Autumn. It’s the cold air and sunny days that get to me. The temperature dropping enough to wear jeans and light sweaters but a jacket isn’t needed yet. It’s the way the sunlight hits the changing leaves making the trees look like they’ve just been lit on fire and how the chilly drizzle of rain doesn’t bother you because its refreshing. Yes, there is death in Fall, but there is also so much life.
Autumn has always been my favorite season. I was the one kid that looked forward to going back to school. I liked routines, and I loved learning. Summer was a great time to play and be outside and use up bundles of energy, but that couldn’t last forever. Fall always had this warm feeling to me. A cozy like air to it that no other season had. You could still be outside and off on adventures, but warmer clothes, nights by the fire and of course the colors of the leaves changing all excited me. Maybe, it’s because some of my favorite memories are in Fall, or perhaps, I’m just in love with the colors, but to me, Fall is the best season of them all, and I’m so happy that it’s finally here.
As I watch the colors and my wardrobe start to change, I’m so excited about the hikes and bike rides through sparkling gold trees awaiting us in the mountains and even in the city. Roaming through Aspen forests, standing on the tops of mountains to see golden speckles on mountains or playing in the leaves with my niece and nephew are just the beginning of the adventures I’ve dreamed up. Whether you live in Colorado or are planning a visit, this is my list of favorite places to go and explore in Autumn. I hope you find them just as majestic as I do.
PTARMIGAN PEAK NEAR SILVERTHORN
Ptarmigan Peak is a 13,000 ft mountain on the edge of Silverthorn. Tucked back behind the town you’ll find a 12-mile out-and-back trail that takes you through Aspen forests, wildflower hills and of course an open meadow with a 360-view of the rocky mountains. To say that this is one of my favorite hikes is an understatement. However, with great beauty comes great challenge. It’s a 3,000 foot gain in elevation and a long hike, so plan for an all-day adventure with plenty of water and lots of high-fat snacks.
If you aren’t up for the whole hike, the Aspen forest isn’t too far from the trailhead and is a great place to sit under the trees or grab some family photos. (Photographer’s Tip: Wearing blue or red is a high contrast if you’re looking for the perfect holiday photo!) For those of you who are willing to brave the entire hike, you’re in for a treat at the top where you can overlook Silverthorn, Lake Dillon, and Frisco. It is a sight to be seen.
Fall in the mountains is usually earlier than everywhere else due to the elevation. If you’re hoping to see amazing colors, then you’ll want to be there mid to end of September or early October. While Denver’s Fall doesn’t start until the middle of October, the mountains will have lost all their leaves by then, so be sure to plan around those times. Our Falls are short here, but they are glorious.
Down South right off of Highway 285 you’ll find Kenosha Pass just a few miles from, the now famous, South Park. There, off the side of the road, is a trailhead to Kenosha Pass where my husband, Clayton, and I got engaged one year ago. On that day, we embarked this golden safari in the pouring down rain, but like the hundreds of other people who had parked on the side of the road, we didn’t want to miss our chance at Fall colors, and we’d already driven over an hour to be there.
Kenosha Pass is an Aspen forest. The entire trail takes you through the Aspen trees with views of the valley and mountain ranges. The mountain next to you and most of the land around sparkles in Aspen gold with the light bouncing off the leaves creating a kaleidoscope of yellows. To fully be engulfed in a Colorado Fall is to go to Kenosha Pass, where any which way you look, you’ll see the beauty of the changing season.
Outside of Denver in the small town I grew up in is Evergreen, Colorado. Home to Elk Meadow, mountain lions that used my sandbox as a kitty litter and Evergreen Lake. This sweet town that I’ve grown to love since leaving holds some hidden treasures of hikes, stores, and overall beauty. In the far edge of Evergreen, behind the high school is Three Sisters Park. With multiple trailheads, this park is great for rock climbers, mountain bikers, and hikers. However, on the furthest trailhead next to an open meadow, is the perfect place to get lost in the colors of Fall.
Evergreen is in the foothills and sits at 7,000 ft and therefore won’t have the most breathtaking mountain views compared to some of the hikes I’ve mentioned in the mountains. However, their Falls are still beautiful, and the mountain air and forests will provide the adventure you need without having to get too far from the city. This spot in Three Sisters is my favorite place to bring couples and families for photo sessions. With a nearby viewpoint that overlooks the school and town and a small Aspen forest next to an open meadow, the feeling of Fall fills this place to the brim. The trails are easy, and the air isn’t too thin, which makes this the perfect place for traveling guests, or those who are just getting into hiking.
Unlike the mountains, the foothill will get the Fall colors a little bit later in the game. To see these colors at their pique, plan on going at the beginning of October to the mid of October.
Since I was a kid, I remember getting into the car with my mother to take drives through the Fall colors. It was something that she had done with her parents, and that they did up until they were no longer able to drive. As a child, I wasn’t super outdoorsy and therefore wouldn’t have been caught dead hiking to see Fall colors, but I still loved them. So, my mother and I would find new places to drive to near or far to get a glimpse of those sparkling golds and to feel the presence of Fall.
One of our favorite and closest drives is the drive to Echo Lake on Mount Evans. It’s not near the top of the mountain, although you can continue the journey to the top of this 14,000-foot mountain, it’s a drive that will take your breath away. The Aspen trees line the roads creating tunnels of color with a few spots to pull off to the side to snap some photos or take it in. We prefer to drive with the sunroof open and the windows down to smell the fresh cold air while we sip our hot tea.
At the end of the road (for us) is Echo Lake. A small little lake that bounces the colors the nearby colors off it like a piece of mirror The Divine has left in the middle of the forest. The Aspen trees are sparse in the area around the lake, but it doesn’t make it any less breathtaking. If you come on a good day where there aren’t many people, the peaceful scenery is the perfect prescription for any ailment.
When you pay attention to it, there is magic in Fall; even better, there are so many metaphors to life and death in this single season. A season that celebrates death as a part of life, and shows it to us in a beauty that we can understand. It’s a season of coming together for holidays (Día de Muertos, Halloween, Thanksgiving) and building community. Fall reminds us to get back into a routine, to find structure in our lives and to accept the cycles. But my favorite lesson of Fall is to pay attention, to notice the details, and watch how the light changes both in the length of days and it’s transformation in the leaves. Fall shows itself in the details, and it’s begging us to slow down after the Summer rush to stop and notice it.