Ultimate 4-Day Colorado Fall Foliage Road Trip Itinerary

科罗拉多有some of the most vibrant aspen groves in the country come fall. Whether you have one day or a long weekend, follow this road trip itinerary to experience Colorado’s best fall colors first-hand.

Sprinter van parked Telluride's Sunshine Campground with Mt Wilson in the background and fall foliage

We’ve all seen those dreamy photos of Colorado’s golden aspens spreading across mountains and valleys as fall descends on the Rockies. They are a sight to behold, lighting up the mountainsides like fire.

As Colorado residents (and lovers of autumn), we’ve spent a lot of time roaming around our state searching for the best places to view stunning Colorado fall foliage.

In this post, we’ve put together a 4-day Colorado fall road trip itinerary so you can also experience the fall colors in Colorado first-hand. From the most scenic mountain pass drives to our favorite fall hikes, there’s something for every outdoor adventurer.

Important Reminder: As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practicegood trail etiquetteand remember toLeave No Trace.This means packing out all of your garbage (including toilet paper), being respectful to others, and following the established rules.

Join our community for access to ourfreemember resources!

Download Handy Outdoor Packing Checklists & Trip Planning Guides

Fall in Colorado: An Overview

Growing up in Denver, it always seemed like the warm, lazy days of summer instantly turned into dark, snowy dredge of winter. There were only a handful of days with cool temps and changing leaves.

If Fall did make an appearance for more than a couple of days, though, it was in the mountains.

Landscape photo of tall snow-dusted Rockies peaks with large grove of golden aspen trees a its base in Colorado
Lime Park | Photo credit: Ben Thomas

Although it‘s usuallybrief, Fall in the Colorado mountains is the greatest.

Temperatures have cooled down and the weather is stable enough to spend all day outside without getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms (be sure to pack yourios版雷竞技下载 though!).

Fall is also a shoulder season for tourism, so the crowds are mostly gone and there are great deals to be found. But most of all, the leaves, they are a-changing!

In Colorado, that means the aspens turn GOLD. Seeing the aspen colors at theirpeak in late September/early Octoberis a lifetime must-do.

I have a personal affinity for road trips, so below I’ve outlined theultimate Colorado fall road trip.It covers the entire state, with each leg of the trip hitting the biggest and best aspen groves.

Depending on your fall road trip time constraints, you can do the whole itinerary as one trip or take on any of the individual legs for a day or weekend escape from Denver while the leaves are changing. You will not be disappointed!

#1 campsite finder app

Try The Dyrt PRO free for 30 days

Get a FREE 30-Day membership to The Dyrt PRO, one of our favorite apps for finding campsites.

Perks include:
• 5,000+ free camping locations
• 1,000+ campground discount network
• $0 extra booking fees
• Get reservations at sold-out campgrounds, and more

Use the codeBEARFOOTto get 30 days free!

4-Day Colorado Fall Road Trip Itinerary

Each leg of this fall Colorado fall foliage itinerary includes a bonus hike as an option so you can check out the beauty of the fall colors up close and stretch your legs a bit.

Detailed driving directions can be found by clicking onMAPunderneath each driving leg, sending you to a Google map for that specific leg.

The driving is all on highways, so any passenger car should be able to handle it, no four-wheel-drive necessary.

So pack yourroad trip essentialsand let’s get rolling!

Map of Colorado fall road trip map screenshot

Leg 1: Denver to Vail

  • Route:Rocky Mountain National Park and Steamboat Springs –MAP
  • Distance:319 miles
  • Drive time:7.5 hours

We start off this fall road trip with a bang.

Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado framed by golden aspen trees
  • Leaving Denver, enter the mountains throughGolden Gate Canyon State Park.This little state park outside of Golden is a great quick escape into the foothills and offers more aspen viewing than nearby Clear Creek Canyon.
  • Eventually, you’ll hit thePeak to Peak highway, heading north through Nederland to Estes Park and the gateway toRocky Mountain National Park.Enter the park and head upTrail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the Lower 48.
  • Trail Ridge takes you up and over theContinental Divide, rising up through pine and aspen forests to above the tree line, giving you uninterrupted views of the changing trees all the way over Colorado’s most famous national park.
  • Once out of the park, you’ll head west overRabbit Ears PasstoSteamboat Springs, taking the scenic route down back south behind theGore Range.Once you hit I-70, head east toVailand enjoy the Colorado alpine town in all its golden splendor.
Golden aspen trees on the side of highway in Colorado
Golden aspen trees off of I-70 near Vail, Colorado | Photo credit: Ben Thomas

Bonus Hike: Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Make the most of your park entrance fee in Rocky Mountain National Park by stretching your legs on this 2.4-mile roundtrip hike.

Views stretch back into Glacier Gorge toward the Continental Divide and Longs Peak, with aspens changing below.Get more trail info here

For other hikes in the Park, check out our guide on theBest Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Leg 2: Vail to Crested Butte

  • Route:Aspen and Carbondale –MAP
  • Distance:207 miles
  • Drive time:6 hours

This leg of the road trip is the highlight.Don’t get me wrong, everywhere on this itinerary is spectacular, but the combination ofVail, Independence, McClure, and Kebler Passesmight be beauty overload.

Each pass alone could be a weekend (or week-long) trip. But here they combine to form leg two of our ultimate Colorado fall colors road trip.

The driving distance on this leg is a bit shorter, but you’ll want every second to stop for photos and soak in the magnificence.

Capitol Ditch Trail // Experience the best fall colors and foliage in Colorado with this detailed road trip itinerary
Capitol Ditch | Photo credit: Ben Thomas
  • Head east on I-70 overVail Passand enjoy the huge aspen stands on Copper Mountain. Exit the highway at Copper and drive overFremont PasstoLeadvilleand its mega-views ofMount Massiveand the highest peak of Colorado,Mount Elbert
  • Leadville was once considered for the capital of Colorado. Its historic downtown and incredible views warrant a stop for lunch or a quick walk around town. When you leave, take CO-24 south toTwin Lakes, then turn west onto CO-82.
  • Head up and overIndependence Pass(where you’ll most likely see the aspens go into overdrive) and then descend down into the aptly-named town ofAspen.If you want to stop and hang out in Aspen for a bit, make sure to check out ourLocal’s Guide to Aspenfor our favorite hikes, restaurants, and watering holes.
  • Once you can tear yourself away from Aspen, drive on down theRoaring Fork ValleytoCarbondale.Then, head south on CO-133 upMcClure Passand the dramaticRagged Mountains
  • Stretch your legs at the top of McClure Pass in the aspen grove on the northwest side of the road. This place is magical; soak it in. Once you feel ready, head down to just pastPaonia Reservoirand turn left onto CO-12.
  • Saving the biggest (and some would say best) for last isKebler Pass, home of the largest aspen grove in the state. Finish your day by rolling intoCrested Butteand celebrate with a pizza at theSecret Stash Pizza(and have an extra slice for me).
Aspen fall foliage on Kebler Pass in Colorado
Kebler Pass | Photo credit: Ben Thomas

Bonus Hike: Capitol Lake via the Capitol Ditch Trail

Lose some of the leaf-peeping crowds that flock to Maroon Lake near Aspen and become surrounded by aspen trees on this beautiful 12-mile out and back.

Heads up, the road to this trailhead requires high clearance (~7 inches) 4WD for the last mileGet more trail info here

Leg 3: Crested Butte to Pagosa Springs

  • Route:Silverton and Durango –MAP
  • Distance:259 miles
  • Drive time:5.5 hours

Leg 3 is another shorter day drive time-wise, but for good reason. You’re heading down to the western slope and then beyond into theSan Juans, Colorado’s most dramatic mountain range which are often amplified by fall aspen leaf beauty.

