September Brings the Cooler Air and Changing Leaves: Explore Our Favorite Spots for Leaf Peeping from Winter Park to Grand Lake!

The heat of summer is starting to wan as the cool, crisp air makes its way to the Fraser Valley, signaling winter is just around the corner. Smoke drifts out of chimneys, frosty green grass greets us in the mornings, snow settles into the tops of peaks, and we start to layer our tank tops with fleece pullovers. Fall in Grand County truly is one of our favorite times of year. Not only do the aspens burst with vibrant gold, orange, and red, but life seems to slow down a little, making space to take advantage of our high-mountain hiking, biking, and fishing in some cooler temps before the snow flies. 

If you're looking to soak in the fall foliage on the trail or on a scenic drive, we've put together some of our favorite places to do enjoy fall colors in Grand County as the seasons change this year. Leaves typically peak around the third week of September here in our neck of the Rockies, but timing varies each year depending on the weather and moisture levels. We love the years when the autumn hues seem to linger, and we're hopeful for a long leaf-peeping season this year! 


Whether on foot or two wheels, soaking in the fall colors in the middle of the forest is truly magical. And Grand County is full of single-track trails that wind through aspen groves and meadows with jaw-dropping mountain views. 


The Idlewild trail system, accessed from downtown Winter Park on Meadow Trail behind Hideaway Park, is an easy place to build-your-own-adventure. With plenty of opportunities to climb, the trails in the area break off and loop around if you're looking to minimize your elevation gain. You can go for miles or do a quick lunchtime loop. If you're up for a longer ride, we love taking Serendipity up to Yankee Doodle. Serendipity rolls through aspens and open areas of golden willows with sweeping views of Byers Peak and Vasquez Wilderness area. From Yankee Doodle, cross Corona Pass Road onto Arrow and circle back down to Crosstrails. Regardless of which trails you take, the Idlewild system is full of the colors of fall this time of year!


While the forest service uses this area to study the relationship between forest management and water yield, we get to use this section of the Arapaho National Forest to enjoy its trails and beauty year-round. Access the trails in the Fraser Experimental Forest by taking County Road 73 on the west side of Fraser up a few miles to the St. Louis Creek parking area. Hop on Creekside and take it up to Chainsaw or Flume. You'll find what we like to call a "yellow brick road" on either trail, sections of trail covered in yellow aspen leaves that have made their way to the ground from the trees above. If you take Flume, be sure to make a stop at the bench that overlooks St. Louis Creek below and Byers Peak out ahead. It's a great spot to take a break, breathe in the crisp fall air, and  appreciate fall in all its glory. 


Sitting on over 5,000 acres, Granby Ranch has miles of trails to explore. You can hike from the base, hop onto trails where the Fraser to Granby Trail meets Granby Ranch, or take the chair lift up (Friday-Sunday, 9:30am-5pm) to explore before hiking back down. The views of the Fraser River are some of the best in the valley! And you're sure to find a wealth of glowing trees and golden willows as you wind through the vast trail system. Note: a trail pass is required to access Granby Ranch's trails. 


Make your way out to Monarch Lake, a non-motorized lake near Lake Granby's Arapaho Bay, by turning off Highway 34 toward Lake Granby. The trails aren't the only fall color destination in the area - the ten-mile drive down the dirt road that follows the shore of the Lake Granby is a destination in itself. Aspens surround the road, periodically opening up to views of the lake and the Indian Peaks. If the weather is warm enough, it's one of those drive-slow-with-the-windows-down-and-soak-it-all-in kind of drives. End at Monarch Lake and hop on the relatively flat trail that loops around the lake (note: the trail is open to hikers and horses: leave your bikes at home for this one), or break off onto trails that head up into the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  Cascade Falls is a prime fall hiking destination. You really can't go wrong on the hunt for fall color in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.



Head over to Grand Lake and take Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park to find some serious postcard views. Stop off for a quick hike or two as you drive to the top to see the yellow and bronze covering the valley below. If you get out for a sunrise or sunset drive, you'll likely get to experience the elk bugling at lower elevations- a truly unique way to experience wildlife that only comes around once a year. While the park had abundant wildlife to keep your eyes open for (like moose, big horn sheep, deer, marmots, and pikas), no other animal rivals the park rivals the bull elk in fall! Plan before you go as RMNP is on a timed entry system through October 22!


Turn on County Road 55 just south of Granby to take this 10-mile drive over to Hot Sulphur Springs. A must-drive during leaf-peeping season, this designated Colorado Scenic Byway is covered in aspen groves. Try not to get too entranced by the changing leaves - be on the lookout for free-range cattle in the area, too! You'll drive past some of the most historic ranches in Grand County before popping out in Hot Sulphur. Turn around and experience it again, or take Highway 40 back to make it a loop. 


Take the 15-mile dirt road (County Road 80) just to the north of Winter Park Resort up to the top of Corona Pass. Brilliant aspens and views of the resort and surrounding mountains make this trek up to the Continental Divide well worth the drive! The road is minimally maintained, especially as you near the top, so plan to bring a four-wheel drive vehicle! 


Just outside of Fraser past the Tipperary trailhead on FS 139, Church Park is a quick, easy, and close-to-town designation for getting a peek at some serious fall color from the comfort of your car. This well-traveled dirt road offers you a backcountry experience through forest, open meadows surrounded by aspens groves and panoramic views of colorful mountainsides and peaks. And it's not uncommon to see elk, moose, and deer in the area. If you keep driving, the road connects all the way over to Ute Pass. When there's no rush, the road through Church Park is a fun, scenic drive over to Summit County. 


It's no wonder this beautiful place we call home is growing so quickly! Once you've experienced a taste of mountain living, especially during the magical fall season, you'll likely be ready to put down some roots here. Whether you're ready to invest in a primary residence, vacation home, or an income-producing property, we are here to help you navigate the ins and outs of real estate here in Grand County. Reach out to connect - we can't wait to share our love of this place and years of real estate expertise with you! Hope to see you on the trails this fall! 

Posted by Leah Bishop on


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