A Fall Foliage Hike Through Colorado’s Aspens

For fantastic fall foliage viewing, Colorado’s high country is on the map. Spectators drive from near and far as the aspen trees perform their annual fall foliage magic show. Take a scenic drive down one of Colorado’s many passes and byways, or stretch your legs on a hiking trail. To combine a hike and a drive, check out the Abyss Lake trail off Guanella Pass, near the iconic peaks of Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans.

abyss lake trail fall

When To Go

Each year is a little different for timing fall foliage. Since the turning of leaves depends on so many factors (altitude, latitude, that year’s particular climate conditions, soil conditions, etc.) it’s hard to say exactly when “peak foliage” will occur and where. Peak foliage is the narrow window of time when the leaves have fully changed color but haven’t yet started to fall. Any time between late September and early to mid-October is leaf peeping season.

Why the Abyss Lake Trail

The beauty of the Abyss Lake trail is that the change in altitude means that you’ll be able to see various stages of foliage over the course of the hike. In October, you’re likely to see still-green and early-yellow leaves on the aspens along the road. At the trailhead (elevation 9620 feet), groves of mostly yellow aspens will have you pausing to shoot a dozen photos already. Then, as you begin your ascent, the green in the leaves will gradually disappear. You’ll be walking through groves of solid yellow, glowing especially bright on a sunny day.

After crossing the first two log bridges over the stream and stopping to admire the panoramic views, you’ll notice that the aspens’ foliage matures as the air gets thinner. More leaves have fallen onto the path, and it begins to smell more like the earthy decay of fall. On the trees, the leaves are a deeper shade of yellow – even orange – just before they break free.

You will reach the juncture of Abyss Trail and Rosalie Trail after about 4.5 miles from the trailhead. The foliage will be just past peak. Branches look barer, and the floor is more covered in leaves. After this point, aspen trees will start thinning until tree line at about 7 miles from the trailhead. For foliage-viewing purposes, the best is behind you. Take a gander up Rosalie trail and choose a point to turn around.

colorado mountain leaves

What To Bring

The first half of Abyss Trail is moderate in difficulty. No specialized hiking equipment is necessary. Wear good hiking shoes and layers. Pack sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and several liters of water. A camera is essential, and binoculars are a fun extra. Elegant picnic spots abound, so bring a good lunch and maybe even a bottle of wine.

How To Get There

From Denver, drive west U.S. Hwy 285. After passing Bailey, continue west for 11 miles to Grant. Head north (right) onto Park County Road #62 towards Guanella Pass. Take Guanella Pass 5.5 miles to reach the trailhead. The trailhead is on the east (right) side of the road and is located just south of Burning Bear Campground. You’ll see a parking area at the trailhead.

After the hike, you can venture north on Guanella Pass for a scenic mountain drive with awesome sweeping views of the color-changing landscape. The pass continues to Georgetown, where you can head back east via I-70.

Cynthia Ord (8 Posts)

Cynthia is based in her hometown of Denver, Colorado. When she’s not at work at an adventure travel company, she’s out exploring the peaks of the Rocky Mountains by foot, bicycle, snowshoe or ski. On the side, she is a staff writer and editor at The Travel Word and tinkers with her own site, CynthiaOrd.com. Cynthia is also an ambassador and contributor for Mountain Reservations. Connect to Cynthia Ord: Google+ | LinkedIn

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