Sneffels Range in Colorado surrounded by golden aspen trees
Sneffels Range (Photo: Ben Thomas)
  • Leave Crested Butte throughGunnison, and head west towardsMontrose.Enjoy the views pastCurecanti Reservoirand if you have time for a detour, check outBlack Canyonof theGunnison National Park
  • In Montrose, turn south onto US-550, enjoying the views of theSneffels Rangeas it grows from a distant tease to a magnificent mountain crown! At Ridgway, stay on US-550 throughOurayup and over theMillion Dollar HighwayofRed Mountain Pass
  • BE CAREFUL driving this section!The mountains here are steep and dramatic and sometimes the road is steep and dramatic as well. This is a paved highway, but there are long, steep drops just off the road, so pay attention
  • Once you get to the top of Red Mountain Pass, the road calms down and the views keep ramping up as you drive intoSilverton.西弗敦是一个古怪的矿业城镇前恢复by the extreme sports of ultra-trail-marathons and backcountry skiing. It’s a great place to stretch your legs before the next section of this drive.
  • Beyond Silverton, you’ll head up and overMolas PasstoDurango, with incredible views towards theNeedle Mountainsinto theWeminuche Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in Colorado. Once you’ve reached Durango, head east on US-160 toPagosa Springs, continuing to border the Weminuche Wilderness.

Bonus Hike: The Colorado Trail from Molas Pass to the Animas River

This hike is a little backward, which makes it kind of fun. Start at the top of Molas Pass and hike down on the Colorado Trail to the Animas River and the train tracks of the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge railway.

On the way, you’ll pass into the tree line (and through aspens of course) with close-up views of the impressive Vestal Peak.

It’s four miles down to the river, dropping 3,000 feet in the process. Remember, you’ll have to climb all the way back up if you make it all the way down to the river!

Landscape photo of Vestal Peak and the Animas River in Colorado
Vestal Peak and the Animas River | Photo credit: Ben Thomas

Bonus Driving Leg:Dallas Divide from Ridgway towards Telluride, CO-62

I wanted this road trip to be a true loop with no backtracking. That meant cutting off a couple of spots that didn’t quite fit.

ButDallas DivideandTellurideare SO BEAUTIFUL in the fall, I have to at least mention them.

If you have the time, the views in this area are well worth the effort to turn around and head back the way you came.

Check out some of thebest hikes in Telluridewhile you’re there.

Leg 4: Pagosa Springs to Denver

  • Route:Salida, Fairplay, and Georgetown –MAP
  • Distance:389 miles
  • Drive time:8 hours
Fall aspen colors on mountainside on Monarch Pass in Colorado
  • From Pagosa Springs, head east pastSouth Forkand into theSan Luis Valley, the Rift Valley of North America. While you could take US-285 all the way to Salida through the valley, I recommend taking the more scenic back way via routes 114 and 50.
  • Then it’s east, up and overMonarch Passto enjoy the view of two towering fourteeners,TabeguacheandShavano, on the way down toSalida
  • Head north all the way through theSouth Park Valley, checking off Fairplay and Jefferson and upKenosha Pass.Kenosha Pass during peak color is one of the best, a fitting way to head back toward Denver.
  • But we’re not done yet! When you reach Grant, head up and overGuanella Passinto Georgetown (maybehike Mount Bierstadtif you feel like tackling a fourteener).
  • 乔治城后,短暂地跳上i - 70到爱达荷州Springs. There you’ll exit forSquaw Mountain Pass, where you’ll get your last fix of aspen tree glory before meeting up with the Interstate once again and finally heading back into Denver.

Bonus Hike: San Luis Peak between Saguache and Gunnison

If the weather is favorable, San Luis Peak is the most remote fourteener in Colorado.

