Although Colorado is stunning year-round, it’s our opinion that fall is the most glorious season to visit the Centennial State. The varied geography and higher elevation of Colorado make this state the perfect bucket list destination for September and October. Here are our favorites for enjoying the autumn season!
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is the name of the stretch of US Highway 34 that crosses Rocky Mountain National Park, from Estes Park to Grand Lake, Colorado. It is a 48-mile scenic drive that is heavily trafficked during the fall months, and for good reason! On this drive, you will see breathtaking views of the Rockies, as well as have the opportunity to see the aspen trees as they change from green to yellow along the highway. You should also be sure to watch out for local wildlife such as moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and even bears!
If you are looking for more of an off-road experience, an alternative drive to Trail Ridge Road is Old Fall River Road. This is a one-way dirt road which winds through Rocky Mountain National Park and all the way up to the Alpine Visitor Center. You will see many aspen groves along this drive, as well as roadside waterfalls. Be sure to note road conditions and vehicle restrictions, however. This is a narrow, winding road – not for the faint of heart!
Lodging in RMNP
There are three reservable campgrounds inside of RMNP: Aspenglen Campground, Glacier Basin Campground, and Moraine Park Campground. There are also two first-come, first-served campgrounds: Longs Peak Campground and Timber Creek Campground.
Food near RMNP
Plan to pack plenty of snacks and water for your day-long road trip along Trail Ridge Road, but also know there is one dining option inside the park! We have enjoyed many items off the menu of The Café at Trail Ridge, located next to the Alpine Visitor Center. You’ll find something for everyone, from sandwiches and salads, to sweets and fairtrade coffee.
Day in Estes Park
Estes Park, CO is worth a visit in the fall, even if you never step foot inside of Rocky Mountain National Park. The small town has many shops, restaurants, and lodging options for both the local and traveler communities.
One of the most popular activities in Estes Park is visiting the Stanley Hotel, famous for its link to Stephen King’s novel The Shining. The hotel is especially fun to visit during the Halloween season. We went on a guided, spooky tour of the hotel which featured many stories of its paranormal activity, as well as interesting historical information about the building and grounds. The property of the Stanley Hotel is always manicured beautifully during the fall, with pumpkins and autumn floral displays lining the walking paths and gardens.
Leaving the Stanley Hotel you can drive just minutes down the road to gain a new perspective and see the fall foliage from above! Estes Park has an aerial tramway that will take you to the peak of Prospect Mountain. We recommend an early morning ride when crowds are low and the beautiful fall colors pop against a foggy backdrop.
Lodging in Estes Park
We spent one week camping at Elk Meadow Lodge and RV Park. We enjoyed the mountain views as well as its close proximity to multiple entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Food in Estes Park
Bird and Jim is our favorite Estes Park eatery. This modern mountain restaurant is very popular. Reservations encouraged! For breakfast check out The Egg of Estes. This diner-style chain opens early so that you can fill your belly and still be one of the first vehicles entering Rocky Mountain National Park.
Granby is on the outskirts of the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Since many park visitors stay on the east side in Estes Park, Granby (and neighboring Grand Lake) is often much quieter.
Granby Ranch offers free chairlift rides so that you can have an aerial view of the fall colors. Or you can opt for a scenic horseback ride through crunching leaves.
Our favorite Granby area activity was renting a pontoon boat and exploring Lake Granby. If you putter slowly along the shore and keep your eyes peeled, you can often watch moose in the bushes or even standing in the shallow waters of the lake.
We recommend the folks at Beacon Landing Marina. We found them to have exceptional service and more affordable prices than other boat rentals companies in the area.
Lodging in Granby
For lakeside camping, we recommend either Stillwater RV and Campground or Arapaho Bay Campground. If you’d like to be a little closer to the park entrance and the west side visitor centers, then try Elk Creek Campground and RV Park.
Food in Granby
Our favorite coffee shop to hit up on the way to Granby is The Wake Coffee Shop. Sip your espresso right on the water with stunning views of the Rockies beyond the lake.
Fave RMNP Hikes
If you’d prefer to see the autumnal colors on foot, we have some great hiking recommendations for the park.
This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, no matter the season, but in the autumn it is especially spectacular! Bear Lake is a quick hike in which you can get many views of the yellow aspen reflecting off the lake, with dramatic Longs Peak in the background.
If you like chasing waterfalls, take the trail which winds through dense aspen groves and ends at Alberta Falls, which plunges 30 feet down a narrow gorge on Glacier Creek.
Our Biggest Tip…
We could go on and on about the wonders of Colorado in the fall. But the most important advice we could give is to PLAN EARLY! We recommend calling campgrounds 6 months to 1 year in advance to check on availability and cancellation policies.
Not only should you plan your trip as early as you can, but we also recommend waking up early once you are at your destination. Wildlife like moose are more active and visible in the early morning light when they are eating and on the move.
You can’t go wrong visiting Colorado any month of the year, but we hope a fall adventure makes it into your travel plans someday!
Meet the authors: We are Danella and Allie of Wander Free and Queer. We live and travel full-time in our Fifth Wheel with our two dogs. We started a small crochet business on the road in 2018 and we enjoy creating products that bring visibility to the LGBTQ+ community. In our travels, we enjoy hiking, rafting and visiting National Parks.