02 October 2013

Colorado Gold

Changing Leaves - Fall Foliage

Fall has come to Colorado. The season when the nights are cooler, the skies crystal blue, and the leaves begin to fall. But not before they give us a tremendous show of color. Here in Colorado we may not have the variety of hardwoods to match the East Coast, but we have aspen trees, nicknamed "quakies" after the rustling sound of the small leaves, which turn brilliant gold in fall.

The aspen trees stand in beautiful sharp contrast to the green pine trees and blue skies of our local mountains. Tourists and locals drive to the mountains in fall to catch a glimpse of the majesty. Last Sunday I drove an hour and a half from Denver to the town of Breckenridge to drive and hike on nearby Boreas Pass. An easy but long day trip this time of year (because of traffic and popularity).
Location of Boreas Pass west of Denver, Colorado (click image to enlarge)
Boreas Pass is a dirt road connecting the town of Breckenridge to the town of Como 

Offering spectacular views, there are no commercial buildings or homes along the pass, just hikers and bikers. Closed in winter due to snow, driving the pass (which is well maintained) is nice because speeds are slower than on the paved roads through the more popular fall foliage destinations in Colorado.

Some of the popular roads to view the changing leaves in Colorado in fall include:

  • Marroon Bells (shuttle bus and fee may be required, more info)
  • Castle Creek Road (Rd 15)
  • Carbondale - Redstone - Marble - Paonia (CR 133) (McClure & Keebler Pass)
  • Independence Pass (Highway 82) 
Salida/Crested Butte
  • Cottonwood Pass - glorious on a bike, long section of dirt with pavement. (Rd 209/306, west of Buena Vista)
Estes Park (recent flood damage)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (dusk and dawn are the best time to hear the elk bugle)
  • Peak to Peak Scenic Highway (CR 72 + CR 7) (approach from Blackhawk or up Boulder Canyon)
  • Note: Road damage is extreme on the road through Lyons to Estes Park, and in Jamestown.
Steamboat Springs
  • Steamboat Springs - Buffalo Pass - Walden (CR 38)
  • Take the gondola up the ski area (or ride) and mountain bike down
Summit County
  • Boreas Pass (dirt road), with side hikes
  • Short hike to Rainbow Lake near the town of Frisco 
  • The bike trails in the area are still clear
Dates of changing fall leaves map from 9News.com (click image to enlarge)
The prime time for seeing the leaves change in Colorado is at the end of September or early October. Allow lots of time for traffic on the way home.

Late Season viewing (in October) is best in southern Colorado, including Telluride and Ouray, also Cripple Creek. There are several areas along the I-70 corridor where you will be able to see the golden leaves as you drive through on the interstate highway, including the cities of Georgetown and Vail.

Some of the leaves at higher altitude have already turned, it appeared to me that Guanella Pass, outside of Georgetown, (Rd 352) will likely turn this weekend. Also the mountains are expecting some light snow on Friday night which should make for wonderful photography (and fun racing at the Frisco CX race this Saturday).

Many of these paved roads are great for road bike riding as well, but perhaps not as enjoyable with the heavy car traffic during peak viewing weekends. Some of my favorite rides are pedaling along the Peak to Peak Highway (but this area suffered road damage from recent floods) and from Carbondale to Paonia, or over Independence Pass, or Cottonwood Pass.

There is a strong correlation between aspens and good bike trails 

It was fun to hike the side trails where I have previously mountain biked on Boreas Pass. The Pass is also home to three winter cabins for rent, part of the summit huts system (as opposed to the 10th Mountain division hut system). The huts are located on the summit of the pass. The weather is already much cooler in the mountains of Colorado and a light dusting of snow covered the surrounding peaks. Enough snow to highlight distant trails I longed to hike or explore.

Boreas Pass is located on Rd 10 and 33/404 between Breckenridge and Como, the journey is 20 miles (one-way). The road peaks at 11,493' (3,503 m) elevation. Just across the valley are five peaks over 14,000 feet. Called 14ers, they include: Mt. Lincoln, Bross, Democrat, Cameron and Quandary Peak. See a map of all the 14ers in Colorado. How many have you hiked? www.14ers.com/map

Fourteeners near Boreas Pass, see full map  (click image to enlarge)
CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) offers some tips on driving to see the changing leaves. Or read Fall Colors: Five Colorado towns that glow with the gold, by The Denver Post Travel. Boreas Pass has an Annual Boreas Pass Railroad Day in August.

Photographs I took of the changing aspen leaves on Boreas Pass last weekend:   
All Photos by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer® using my Pentax K-5 with one 18-135 zoom lens, no cropping or touching up. This is what I experienced, although I wish I could add smell and the sound of the quaking leaves for you. Thanks to @Biff_Bruise for the inspiration - via a tweet - to visit Boreas Pass last Sunday. (please click images to enlarge)

All this beauty within 20 miles!