5 non-traditional ways to experience Colorado’s fall foliage | VailDaily.com

5 non-traditional ways to experience Colorado’s fall foliage

Katie Coakley
Special to the Weekly

VAIL — It's perhaps one of Mother Nature's greatest wardrobe changes: One minute you're gazing at the mountain, enjoying the various shades of green that paint the slopes and the next it's awash with amber.

However, as poet Robert Frost so aptly put it, "nothing gold can stay." So catching the color show is a matter of not only perfect timing, but also location.

There are many ways to immerse yourself in the fall colors; some are easier than others. And while hopping into your car or lacing up your hiking boots are acceptable options, we'd like to challenge you to take your leaf peeping up a notch this season. From motors that gun to boats that float, here are some of the best ways to catch the leaves this autumn.

Motorized on the mountain

Sure, you could take the gondola up the mountain and hike around in the aspens, but your feet limit the amount of ground you can cover. For a more expansive on-mountain tour, sign up for Beaver Creek's High Mountain Adventure 4×4 tours.

Through Sept. 24, these motorized 4×4 vehicle tours allow guests of all ages to explore Beaver Creek, learning about the natural and geological beauty of the area. Currently, Fall Leaf Tours ($65 per person) take guests high on the mountain, granting access to canopies of gold, all with someone else to do the driving for you.

These tours are offered at four different times daily, starting at 9:30 a.m., and last for 1.5 hours.

For a more festive excursion, reserve your spot on one of the remaining wine excursions ($150 per person). These tours also utilize the 4×4 vehicles, but after the tour guests are taken to Beano's Cabin to sample a selection of wines and light appetizers. If the weather's nice, you can even settle onto Beano's excellent deck and watch the leaves turn before your eyes. The wine excursions take place on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays until Sept. 22.

The High Mountain Adventure 4×4 Tours at Beaver Creek depart from the Beaver Creek Summer Adventure Center. Call 970-754-4636 to reserve a tour.

Take me to the river

While Colorado is a land-locked state, we are blessed with some of the most awesome stretches of river in the country. For a peaceful and bucolic leaf peeping experience, take to the water.

For a personal-powered experience, standup paddleboarding is a great way to see the leaves while setting your own course. Rent a board and head out to Sylvan Lake or the calmer waters on the Colorado and you can paddle to your heart's content while taking plenty of breaks for some photo snapping, too. You can rent a board or take a lesson or tour with local companies, including Standup Paddle Colorado.

Looking for even more fun on the river while admiring the changing leaves? Add in the thrill and skill of fly-fishing with a trip from Vail Valley Anglers.

"The float trips on the Upper Colorado are great for leaf viewing," said Patrick Perry, manager of Vail Valley Anglers. "The aspens are beautiful up there and the last two weeks of September are best (for the leaves). Also, some local creeks like in the Holy Cross Wilderness offer some great fly-fishing and foliage seeing."

Part of the draw for a trip like this is that it's not all about the fly-fishing, Perry said.

"The experience is viewing the scenery and enjoying the time on the boat and the other people you're fishing with — it's social as well," Perry said. "The temperatures are cooler in the fall … and just getting out of town, where you aren't in an urban area, where the scenery is beautiful and there's not a lot of development, these are all aspects that aren't about fishing."

While there are other pleasant aspects to a float trip, the fishing is still a major factor. The good news is that the fish are more active and more willing to "eat our flies that we throw at them," Perry said. Plus, you have a better chance of catching a sizable fish, he continued, because the fish are spawning.

Sign up for a float or wading trip at Vail Valley Anglers at http://www.vailvalleyanglers.com. A half-day wade trip starts at $275; a half-day float trip starts at $450. Starting Sept. 19, you can get a full-day float for the price of a half-day trip with the Freak N Fish special.

Try on all the toys

Sometimes, trying out a new toy is the best way to adventure. To search out the best leaf-peeping opportunities, sometimes a motor is the way to go.

