Best drives for fall colors in Grand County
With colors already turning in Grand County, now is the time to get out and peep some leaves.
The aspens are exceptionally golden this year, mixing brilliantly with the evergreen forests. Reds are visible in some parts of the county as well, but bright yellow aspens will be the highlight of any trip.
This list takes into account current wildfire and coronavirus restrictions, but always follow any posted signs. In no particular order, here are five of the best viewing spots in Grand County.
Highway 125 and Stillwater Pass
One of the easiest and best drives in Grand County for checking out the fall foliage is the horseshoe shaped route stretching from the Windy Gap to the Idleglen Staging Area.
To take the tour you can start at Windy Gap’s wildlife viewing area, where Highway 125 meets US Highway 40, or at the Idleglen Staging Area up County Road 4. The Willow Creek valley, stretching up 125, has some of the best leaf peeping in autumn with whole segments of the western mountainsides covered in an ombré patchwork of yellow, orange and red.
You will find many side roads to explore but continue making your way north until you reach County Road 4 and the turnoff to Stillwater Pass. The Stillwater Pass road winds along the banks of Willow Creek, passing the Illinois Pass trailhead and the picturesque Vagabond Ranch before descending down into the Stillwater Creek drainage.
The old forest service road is rough but manageable for vehicles with modest ground clearance. Keep your eyes peeled as you make your way through the forest; you may spot a bull moose out and about, and remember the area is popular with big game hunters.
Fraser Experimental Forest
The Fraser Experimental Forest is a remarkable place any time of year, but during the fall the low ridgelines just outside Fraser and Winter Park begin shifting from the leafy green of summer to gold and brown in fall. Many of the hillsides are covered with adolescent aspen stands with boughs still very low to the ground.
Just this week, the US Forest Service reduced the closure area for the Williams Fork Fire to only the places where the fire remains active. That means that all of the Fraser Experimental Forest is open, but drivers and hikers should obey any posted closures in surrounding areas.
One of the best drives for checking out the fall foliage is a short route running from County Road 72, running past the Fraser Tubing Hill, up Elk Creek into the Experimental Forest. The road eventually meets up with Forest Service Road that loops back around to Vasquez Road in Winter Park.
Up Highway 40 north of Kremmling, just before the turn to head up Rabbit Ears Pass is a historic traverse called Muddy Pass. The western side of Grand County holds some of the largest aspen colonies, especially in the Gore Range, with Muddy Pass highlighted as one of the best. As you reach Muddy pass take a look to the west toward Baker Mountain.
Corona Pass Road
Just north of Winter Park Resort on Highway 40 you will find a forest service road that peels off to the east into the high country. County Road 80, also called Corona Pass Road, will lead you on a winding route up the slopes of Mount Epworth to the top of the Continental Divide and historic Rollins Pass.
Corona Pass Road is lined in many parts with aspens that hang over the road, creating a sense of driving through a golden tunnel. The road also offers some of the most spectacular views of the Fraser Valley’s fall colors. Drive high enough up Corona Pass Road and you will be rewarded with a vast perch from which to view the immense network of aspens that dot the hillsides below.
North of Grand Lake into Rocky Mountain National Park is the scenic Kawuneeche Valley, lined with vibrant aspens.
This spots includes not only spectacular views — if you time it right by going to the park at sunrise or sunset, you’ll also enjoying the elk bugling. The elk breeding season features hundreds of elk, many of which gather at Kawuneeche valley, where male elks bugle through a series of grunts and high-pitched squeals.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, reservations are required to enter Rocky between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. The passes are for two hour windows and cost $2, plus the $25 day pass if you are not a senior or annual pass holder. Go to recreation.gov to get a reservation.
Reservations are not required before 6 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
If you can’t get into Rocky, the drive on US Highway 34 leading up to the park is also dotted with golden aspens and make for an equally spectacular drive.
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