Get some color: Find a place where you can enjoy fall’s scenery
This is one of those stories that never gets old.
Every year, toward the end of September, the western Colorado and eastern Utah high country displays spectacular colors, particularly gold, as summer gives way to autumn in the aspen stands.
Without fail, shorter days and colder temperatures help trigger deciduous trees to prepare for winter.
It also signals that it’s time to head out to some of the most rural settings of Colorado and Utah.
Although colors won’t hit their peak in the Grand Valley for several more weeks, colors are changing at elevations 7,500 feet and higher.
For those wanting to get off the main highways, here are a number of locations in western Colorado and eastern Utah where magnificent beauty abounds. Don’t forget your camera.
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1. Rabbit Ears Pass — This pass east of Steamboat Springs on U.S. Highway 40 climbs to 9,426 feet and offers expansive views of the Routt National Forest.
2. Routt National Forest — There are plenty of spots to visit in this national forest, but the views around Steamboat Lake/Pearl Lake State Parks north of Steamboat Springs might make you want to move there.
To reach Steamboat Lake, turn north on Routt County Road 129 on the western edge of Steamboat Springs. The road winds through ranch country to Clark, a small hamlet with a general store and post office. Continue north on 129 to Steamboat Lake, the Hahn’s Peak Village and Columbine, or turn east on Seedhouse Road, which offers access to guest ranches and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
Learn more at http://www.fs.fed.us/.
3. Flat Tops Wilderness Area — With more than 235,000 acres, this is Colorado’s second-largest wilderness area and it straddles both the Routt and White River national forests.
Despite sitting in a wilderness area, Trappers Lake is reachable by car and is one of the state’s most scenic lakes. It is about 40 miles east of Meeker on Rio Blanco County Road 8 and then the last few miles are on Forest Road 205.
Go to http://www.wilderness.net for more information on wilderness areas.
4. Manti-La Sal National Forest (Utah) — This national forest in southeastern Utah has more than 1.4-million acres and there are a number of access points and areas where its peaks and colors can be viewed.
Grab a good map and go to http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/mantilasal/ to find a hiking trail or camping option to fit your situation.
The national forest (and Fisher Towers) also can be seen to the south of Utah Highway 128 (take Interstate 70 to the Cisco exit, then follow Highway 128 along the Colorado River toward Moab.)
5. Piñon Mesa — From the east end of the Colorado National Monument, turn onto DS Road at the Glade Park sign, which is shortly after Cold Shivers Point. At the Glade Park Store, turn south onto 16 1/2 Road (also know as West Glade Park Road).
Coming from the west side of the monument, turn south onto 16 1/2 Road and continue on it past the Glade Park Store.
Going south on 16 1/2 Road takes you onto Piñon Mesa where you can check out Mud Springs, which is along the road, and Enoch Lake (take a left at JS Road and a right on 18 Road) in the vicinity of the Fruita reservoirs.
6. Grand Mesa — Go east on Interstate 70 and in De Beque Canyon exit to Colorado Highway 65, which goes over Grand Mesa to Cedaredge. Spectacular color can be seen the entire route.
7. Maroon Bells Scenic Area — Easily accessible and a local and tourist favorite, the Bells area is reachable from Colorado Highway 82. Just before reaching Aspen, turn west from the roundabout onto Maroon Creek Road.
Because of the area’s popularity, vehicle traffic is restricted on Maroon Creek Road through Sept. 26. A shuttle bus runs every 20–30 minutes from Aspen Highlands Village (just off Maroon Creek Road) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Go to http://www.fs.usda.gov for more information on this area.
8. Independence Pass — At 12,095-feet, this pass requires a climb out of Aspen on Colorado Highway 82.
From a parking lot, a series of paved and well-maintained hiking trails offer easy access to several vistas, including those of Mount Elbert and Mount Massive.
From the pass, the road drops into the upper Arkansas Valley.
9. Kebler Pass — This well-maintained all-weather road between Paonia Reservoir and Crested Butte winds past the Raggeds Wilderness Area, Dark Canyon and over the pass, offering views of what might be the world’s largest contiguous stand of aspen.
From Delta, take Colorado Highway 92 to Hotchkiss, then turn left on Colorado Highway 133 to Paonia. Past Paonia, drive through the small coal-mining town of Somerset and a few miles down the road look for signs (on the right) signaling the Kebler Pass road. Crested Butte is 23.5 miles across the pass.
10. Blue Mesa Reservoir — This reservoir in Curecanti National Recreation Area is Colorado’s largest body of water.
The quickest way to get to the reservoir is to take U.S. Highway 50 to Montrose and then east 30 miles to the reservoir.
For a more scenic tour, take Colorado Highway 92 out of Delta to Hotchkiss, turn right to Crawford and stay on Highway 92 across Black Mesa to Blue Mesa Reservoir.
11. Silver Jack Reservoir — Two easy routes lead you to Silver Jack Reservoir and the colorful aspen blanketing Owl Creek Pass. The route offers great views of the rugged Cimarron Ridge, the 12,152-foot monolith of Courthouse Mountain and 11,781-foot Chimney Rock. Owl Creek Pass is 10,120 feet high.
Take U.S. Highway 50 to Montrose and east to Cimarron. A couple miles east of Cimarron, look for the signs to Cimarron Road, Silver Jack (21 miles) and Owl Creek Pass. The route from there across Owl Creek Pass is unpaved.
Or, continue through Montrose on U.S. Highway 550 toward Ridgeway. About 26 miles later, just before Ridgeway, signs on the east (left) side of the highway point you to Owl Creek Pass and Silver Jack Reservoir (20 miles). Once off the highway, most of the driving is on unpaved roads.
12. Red Mountain Pass — Take U.S. Highway 50 south to Montrose, then U.S. Highway 550 through Ouray and on to Red Mountain Pass. The road over the pass also is known is the Million Dollar Highway, both for the cost of building the precipitous road as well as for the gold mine tailings rumored to have been used in paving the road.
Red Mountain Pass is between Ouray and Silverton and the drive gorgeous, albeit not for those uncomfortable with heights.
13. Lizard Head Pass — From Montrose, drive on U.S. Highway 550 south to Ridgway, then turn right (west) onto Colorado Highway 62. At Placerville, go south on Colorado Highway 145 toward Telluride.
A few miles before Telluride proper, turn right and stay on Highway 145 through Telluride Mountain Village, Ophir and over Lizard Head Pass (10,222 feet). The pass was named for 13,113-foot Lizard Head, a 400-foot rock spire at one time said to resemble a lizard’s head, of course.
From the pass west to Rico, Dolores and McPhee Reservoir also offers great views.
— Compiled by Melinda Mawdsley and Dave Buchanan