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LEARN MORE ABOUT 5 AMAZING HIKES IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL THAT WILL GIVE YOU THE BEST CHANCE OF SEEING BEAUTIFUL FALL COLORS.
Fall is by far one of the BEST seasons to explore the high country of Colorado; including, the very beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park. With over a hundred miles of trails within the national park, there are plenty of places to adventure and discover. But not all of the trails will guarantee you stunning fall foliage once the leaves start to change color. Luckily, these five trails below will not only give you an up close encounter with golden aspens, but also vibrant colored lichen, bushes, river beds and late summer flowers. Seriously, if you want to have a wonderful fall adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park, then you have to add these five hikes to your travel itinerary.
Read on for everything you need to know about visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall, as well as even more information on the five stunning hiking trails.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK MAP
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK IN THE FALL
The two of us grew up with Rocky Mountain National Park in our backyard. And because of that good fortune, we were able to explore the park during every type of season: from cold, winter days spent snowshoeing to alpine lakes to hot, sunny summer days summitting peaks (including Longs Peak, a 14,000+ mountain).
And we can confidently say that the fall season is the best time to explore and adventure within this famous mountain national park. During the fall - which is really between the months of September and October - the crowds are much smaller, the mountains are much moodier, the golden aspens are stunning, and the whole atmosphere is surprisingly cozy.
A couple of other important things to keep in mind when planning a fall adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park are:
| The trees, including the famous aspens, usually start to change colors by mid-September. The exact timing depends on the previous months weather, but for the most part, you can expect golden and auburn leaves the second half of the month.
| Fall is also when the resident elk start to mate (this is known as the "rut"). Bull elk (males) can become quite aggressive during this time so always stay aware of your surroundings (especially if there is a herd of elk nearby). You will likely see some males fighting with their antlers, especially down in the nearby town of Estes Park. Similarly, during your visit you may hear the bulls bugling. This slightly haunting sound is quintessential Rocky Mountain National Park.
| There have been instances where an early season snowstorm hits in the fall, so come prepared with plenty of warm clothes (including hats and gloves). Even if snow doesn't fall, the temperature can still be quite chilly - especially during the early morning and at night.
| The famous Trail Ridge Road - a beautiful drive along one of the highest roads in North America (it is actually the highest continuous paved road on the continent) - is definitely worth exploring during your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. Just be aware that the top of the road is above tree line and is often quite windy and up to 30° cooler than the lower parts of the park. The scenic road also closes in October, so make sure to check its status before heading out.
TOP 5 HIKES FOR SPOTTING FALL COLORS IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
1 | Saint Vrain Mountain Trail
Probably one of the least popular trails in the RMNP area (it actually starts in the national forest before crossing into the national park), the Saint Vrain Mountain Trail is an 8.2-mile hike that gives you some outstanding up-close views of golden and red aspen groves. The trail is an out-and-back, though you can actually add on a bit more mileage to make it a nice loop.
The second half of the hike - which follows a small creek and cuts through thick forests, is teeming with different colors: burgundy, peach, maroon, gold. And not just in the trees, but also in the thick leaves and bushes that line the forest floor. Follow the singletrack trail, making sure to look for some cairns (rock markers) along the way, until it meets up with Forest Road #116.2 (there will be signs). Then head down that until you get back to the road you drove in on. From there it is an easy half-mile trek back to the car.
➳ Check out the full Alltrails hiking route.
EXPLORE MORE | THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
2 | Bierstadt Lake Trail
This shorter loop hike (3.2 miles total), though there are lots of possibilities to add on mileage, takes you through numerous aspen groves and pine forests - and gives you great views of the surrounding rugged mountains. From the trail, you can also head off towards Bear Lake, Flattop Mountain, and Cub Lake - the last of which is also a great spot to see the changing fall colors.
To make a full day out of it, pack a picnic and spend the rest of the afternoon hanging out at the Sprague Lake picnic area - a short walk across Bear Lake Road. This is a somewhat popular spot to see animals, especially moose.
➳ Check out the full Alltrails hiking route.