If you live in the Mile High City, you don’t have to go far to experience the mountain’s colorful hues this fall. Hop in your car and discover these day trips from Denver for fall foliage.
We are fast approaching my favorite time in Colorado, fall. As soon as the calendar strikes September 1, my excitement for cooler weather, the first snow, sweaters at night, and fall colors that blanket the mountainside kicks into high gear. Even being the traveler that I am, I always (if I can help it) make it a point to stay right here in Colorado during the month of September and the early part of October. Why would I want to be anywhere else?
While there are so many places near Denver to see the fall colors, my two favorite go-to’s for a quick color-fix, all while avoiding I-70, are Kenosha Pass and Boreas Pass.
Without a doubt, if you’ve driven along HWY 285 South from Denver heading towards Fairplay or Buena Vista, you have driven over Kenosha Pass. At 9,997 feet, the road splits the pass with a parking lot on either side for hikers, bikers, and backpackers. It is also without a doubt one of the most popular day trips for Denverites looking to get to the mountains without having to drive too far.
Hiking the Kenosha Pass trail is the best way to experience the fall foliage. The Colorado Trail, which runs from Denver to Durango, crosses HWY 285, creating a trail heading east or west from the main parking areas. While both routes offer great views, my favorite is the trail to the east. This route can be as long or as short as you would like but I highly suggest hiking at least a couple of miles in for the best views. Venture a little further through the aspens to where the landscape opens up to the South Park Valley below. It’s one of my favorite places to photograph in Colorado, particularly at sunrise.
This area gets VERY packed with leaf peepers during the weekends. The best times are to visit early morning during sunrise or on a weekday. Kenosha Pass is 65 miles southwest of Denver, so roughly one hour and 15-minute drive time, without traffic.
If you want to avoid the rush of leaf peepers at Kenosha Pass, drive a little bit further down HWY 285 to the small town of Como. You most likely have seen the sign that says “camp Como” and noticed a small cluster of homes residing on the mountainside, wondering who exactly lives there. Well, not many but plenty of travelers pass through on their way to Boreas Pass.
Boreas Pass is a 22-mile mountain stretch between Como and Breckenridge where the best of Colorado all comes together. Reaching an elevation of 11,481 feet, the pass crosses the Continental Divide and is one of the best places to see fall foliage near Denver. With aspen groves lining the road, mountaintop views, wildlife, and historic relics of the past, it’s quintessential Colorado in the fall.
The road was once used as a prospector’s trail and eventually ran, at one point, the nation’s highest narrow-gauge railroad, connecting the once booming mining town of Como to Breckenridge. During WW II its tracks were gathered up for resources and eventually turned into the vehicle-friendly road it is today.
Take your time and get out at the designated scenic viewpoints to snap a few photos. Also, be sure to stop at the top where you can view the old Section House, a historic cabin, and the original boxcars used at the train station.
How to Experience Boreas Pass from Como to Breckenridge
My personal favorite route is to drive from Denver to Como, using the south entrance to the pass. Before heading up, spend an hour or so taking the quick historic walking tour of the town. Much of the tour consists of a historic overview of Como and its important role along the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad with several of its landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Como Roundhouse. You can get your walking guide from the Mountain Man Gallery at 6th Street and Broadway or any Park County visitor center.
Afterward, head up the road towards Boreas Pass, be sure to also stop and admire the town’s graveyard that dates back to the mid-1800s. The burial site of so many, young and old, is surrounded by a dense aspen grove, making it beautiful in the fall.
Driving the pass can take a few hours, especially with stops along the way. As you make your descent, the beginning of pavement will signal your entrance into the town of Breckenridge. Stop here and take in views of the ski runs at Breckenridge Ski Resort and the town below. Either head back to Denver from here or spend the night in Breckenridge before your trek home.
Either way, if you decide to drive the pass you will be met with beautiful views, with the Ten Mile Range as you head towards Breckenridge and the South Park Valley towards Como. The road is dirt and is a bit rocky but passable with a two-wheel drive vehicle. A 4×4 vehicle is not required. Drive time from Denver to Como is about one hour and 30 minutes, a distance of 76 miles.
When is peak fall season in Colorado?
While it’s completely dependent on the weather, the peak fall season in Colorado begins in mid-September in the high country and runs to the first week of October, with lingering colors through mid-October at lower elevations.
Peak season also varies by region. A map shows the average dates of aspen peak colors in Colorado so you can best plan your leaf-peeping excursions.
*All photos were taken by me and are subject to copyright.