It’s that special time of year when we can see the Colorado fall colors tinged in the deciduous trees scattered across the Rocky Mountains.
A very special time indeed! But what causes this natural phenomenon in Colorado and across the United States during the fall?
Why do leaves change color during the fall?
During the summer, warm temperatures and sunlight allow plants to produce what is called chlorophyll. ⁽¹⁾ Chlorophyll is a photosynthetic pigment that is found in plants, algae, and cyanobacteria. ⁽²⁾ This production of chlorophyll during the summer months is what gives deciduous trees their greenish color.
During the fall, temperatures start to decrease, causing the existing chlorophyll to start to break down, which will eventually diminish the green color of the leaves. ⁽³⁾
As the chlorophyll starts to break down in the leaves, two different pigments known as carotenoids and flavonoids start to come to the surface. ⁽³⁾
Carotenoid pigments, as they come to the surface, are primarily responsible for the yellow and orange colors in the leaves. ⁽³⁾ They initially break down at the same time as chlorophyll, but at a much slower rate, allowing them to show their true colors before the leaves fall off entirely. ⁽³⁾
Another process that begins during the fall months that primarily contributes to the red and purple hues that some leaves have is a process called anthocyanin synthesis. ⁽³⁾
This process refers to the simultaneous receding of chlorophyll and an increase in sugars in the leaves, causing some of them to turn red, purple, and even pink! ⁽¹⁾
For an even more in depth look at why leaves change color, check out this handy chart that was used as a reference for this blog, created by Andy Brunning of Compound Chem.
Top Places to See the Colorado Fall Colors near Colorado Bear Creek Cabins
Now that we both understand why this natural phenomenon occurs, its time to discover the Colorado Bear Creek Cabin family’s recommendations for where you can see the Colorado fall colors in 2020.
1. Colorado Fall Colors on Guanella Pass
Our first recommendation to catch the fall foliage that is close to Colorado Bear Creek Cabins is the Guanella Pass.
Located behind Georgetown about 30 minutes away from our cabins, Guanella Pass is a paved scenic drive where some of the best fall colors can be seen:
What we really like about Guanella Pass is that there are a lot of places where you can pull your car over and start walking along the road to really soak in the pallet of colors and take some amazing photos!
Click here to get directions to Guanella Pass.
2. Colorado Fall Colors in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Our next favorite spot to catch the Colorado fall colors in the Golden Gate Canyon State Park, run and maintained by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a 12,119 acre open space established in 1960 and features over 40 miles of hiking trails, and on 25 miles of those horses and mountain bicycles are allowed. ⁽⁴⁾
Here is the full trail map of the entire park, provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. While there are a plethora of trail choices to catch the fall foliage, we highly recommend the 4.7 mile Panorama Point Trail loop.
This is a fairly easy hike that the whole family could do together (this trail allows dogs too). During the hike, expect to see a portfolio of aspen trees changing color right next to you!
About halfway through the hike, hikers will reach Panorama Point, an observation deck where hikers can see the entire landscape with the snow blanketed mountains in the far back.
It is also a great spot to see all the Colorado fall colors!
A couple things to note about the park before going:
First, Golden Canyon State Park is not free to visit. A ticket to enter the park will run about $10-$15 with a vehicle per person, depending on the date. To see a full breakdown of the fees at Golden Gate Canyon, check out this page.
Second, due to COVID-19 restrictions, no more than 25 people are allowed on the Panorama Point observation deck at a time, and visitors are required to wear masks and observe social distancing.
3. Colorado Fall Colors on State Highway 74
The Colorado Bear Creek Cabins family drives up State Highway 74 from Morrison, Colorado to Evergreen, Colorado every single day, so we know what it has to offer!
You can either start in Morrison or Evergreen, driving up or down State Highway 74, whichever is most convenient for you.
There are a couple parts that are particularly concentrated with aspen trees changing colors. The first is near Lair O’ the Bear park, behind the main parking lot.
Here, there is a big field of aspen trees changing from their normal green to their fall colors of yellow, red, orange, and sometimes purple.
You can pull over your car on Highway 74 to get more of a panorama view, or you can park down in the main parking lot of Lair O’ the Bear and walk through the field to get a closer look.
Either way, we highly recommend checking this area out during the fall and doing one of the hikes that Lair O’ the Bear offers – they are absolutely gorgeous!
The next spot is right after Lair O’ the Bear if you are driving up the canyon, or right before Lair O’ the Bear if you are driving down the canyon.
There is about half a mile of aspen trees hovering to the side of the road, making it a classic fall scene.
4. Colorado Fall Colors on Squaw Pass
Last but certainly not least, Squaw Pass is another prime area to get your fall foliage fix in.
Located about 10 minutes away from Colorado Bear Creek Cabins, Squaw Pass is another paved scenic drive like Guanella Pass.
Squaw Pass is about 20 miles long, ending at at Echo Lake. Going the speed limit, it would take about 35-40 minutes to drive from one end to the other.
Like Guanella Pass, there are spots to park on the side of the road to get out a walk around a bit. It also features aspen trees on the side of the road like they do on State Highway 74:
Click here for directions to Squaw Pass (center of the pass that has multiple entry points).
Regardless of where you spend your time watching the fall foliage, you really cannot go wrong in Colorado.
Apart from the fall foliage, Colorado is a great place for a fall vacation. In addition to the Colorado fall colors, the elk rutting season, seasonal events, and other fun activities such as hitting the golf course make Colorado during the fall a special time to visit. To dive deeper into some of the other activities fall has to offer during the fall months, be sure to check out this blog post.
We hope to see you enjoying the fall season as much as we do and would love to accommodate your Colorado fall vacation!
- Morrisey, J. (2019, October 1). Why do leaves change color? Fall foliage, explained. Retrieved from https://my.spokanecity.org/news/stories/2019/10/01/why-do-leaves-change-color-fall-foliage-explained/
- Science Daily. (2020). Chlorophyll. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/chlorophyll.htm
- Brunning, A. (2018). The Chemistry of Autumn Leaf Colours. Retrieved from https://i2.wp.com/www.compoundchem.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Chemistry-of-Autumn-Leaves-2018.png
- Colorado Parks and Wildlife. (2020). Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Retrieved from https://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/GoldenGateCanyon/Pages/default.aspx