Embark on an unforgettable adventure with us as we traverse the stunning terrain of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains during the vibrant autumn season.
From Boulder’s rolling foothills to the majestic peaks of the Rockies, we invite you to explore the best fall hikes in Colorado, where a tapestry of autumn colors awaits.
We will guide you through hidden gems, awe-inspiring cascades, and iconic landscapes that encapsulate the breathtaking beauty of the season.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker or simply looking for a serene escape, our fall foliage hikes cater to all. So, grab your hiking gear, have your camera ready, and prepare to immerse yourself in the heart-stirring beauty of autumn in the Rockies!
1. Raccoon Trail
If you’re looking for a scenic fall hike in Colorado, the Raccoon Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a must-visit. This picturesque trail is known for its stunning aspen groves, offering hikers a true fall foliage experience.
The Raccoon Trail is a 3.4-mile loop with an elevation gain of over 700 ft., making it a moderate hike suitable for most hikers.
The trail is accessible year-round and is also dog-friendly, allowing you to bring your furry friends along for the adventure as long as they are on a leash.
Keep in mind that Golden Gate Canyon State Park has limited cell service, so it’s crucial to prepare directions and trail information beforehand. This will ensure a smooth and enjoyable hike without any unwanted surprises along the way.
Raccoon Trail will treat you with stunning views of Panorama Peak, colorful autumn foliage, and the fresh smell of mountain air.
If wildlife is your thing, there have been elk, moose and bear sightings. Don’t forget to bring your camera (with a zoom lens) to capture the incredible sights along the trail.
2. Upper Piney River Trail
Located near Vail, the Upper Piney River Trail is one of the best hikes in Colorado for fall colors. This stunning 5.9-mile round-trip hike offers an ideal combination of open meadows, breathtaking views, and a cascading waterfall.
As you make your way along the trail, you’ll be surrounded by the beauty of the Colorado Rockies. The meadows are enriched with vibrant autumn colors, showcasing the true essence of fall.
The trek up the trail treats hikers to spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, providing peace and tranquility.
One of the highlights of the Upper Piney River Trail is the majestic waterfall that cascades down the rocks. Witnessing this natural wonder will leave you in awe of Mother Nature’s power.
Aside from the scenic beauty, the Upper Piney River Trail also offers the opportunity to encounter wildlife in its natural habitat. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, elk, and various bird species along the way.
The trail is labeled as moderate, so whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner looking for a fall adventure, the Upper Piney River Trail is for you.
Note: The road to the trailhead is not in great shape and is quite bumpy. Many hikers suggest using high-clearance all-wheel drive vehicles.
3. Mt Bierstadt
Mt. Bierstadt, a 14-er near Guanella Pass, is not only a popular hike in Colorado but also a challenging and thrilling adventure that attracts hikers from all over.
With its incredible fall views and stunning landscapes, it has rightfully earned its place as one of the favorite fall hikes in the region.
Covering a round trip distance of 7.2 miles, hikers can expect an elevation gain of almost 3,000 feet, making the Mount Bierstadt trail a difficult hike, especially with a rock scramble at the end.
It is important to note that this trail is not recommended for beginners or inexperienced hikers. The estimated completion time for this hike is around 6-8 hours, depending on your pace and rest breaks.
As you ascend Mt. Bierstadt, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views that showcase the season’s vibrant colors. The golden aspens and panoramic views will make it easy to realize why this is among the best fall foliage hikes in Colorado.
Be prepared for the challenging terrain and varying weather conditions, as this hike demands physical fitness and proper preparation.
It is essential to mention that the Mt. Bierstadt trail is not very dog-friendly, so it’s best to plan accordingly.
Remember to bring plenty of water, snacks, and appropriate gear for this adventurous and demanding trek. Even in the summer, snow and ice could still be on the trail, so be aware.
Overall, Mt. Bierstadt is a strenuous but rewarding experience. If you’re up for the challenge and seeking amazing fall views, add Mt. Bierstadt to your list of must-do hikes in Colorado.
4. Maroon Bells & Crater Lake Trail
For those seeking picturesque fall hikes in Colorado, the Maroon Bells & Crater Lake Trail must be on your list. Located in the Snowmass Wilderness, this 3.5-mile moderate hike offers spectacular views and vibrant fall colors.
The highlight of this trail is undoubtedly the Maroon Bells, two towering peaks that reflect in the calm waters of Maroon Lake, creating a postcard-worthy scene.
The path winds through aspen groves, providing striking hues of yellow and gold. Listening to aspen leaves dance in the wind is one of my favorite things – and if you haven’t stopped to take in the sound, you need to!
Give yourself at least 2 hours to complete this hike, as it’s hard not to stop every other minute and take a picture of the stunning scenery.
Plan your trip during the second half of September if you want to explore during the peak fall season, but it will be very busy with leaf peepers, so arrive early.
The initial start of the hike will seem busy but don’t worry, many people stay on the scenic trail that loops around Maroon Lake and do not continue to Crater Lake.
Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a family looking for a memorable outing, Crater Lake Trail offers stunning views and a chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of Colorado’s fall foliage.
No matter which route you take there is no denying these are some of the best hikes around Aspen!
5. Elk Falls Overlook
Nestled near Denver, Colorado, Elk Falls Overlook in Staunton State Park is an enchanting hiking destination that will leave you breathless. Elk Falls, the highlight of the trail, is a sight to behold.
With water cascading down from around 75 feet high, the falls create a mesmerizing spectacle that can be admired from the overlook. The combination of the roaring falls and the vibrant fall foliage is truly a feast for the eyes.
The trail stretches for approximately 4 miles (if you park at the Lazy V parking lot) before you reach the overlook, offering a rewarding experience.
It is estimated to take around 3-4 hours to complete, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the incredible scenery. Elk Falls Overlook is an absolute must if you’re looking for a stunning hiking destination showcasing fall’s magical beauty.
6. First Flatiron in Boulder
The First Flatiron in Boulder offers a challenging 2.7-mile loop that rewards hikers with breathtaking fall views of the majestic Continental Divide.
This iconic Boulder hiking destination boasts a unique combination of rugged terrain and vibrant fall foliage, making it a must-visit spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
The trail is accessible from two main points: Chautauqua Trailhead and Enchanted Mesa Trailhead.
Both starting points provide different experiences, allowing hikers to choose the route that suits their preferences and skill level, but Chautauqua trailhead tends to be the more popular starting point.
At the start of the hike, you’ll make your way through meadows along the trail before you begin your ascend, to which you’ll be greeted by sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, showcasing the stunning beauty of fall in Colorado.
The striking colors of the changing leaves serve as a backdrop as you navigate the challenging terrain.
While the hike is not for the faint of heart, with almost 1,500 feet of elevation gain, the incredible views make the effort worthwhile.
Note: Be on the lookout for poison ivy on the first section of the hike through the meadows. Also, during colder months, the trail becomes rocky and requires scrambling, so bring microspikes or crampons when it is snowy and icy, particularly toward the summit.
7. Kebler Pass near Crested Butte
Kebler Pass is a 30-mile scenic drive that will take you through stunning landscapes filled with golden aspens across vast meadows.
Gunnison County Road 12 spans from Paonia to Crested Butte and is one of the best ways to view fall in Colorado.
As you make your way along Kebler Pass check out trailheads like Cliff Creek, Ruby Anthracite and Woods Walk, to name a few.
The area is truly astounding, so exploring it more on foot will leave a lasting impression on you and provide ample photo opportunities along the way.
What to Wear Hiking in Colorado in October
When gearing up for your Colorado fall hikes, it’s essential to consider the significant temperature variations based on elevation. Here’s what to wear hiking in October, depending on where your adventure takes you:
Lower Elevations (Foothills and Parks):
Base Layer: Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to manage sweat. Choose a long-sleeve shirt and moisture-wicking underwear to keep dry.
Mid-Layer: Add a lightweight fleece or soft-shell jacket for warmth as temperatures fluctuate.
Hiking Pants: Opt for moisture-wicking, quick-drying hiking pants. Convertible pants are a great versatility choice since they can still be warm at lower altitudes in autumn, even though you will still be above 5,000ft!
Footwear: Sturdy hiking shoes or boots with good traction are suitable for lower elevations. Wool-blend hiking socks keep your feet comfortable.
Accessories: A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses protect against sun exposure. Lightweight gloves can be useful on cooler mornings.
Mid-Elevations (Mountain Trails):
Base Layer: Wear the same moisture-wicking base layer as for lower elevations. Consider long underwear for added warmth.
Mid-Layer: Add a mid-weight fleece or down jacket for insulation. This layer will be essential as temperatures drop with elevation gain.
Hiking Pants: Stick with moisture-wicking hiking pants but consider ones with additional insulation or thicker fabric.
Footwear: Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are vital for comfort and protection. Wear wool-blend hiking socks for insulation.
Accessories: Ensure you have a warm beanie and gloves in your pack. The temperature difference between the trailhead and higher elevations can be significant.
Higher Elevations (Alpine and Peaks):
Base Layer: A thermal, moisture-wicking base layer is essential for staying warm. Choose long-sleeve tops and bottoms for full coverage.
Insulation Layer: A warm, insulating layer such as a down jacket or heavy fleece is crucial. Conditions can be frigid at higher altitudes.
Hiking Pants: Insulated, waterproof hiking pants are recommended to combat the cold and potential snow.
Footwear: Insulated, waterproof hiking boots with thick wool socks are a must to protect against cold and wet conditions.
Accessories: Thick, warm gloves, a thermal beanie, and a neck gaiter or scarf are necessary for staying warm.
Rain and Wind Protection: Carry a waterproof and windproof outer layer to shield against harsh alpine conditions.
Remember that Colorado’s October weather can be unpredictable, so it’s essential to be prepared for temperature fluctuations and potential precipitation at higher elevations.
Dressing in layers allows you to adapt to changing conditions throughout your hike, ensuring comfort and safety as you explore the stunning fall landscapes.