By Kristi Dougherty
Fall is in the air. Crisp mornings and cooler evenings are cueing up Colorado’s iconic aspen trees. September is prime aspen viewing time in Northern Colorado, with many nearby spots to see slopes filled with color. Take advantage of this annual show with a drive, a hike or a final fall camping trip before they fade away.
CACHE LA POUDRE RIVER CANYON
Take 287 north from Fort Collins to Highway 14, then head west up the Poudre Canyon. Watch for signage to many trailheads along the way and bring binoculars—bighorn sheep and other wildlife can be seen, especially on early morning outings.
*Check current Cameron Peak Fire conditions before visiting Highway 14.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Rocky Mountain National Park is the obvious choice, but early morning access can help you avoid crowds and get spectacular shots of aspens glowing in the sunrise. And you may hear elk bugling. Best aspen views and hikes include Hidden Valley, Sprague Lake and Twin Sisters. Be aware that some services are limited and some areas are closed within the park. Check nps.gov/romofor updates.
PEAK TO PEAK HIGHWAY
Another very popular choice, this scenic byway runs between Estes Park and I-70, so you can make it as long or short a drive as you like. The closest NOCO stretch is on Highway 7 between Allenspark and Estes Park, and you can continue south on Highways 72 and 119 into Eldora and Nederland.
FOURTH OF JULY TRAILHEAD, ELDORA
Head to the town of Eldora and follow County Road 130 out of town until the pavement ends. Continue on the rough dirt of Fourth of July Road, and you’ll end at the trailhead. Leave your dog at home for this one—bear and moose are active in this area!
WEST MAGNOLIA TRAILHEAD, NEDERLAND
Just west of the Peak to Peak (after it turns into Highway 119) or County Road 132W from Boulder, this area offers eight miles of trails through aspen forests and meadows. No facilities on site, but camping is available seasonally.
SNOWY RANGE SCENIC BYWAY
Laramie is just an hour from Fort Collins, and a great jumping off point for aspen viewing further west on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. This 2.5-hour drive heads west out of Laramie on Highway 130, drops down to Highway 230, then picks up 70 West past Encampment to Aspen Alley (the name says it all). Backtrack to Laramie for a weekend stay and more aspen exploration.
FLAT TOPS SCENIC BYWAY
Perfect for a fall weekend getaway, the Steamboat Springs area has multiple drives and hikes packed with aspen viewing. A good full-day drive option is the Flat Tops Scenic Byway, via Highways 40, 131, 8 and 13. This 168-mile loop goes between Meeker and Yampa, through Dunckley and Ripple Creek Passes, and includes access to Trappers Lake.
*If Highway 14 remains closed, an alternate route to Steamboat Springs, with a similar 3.5-hour drive time from NOCO, is I-70 west to exit 205 for CO-9/Highway 40.
Kristi Dougherty is a Colorado native and media executive. You can find her hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, brewery hopping and dog walking all around Northern Colorado. To comment on this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.