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Hiking in fall leaves
Photo: Jamie Siebrase.

3 Autumn Hikes for Families

It’s easy to see why Summit County is a family favorite for peeping fall leaves.

Lazy Saturday Feels
Drive time:
About 1.5 to 2 hours from the metro area.
Fall comes quickly in the Centennial State, and it doesn’t last long. Leaf-peep season usually begins in mid-September. Don’t put off your fall hiking too long or all that vivid foliage will be covering the ground.

Quaking aspens grow especially well in the acidic soil in Summit County and other mountain towns. That makes the area prime for fall leaf peeping. What’s the best way to get an up-close view of their electrifying autumn leaves? Hike one of these trails.

Lily Pad Lake Trail, Frisco

In the Eagles Nest Wilderness, Lily Pad Lake Trail stretches from Buffalo Mountain Trailhead toward the Meadow Creek Trailhead. Halfway between the two, families find this hike’s main attraction, a sparkling alpine lake. I like accessing the lake via Meadow Creek Trailhead, where C.R. 1231 dead-ends. Look for a large trail map at the corner of the dirt parking lot, and follow Meadow Creek Trail for a half-mile. When you get to a trail junction, turn right onto Lily Pad Hiking Trail to begin a gentle ascent past an open meadow, several beaver ponds, and vivid foliage. In 1.5 miles, you’ll see a small lake covered in pond lilies. Don’t stop here. Lily Pad Lake is a tad further.

Aspen groves
Photo: Jamie Siebrase.

B&B Trail, Breckenridge

Colorado was built on mining, and the French Gulch was once an important gold boom area. Today it’s a popular hiking destination containing an extensive trail system weaving through endless strands of aspens. Park at the B&B Mine Trailhead off French Gulch Road, and hike through the trees to reach a decaying dredge stuck in a small pond on French Creek. It’s something to see! Learn more about the site by walking around the water and reading a series of interpretive signs. Then continue on through an incredible rock quarry to reach Reiling Dredge Trailhead. Cross the road, and take Minnie Mine Trail back to your car. The whole loop is about 3 miles.

Lower Cataract Loop, Heeney

A looped trail rings Lower Cataract Lake, delivering a 2.3-mile trek through a dreamlike setting where you might catch a butterfly floating past incredible displays of fall leaves. Halfway through the hike, when you reach the spruce forest flanking the lake’s west shore, look for a large beaver dam. To reach the trail, drive to the end of Cataract Creek Road. The trailhead is on the other side of a Forest Service gate, near a series of interpretive signs. Don’t block the gate with your car. Go left or right at the gate to walk around the lake in either direction. If you take the middle path, you’re headed to a small beach with a few picnic tables and fishing access (license required). Pack mosquito repellent.

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