Grand County’s Top 5 drives to see the colorful fall foliage (with video, interactive map)
Across the Colorado High Country autumn is in full swing, prompting many to seek out prime leaf peeping areas. Grand County abounds with autumn colors, from the aspen stands that crisscross our local mountains to the cottonwood thickets along large portions of the Fraser and Colorado Rivers, making it a perfect locale to indulge in a nice fall drive.
So here they are: The Top 5 viewing spots in Grand County, in no particular order.
Fraser Experimental Forest
The Fraser Experimental Forest is a pretty 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.
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.
North of Kremmling, up Highway 40, just before you turn to head up Rabbit Ears Pass is another historic traverse called Muddy Pass. Colorado State Forest Service Forester Matt Schiltz explained Grand County’s western reaches hold some of the largest aspen colonies, especially in the Gore Range, and he specifically highlighted Muddy Pass. As you reach Muddy pass look to the west, towards 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 rewarding with a vast perch from which to view the immense network of aspens that dot the hillsides below.
Highway 125 and Stillwater Pass Road
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 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 rust red.
You will find a many side roads to explore if you so desire 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.
U.S. Highway 34
Any list of best drives for fall foliage in Grand County would be remiss to forget US Highway 34. Highway 34 is a scenic bypass, offering unparalleled views of the Colorado River valley, Three Lakes region, Continental Divide, and the Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park. While the road’s status as a scenic byway is clear any time of year autumn is when it’s wondrous beauty really shines.
If you are feeling particularly ambitious, get up early, well before first light, and head up to the top of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Take in an early morning sunrise on the rooftop of America then casually descend along Highway 34 to Kremmling. All along the way you will encounter beautiful fall colors and unlike most of the rest of Grand County, where fall colors are primarily derived from aspen trees, the Colorado River valley holds an abundance of cottonwoods, which are spectacular in their own right.
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