Aspen, Colorado is the epicenter of a fall foliage explosion in Central Colorado every year. Usually during the last weeks of September and early October, the mountainsides and canyons of the White River National Forest put on an almost unparalleled display of autumnal excess. This is perhaps the best area in the best state for viewing the best fall foliage in the west. Numerous Forest Service roads lead through canyons covered with acres and acres of stunningly vivid yellow, and sometimes red, aspen groves. As a bonus these roads lead to trailheads accessing some of the most scenic mountains in the U.S.
Visiting ghost towns, hiking the highest trailed pass in the state, photographing, probably, the most photographed peaks in the country, are some of the activities available, in addition to enjoying the fall color. The Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region 2010 Fall Color Report website is predicting that peak color in the Aspen/Sopris Ranger District will be around October 1.
The drive into (or out of) Aspen on State Highway 82 from independence Pass, at 12,095 feet, offers one stunning view after another and the easiest access to some of the best aspen color in the state. Multiple pullouts and the Lincoln Creek Road offer photographic and scenic opportunities. Don’t leaf-peep while driving this curvy mountain road.
The Maroon Bells are, perhaps, the most photographed mountains in the U.S. The peaks’ reflection in Maroon Lake has graced multitudes of postcards, posters and coffee table books. For good reason, the peaks, along with the Tetons in Wyoming, epitomize the Sierra Club calender ideal of scenic mountain beauty and the turning aspens accentuate it. The Forest Sevice has special regulations regarding access to the area, information is available at their web site. Hiking trails extend up both East and West Maroon Creeks.
Snowmass Creek Trail
Great for a overnight backpack trip or a long day hike, this trail leads to Snowmass Lake in the shadows of 14,0092 ft. Snowmass Mountain, one of Colorado’s 54 “fourteeners”. Along the 7 mile (one way) hike, the trail passes through numerous aspen groves, allowing for up-close photography and communing with nature in relative solitude. The trailhead is reached at the end of the Snowmass Creek Road, out of the community of Snowmass.
Castle Creek Road
This dirt road eventually goes over Pearl Pass (4wd required) after passing through a smorgasbord of fall color. But, ten miles from where it leaves Maroon Creek Road, the ghost town of Ashcroft can be reached by regular passenger vehicles. A few buildings remain of what was a once booming mining town.
A half a mile beyond the town is the trailhead for the Electric Pass Trail. The trail ascends 3900 ft. in about five miles to reach Electric Pass, the highest named and trail accessible pass in Colorado at 13,500 ft. The views are well worth the effort, as much of the Elk Mountain Range extends below your feet towards the west. If you begin to feel static-electricity, descend rapidly.