Leaf-peeping season is finally here, and with the extra moisture Colorado has received this year, we expect it to be quite vivid! Prepare yourself for a journey of spectacular color with some of our favorite places in the area to enjoy the changing season.
Hike a Legend – Walk along a stunning two-mile strip of Dakota sandstone at Devil’s Backbone. Take in views of the Rocky Mountains in full fall color while recreating on 17.25 miles of scenic trails that also connect to Rimrock Open Space and Horsetooth Mountain Open Space in Fort Collins.
Savor the Sculptures – Home to 182 permanent sculptures, Benson Sculpture Garden wows with natural and human-crafted beauty, especially in the fall. Sculptures are nestled among 10 acres of grassy lawn, mature trees and native plants perfect for leaf-peep while enjoying your favorite works. This free public sculpture garden was founded in 1985 and new pieces are added annually. Chapungu Sculpture Park at Centerra in Loveland is a one-of-a-kind outdoor exhibit featuring 82 monumental stone sculptures from Zimbabwean artisans (called Shona Sculpture) displayed across 26 acres of natural and landscaped gardens creating a fall bonanza. The sculptures are hewn by hand from solid Zimbabwean rock, and the park is currently the largest of its kind in the world. The walking park is handicap accessible and admission is free. Chapungu is open to the public daily 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Lounge Along the River’s Edge – The 163-acre River’s Edge Natural Area is situated alongside the Big Thompson River and includes five ponds that are ideal for fishing, plus 3.8 miles of natural-surface trails for walking, bicycling and wildlife viewing. You’ll also find three picnic shelters, an amphitheater and environmental education stations tucked underneath an broad canopy of mature trees perfect for peeping. Natural Areas are pockets of land that provide convenient access to the outdoors, help minimize urban sprawl and provide habitat for wildlife and native plants.
Big Thompson Canyon – One of the state’s most iconic routes, Hwy 34 through Big Thompson Canyon, connects Loveland to Estes Park and features stunning scenery and Big Thompson River access along 25 miles (one way). The rural route highlights the splendor of fall scenery with a side of nostalgia. Pull over to snap pics of the leaves at these beloved stops along the way: the Dam Store (get an aerial view of the falls and the fall color from the lookout tower onsite); the Colorado Cherry Company for fresh-baked pies; and a detour at Drake onto C.R. 43.
Ride the Trails – Located just west of Loveland near the entrance to Big Thompson Canyon, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch tempts you to mosey in for a resplendent horseback ride. Book a 1- or 1.5-hour trail ride in advance and explore some of the ranch’s 3,200 acres studded with the colors of fall. You may even spot some elk from the saddle.
“Park” in the Canyon – Leaf-peep at Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park, located along Highway 34 through Big Thompson Canyon. Originally opened in 1926, the park has been restored twice after the Big Thompson floods in 1976 and 2013. The park features picnic areas, shelters, a fishing platform, kid zone, sculptures, overlook and more. Duck into the nature cabin to learn about area history and resident wildlife. Round Mountain Trailhead is located across the street from the park if you fancy a hike beneath a golden canopy.
Elk Fest in Estes Park – Estes Park Elk Fest® returns Sept. 30 – Oct. 1 to Bond Park with vendors, live music, food trucks, bugling contests, performances, and lots of fall color. Get a close-up of quaking aspens – and a little exercise – at the 5K Rut Run on Saturday. Local’s tip: Overnight in Loveland for affordable lodging options and available dining reservations.
Wildlife Tours in RMNP – Peep leaves and a whole lot more in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) this fall. Take the Premier Wildlife Tour, a full-day excursion with a trained guide, and look for bighorn sheep, moose, elk and mule deer. Fall is the best time to experience the elk rut, with picture-perfect golden aspens as the backdrop.