At Rocky Mountain Adventure Rentals in Avon, you can take your pick of toys to create your own aspen seeking excursion. The company rents motorcycles, Polaris Slingshots and Razor ATVs, among other things.

"These are some of the best ways to explore and see the fall foliage," said Spencer Brown, owner of Rocky Mountain Adventure Rentals. "We have a fleet of road motorcycles and people are taking them for a week at a time, riding to Durango and back. With a motorcycle, you have unlimited views as you cruise around."

A motorcycle license is required to rent and drive these vehicles, but Brown has other options if you don't have that endorsement.

The Slingshot is a vehicle with open cockpit that drives just like a car, Brown said.

"It's super lightweight and handles like a motorcycle: quick and nimble and easy to ride," Brown said. "This roadster gives you great views as you cruise down the road."

A popular route with the Slingshot is to drive over Independence Pass, through Aspen and then through Glenwood Springs, Brown said. It's a good route for a day tour.

Then there's the Razor, a side-by-side Utility Task Vehicle that seats either two or four passengers with an 800 and 1,000 cc motor (respectively) from Polaris. These RZR ATV rentals offer a more powerful and yet safer driving experience than your standard ATV 4-wheeler.

"It's an off-road machine that can take you into the heart of the aspen groves," Brown said. "You can go all through the hills where tour companies take you, but you're not locked into a tour."

With the container on the back, you can even pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it in the backcountry. While you need a vehicle with the ability to tow a trailer (the rental comes with the trailer), anyone with a driver's license and ability to drive a standard transmission can rent either a Slingshot or the Razor.

Prices for rentals: Motorcycles are $250 per day; Slingshots are $275 a day and Razors are $350 per day. All summer rentals include a tank of gas, free delivery, helmet and trailer rental. Learn more or reserve your vehicle by visiting rmar1.com or call 970-471-8491.

Whether you choose to search for the stunning fall colors on a bike, on your own two feet or with these alternate modes, there's no better time to explore the high country for fall's fashion show.

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Capturing the gold

Simply observing the changing leaves is a memorable experience, but you know the old adage: If you don’t post it to social media, did it really happen?

To get the best shots of this finest time of the year, here are some pro tips for fall foliage photography.

Go out and explore: Because aspens are living, breathing things, you can’t set a clock on when the leaves will turn, explained local photographer Townsend Bessent. “If you caught a grove of aspens too early (or too late), there’s a grove somewhere in the valley that’s in full effect,” he said. “If you don’t like what you see, move your location.”

Don’t just photograph trees: “Have something else in the foreground to give it perspective and make it more interesting,” Bessent said. “Aspens are really neat by themselves, but incorporating humans or dogs will give the photograph a sense of life, place and perspective.”

And don’t be afraid of getting close: “Taking a picture of a tree is one thing, but getting in there and studying leaves as they fall, you’ll find more color in there than just yellow,” Bessent said.

Photographer Matt Inden, whose gallery is located in Lionshead, agreed. Having fewer variables in the photo to consider can make getting a great shot a bit easier.

“If you’re doing a close-up shot on aspen stands that don’t involve the sky, that’s one less variable in the mix,” he said. “That can increase your chances of getting a nice image, in my mind.”

Ignore the photographer’s rule (this time): The commonly held photographer’s rule says that the best time to shoot is early morning and late afternoon for the best light. However, there are always exceptions, Bessent said, and aspens will appear more brilliant in direct sunlight.

“If you’re shooting underneath (the tree), choose to shoot at a time when everything will be illuminated,” he said.

But really, there are no rules: “That’s what makes it so much fun,” Bessent said. “That’s why phones are so much fun. Instead of just snapping a few photos on your phone, take in the scene and see what belongs and what doesn’t.”

And if you don’t like it, move your feet and find a better spot. There are plenty of places to explore and photograph this fall, so get to wandering.

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