A popular activity in Estes Park is taking a scenic drive through Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding mountain area.
One of the best times of the year to take these drives is in the autumn to see a stunning change of scenery. Red and orange hues burst into color at different times, making it a truly amazing sight. The color change is influenced by the leaf’s pigments, length of night, and weather. Trees at higher elevations begin turning in late August; the delightful golden color makes its way down the mountain reaching the trees at lower elevations in October. Mid-September to the beginning of October is generally the best time to catch the changing colors, as well as hear the elk bugling.
- Trail Ridge Road: A famous Colorado road, as it’s the highest continuous paved highway in the country, this road offers wonderful views anytime of the year but as the leaves change it’s a truly exceptional vantage point. See the autumn colors from 11 miles above the tree line and just don’t forget your camera!
- Old Fall River Road: To add a historical element to your fall foliage trek, try Old Fall River Road which used to be the original road to access the park back when the road opened in 1920.
- Bear Lake Road: Enjoy the spectacular views from the switchbacks along Bear Lake Road as you pass Sprague Lake, Glacier Creek, and more.
- Peak to Peak Scenic Byway: This drive isn’t for everyone, as it’s a two-hour trip that begins in Golden, Colorado and winds its way up into Black Hawk before directing traffic toward Estes Park. But, if you want a large variety of backdrops for your fall foliage photos, ranging from open road to historic towns, this is the drive for you.
- Glen Haven: As the changing colors remind us that we’re moving into a new season, take a step back in time by driving the scenic route to Glen Haven. From Highway 34, past the Stanley Hotel to McGregor Avenue, you’ll pass MacGregor Ranch and continue onto Devils Gulch Road. MacGregor Ranch was settled in 1873 and marks the entrance to a different period. Pass the ranch and drive into Glen Haven where eventually you’ll come across the “Cold Canyon.”
If you want to get a bit closer to the fall foliage, there are several easy to moderate hikes in the area that offer stellar views of nature’s confetti.
- Lily Lake: Located outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, this easy trail is .8 miles around Lily Lake, which is surrounded by forests of pine and aspen trees.
- Gem Lake: The Gem Lake trail’s trailhead (Lumpy Ridge Trailhead) is actually outside the park but meanders into Rocky Mountain National Park, where you’ll gain 1,000 feet in elevation with amazing views of the mountains and trees, and a beautiful lake at the end.
- Finch Lake: Birders frequent this trail to see our birds in their natural habitat and at 4.5 miles offers a bit of a climb.
- Fern Lake: A 7.7-mile moderate trail, this hike is popular with Estes Park locals and visitors due to the Pool, the confluence of Spruce Creek, Fern Creek, the Big Thompson River, and Fern Falls; and of course the chance to capture the fall colors against a watery setting.