, and bring your camera to capture a family photo among the golden trees.
Located just above Georgetown (about an hour and a half from Denver), the road up Guanella Pass is perfect for early October leaf peeping. Aspen groves dot both sides of this scenic byway, and while the views are spectacular by car, there are multiple family-friendly hiking trails off the pass—such as Silver Dollar Lake, a moderate 3.3-mile round-trip hike that leads to an alpine lake with stunning views. From there, make the drive to the top of the pass, where, although barren, the views of Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt are spectacular.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
This hiking and camping oasis near Golden—situated just 45 minutes outside of Denver—is home to countless aspen groves and more than 35 miles of hiking trails to explore. Stop by the visitor’s center to pick up a trail map and purchase a day pass ($7), which you”ll need to park in any of the trailhead parking lots. Horseshoe Trail is a great place to start your family’s trek; the moderate 3.6-mile out-and-back hike winds through groves of aspen trees and leads to a beautiful meadow. Be sure to check out Panorama Point Scenic Overlook after your hike for a breathtaking view of the Continental Divide.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Although there’s a fee to explore the park ($20 per vehicle), and the trek is closer to two hours from Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is a gem for fall hiking excursions. Wake up early and head straight to the park (located just 10 minutes from downtown Estes Park), as trailhead parking lots tend to fill up quickly. A hiker shuttle bus is also available from Park & Ride locations around Estes Park and RMNP to drop you at a variety of trailheads. Cub Lake Trail is a moderate 4.6-mile hike featuring a mountain pond and plenty of fall colors along the way—keep in mind that dogs are not permitted on the trails. End your visit with a scenic drive up Trail Ridge Road (weather permitting; check road status at nps.gov/romo), which takes you above treeline where miles and miles of gold leaves can be seen.
St. Mary’s Glacier
Located just an hour outside of Denver, this popular hiking spot near Idaho Springs offers some incredible scenery. You”ll find aspen groves ablaze with color along the road leading up to the trailhead, and the drive has several pull-offs allowing for photographic opportunities; but be considerate and respect the land. The trailhead parking area requires a $5 fee, which is purchased onsite (cash only). The hike up to St. Mary’s Glacier is short (at only 1.5 miles round-trip), and its consistent incline is worth every step. Remember to bring layers as it tends to be chillier at the top. If you can, wait to break out your lunch until you reach the glacial lake, where you can enjoy a family picnic amidst spectacular views.
Just under an hour and a half from Denver located between Grant and Jeffereson, Kensoha Pass is a scenic byway where the aspens grow endlessly and the views are equally impressive. If you’re feeling up for it, take an evening picnic and set up for the golden hour. Drive down the east side of the highway where you”ll meet a dirt road and you”ll come across a parking lot with bathroom access, park here and explore part of the Colorado Trail while taking in the whispers of the golden aspens, a warm beverage, and endless photo opportunities with the entire family.
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