It is an awesome 13-mile,class 1 trail that rewards hikers with some golden aspens on the way to the top.Get more trail info here

Whew, there you have it! Twenty-seven hours of some of the prettiest fall colors in Colorado driving in the world, literally.

Fall is the most wonderful time of the year in Colorado for a road trip; now get out there and enjoy!

Are you planning a Colorado fall road trip? Where is your favorite place to see Colorado fall foliage? Leave a comment below!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked*


  1. Yessss! I’m happy to see the CT from Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass make this list. Riding that sucker on the mountain bike is pretty much my favorite part of fall (ok, along with boots and scarves ….). Great itinerary!

  2. 嘿!我先解决必要的陈词滥调:photos are amazing and I think Ben and Jenna did an awesome job with such the difficult task of capturing Colorado fall colors.

    A friend of mine was in Crested Butte for all of Sept. 2014 and the photos of the landscape and changing colors were unlike anything we have here in Thailand.

    This is one more post edging me to grab the pack and hitting up US hiking trails! Sweet.

  3. Thank you for this! Very excited for our road trip in Colorado to see the fall foliage. I am coming all the way from Asia. I was wondering, if I wanted to do a drive this in reverse, from Denver to Vail via Craig (to stop by Sand Wash Basin) and then to Steamboat Springs and back down, is it worthwhile doing?

    1. Hello! You can definitely do the route in reverse. That is no problem at all. Hope you have a great adventure!

  4. Colorado is a beautiful place to visit in holidays. These places are very beautiful. If you are looking for a road trip then Colorado is a perfect place for you. I like photos in this post. Amazing clicks.

  5. Do you have the driving directions available in Google map form? There doesn’t seem to be a link when I try to click on the image of the entire loop.

    1. Hi there Mel! You can click next to each leg where it says, “MAP” and it will load a google maps link for you!

  6. This looks like a great trip! Where would you recommend to stay at night along the way? Thinking of doing this drive for 10 days!

    1. Hi Sarah, there are some incredible towns you’re going to be driving through on this itinerary. Steamboat Springs, Aspen, Carbondale, Crested Butte, Durango are all great to stop in. I would definitely see if you can find some unique AirBnBs in any of the locations!

  7. Great photos, and great places! I have yet to visit Crested Butte, but I continue to hear beautiful things about. I can’t wait to visit it this fall.

    To offer a suggestion – Palisade, CO offers beautiful fall views as well that complement their many wineries. And Palisade Basecamp offers a variety of lodging options as well. So, guests can take a great hike in the morning, experience some wineries in the afternoon, and sleep safely and soundly at their camping destination – Palisade Basecamp, while taking in beautiful fall views the entire time. And the best part is that the Western Slope tends to have a longer fall than the Front Range.

    You can check it out at palisadebasecamp.com.

  8. I absolutely love Colorado and everything about it! My fiancé and I have visited twice but during the winter months (Divide in December and Grand Lake in February). I really want to visit during the fall to see all the colors! We would be driving from Austin, Texas (we drive both times we’ve visited bc we bring our dog). It took about 14 hours to get to divide. Would this road trip be something we could do in 10 days and enjoy each place? Or do you recommend having more time?

    1. Hi, Jackie!
      Colorado is gorgeous – so glad to hear you’re getting out to explore it! If you have 10 days, I think you’d be able to enjoy yourself and your time. I suggest choosing a few places to visit and spending a couple days in each place, then if you want to move on sooner you can but you won’t be feeling rushed. If you have more than 10 days, you definitely won’t run out of things to do and places to visit. Enjoy! – Mary Kathryn

  9. Hey, is Oct 2nd week too late for all these places? Any chance of the Trail ridge rd in Rocky’s NP to be closed by then?

    1. Depending on the season, you should still be able to see aspen foliage in mid-October. As for trail/road closure, it really depends on weather and conditions. Check the Rocky Mountain National Park website for the most up-to-date information

  10. I am using this exact itinerary for my trip in September and I am so excited! Thank you for the detail!