Living in a growing, popular and always evolving metropolitan area like Denver can have its problems. Like any city, really, so many of us get uber-focused on the day-to-day, the commute, our work. Our commitments go from inspired interests to mundane chores.
Well, Denver is just too cool a place to let those feelings persist. In short, we’re not allowing it.
So, here’s a list of places we want you to Google-map your way to this weekend, and every weekend after this one until its ski season. Fall is fantastic in Colorado, and it’s time you fall in love with it all over again. After all, isn’t this why you moved here?
About an hour west of the city, outside Golden.
This easy-to-access Colorado state park is a full-on four season park, but since it’s fall, we’re going for the aspen trees. They’re not hard to find, just look for the swaths of gleaming yellow amidst the miles of firs and pines. The trails here are dog-friendly, as long as your four-legger is okay on the leash. If you’re bringing the kids, choose the Blue Grouse Trail, it’s short and only gains 700 feet. If you’re up for a more challenging day in the woods, try the 4.5 mile Burro Trail or Mountain Lion Trail, which we hope isn’t aptly named.
Southwest of Denver, as deeps you want to go
This isn’t really a day trip. To take in everything this wonderful road trip has to offer, it’s best to find a place to crash for a night. Buena Vista, Salida, Granite and Poncha Springs will have plenty of options. Technically called the Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway, this trail through the heart of Colorado’s clashing environments could be considered a crash course in what it’s like to live in the Centennial State. There are ghost towns, snow-capped peaks, wildlife, protected wilderness areas, trails to hike and lakes to fish. In short, from vast prairies to two-mile high mountain passes, a Collegiate Peaks Byway adventure will fill a western road tripper’s Instagram feed faster than a middle-schooler with a new puppy. Here’s a map!
About 3.5 hours due south of Denver
Wait, why not Rocky Mountain National Park? Because everyone else will be there, that’s why. Great Sand Dunes National Park is sure to blow away any family member from out of town or a new friend who doesn’t yet know much about where they moved to. Its deep, sprawling and sun-drenched dunes take on a new meaning when under autumn’s sun. It’s also much cooler this time of year and fewer people are around to take up the frame of your camera. The contrast of this remarkable geologic formation butting against the peaks of the southern Rockies is not something easily forgotten. Visit the Park’s official website, linked above, for all the beta you need on how to get around and what to see. Go get some sand in your shoes.
About 1.5 hour southwest of Denver, outside of Grant
Aspens are high-elevation trees, and you’ll see plenty of them quaking in their yellow suits when you head up to 10,000’+ Kenosha Pass. Grab a couple of breakfast burritos for the road and you should boots-on-trail before 9:00 a.m. Kenosha Pass offers a couple of options, Segments 5 and 6, off of the Colorado Trail, a roughly 500 mile jaunt through the Rockies. Admittedly, by the time you read this, peak leaf season will have likely faded, especially at that elevation, but that only means the odds are better of you having the place to yourself. Go for the scenery, solitude and because the outdoors are good for your soul.
Start in Estes Park, head south to Black Hawk
For Colorado’s first official scenic byway, it makes sense. This 55-mile jaunt borders the Continental Divide and offers views in every direction. In addition to Rocky Mountain National Park (happy now?) and the aforementioned Golden Gate Canyon State Park, this quick roady skirts a number of national forests, fun mountain towns, has overlooks and a bunch of side-trip worthy mountain roads to discover even more of the stuff you moved here for. This might be the fastest, most convenient way to experience the wonder and generally-awesome nature of life in Colorado.
So, what are you waiting for? Hop in.
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