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Fall colors road trip: 10 scenic drives for experiencing fall in Colorado

Gas tank full? Camera ready? Camping or lodging plans arranged for the venture far afield?

It’s that time of year again.

Here are some of Colorado’s best drives for fall colors.

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Kenosha Pass and Breckenridge with the fall aspens on Tuesday, September 18, 2018 in Breckenridge.

Kenosha Pass: It’s a go-to for Front Range folks — an easy day trip from Denver out on U.S. 285. The highway travels past Conifer toward Fairplay, never rising above the trees; the glistening leaves stay with you all the way.

Peak to Peak Highway: The highway runs 55 miles between Central City and Estes Park. A common launch point is closer to the middle from Nederland, outside Boulder. The Rocky Mountain National Park skyline delights with the aspens.

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A car drives through the turning aspens past Clear Lake while climbing Guanella Pass on Sept. 12, 2018.

Guanella Pass: Go on a weekday if you can. As the colors change, the crowds rush to this 22-mile tour from Georgetown to Grant.

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A pair of horseback riders makes their way toward Beckwith Pass on the Cliff Creek Trail as the aspens on Kebler Pass near Crested Butte, Colo., show a full palette of colors Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. The Colorado mountain may turn white this week as snow is in the forecast. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Kebler Pass: The rugged but mostly flat road near Crested Butte weaves through a tunnel of some of the tallest aspen stands you might ever see. The Dyke is a bucket-list image — a throne-like outcrop over a splash of red and yellow.

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A black bear walks along the Highway of Legends, Colorado Highway 12, in the Cuchara Valley Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, while searching for food. (Christian Murdock, The Gazette)

Highway of Legends: The state’s newest national scenic byway — designated in 2021 — is often overlooked. Colorado 12 connects La Veta and Trinidad and offers stunning geology, Spanish and mining history and an aspen-sprinkled panorama above 11,000 feet.

Independence Pass: Colorado 82 is an iconic stretch from Twin Lakes, roaming up and over the Continental Divide. You may want to proceed to Aspen, where maybe you’ve made reservations to take the shuttle to the Maroon Bells.

Rabbit Ears Pass: It stresses drivers on snowy days but only relaxes and charms on days when the sun shines over grateful, golden forests. U.S. 40 between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs is a stunner.

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Buildings from Colorado’s mining past stand among the turning aspens Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2017, on Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton. The Red Mountain Mining District boomed in the 1880s to more than 3,000 people. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Million Dollar Highway: From Ouray, U.S. 550 rises toward historic mining remnants and glowing groves on the way to Silverton. Warning: Without guardrails along the narrow, steep side of the road, it can be a bit nerve-wracking.

Grand Mesa Scenic Byway: The road tours 63 miles over the world’s largest flattop mesa, which happens to be home to abundant aspens. From Palisade, the drives journeys through forest and lakes to the Lands End overlook.

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Aspens turn on the east side of Owl Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Owl Creek Pass: This is the southwest Colorado country that defined “True Grit.” Deep in the San Juan Mountains outside Ridgway, fans of the original film might recognize the idyllic scenery along this dirt track beloved by anglers and campers.


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