Six fall drives to see colors near Eagle County, Colorado (video)
September 26, 2015
Fall is one of the best times of the year to visit the high country when it comes to breathtaking views. An explosion of reds, oranges and yellows transforms the landscape into an artist's palette. As locals know, the aspen leaves change suddenly and dramatically and then, in the same fashion, disappear. If you blink, you'll miss it.
There are many places near Eagle County for spectacular fall foliage viewing, and it just depends on whom you ask as to which one is the best.
Boreas Pass in Breckenridge is an option for phenomenal views year-round — but even more so this time of year. The road is open to vehicles during the summer and fall, or park in the lot and hike or bike up. The road has a gradual ascent to the summit, making it a relatively easy hike. Boreas offers an expansive view of the Blue River Valley and the Ten Mile Range and also boasts views of Breckenridge Ski Resort.
"Boreas Pass showcases the best of both worlds: panoramic views and tight clusters of golden aspen," said Rachel Zerowin, with the Breckenridge Tourism Office. "You can drive the road or explore the singletrack, and both options give you that tunnel feel, with the changing leaves on all sides."
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the road was used as a narrow-gauge railroad, running from Breckenridge to Como. Closed to motor vehicles in the winter, the gravel road is drivable in the summer and fall with any passenger vehicle. The pass is approximately 6.6 miles one way, and it's a popular spot for both summer and winter recreation.
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Directions: Take Interstate 70 east to the Frisco Main Street exit (201), and head east on Main Street and then south on state Highway 9. Once in Breckenridge, follow Highway 9 to the south end of town (toward Blue River). At the southern end of town limits, turn left onto Boreas Pass Road (also known as County Road 10). Follow road for 3.5 miles to Bakers Tank Trailhead, with parking on the left, or continue on the road to drive over the pass.
TOP OF THE ROCKIES NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY
The Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway starts at Copper Mountain in Summit County and travels over Fremont Pass to Leadville, where travelers can take one route to Granite or, to loop back to Eagle County, follow the extension to Tennessee Pass, through Camp Hale, Red Cliff and Minturn, and back to I-70.
"That's a gorgeous drive," said Carly Holbrook, director of public relations at the Colorado Tourism Office. "There's a lot of aspen on that route and a lot of wide-open spaces where you get expansive views of 14ers and fall colors."
Directions: Take I-70 east to the state Highway 91/Copper Mountain exit (195) and the start of the Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway at Copper Mountain. Head south to Leadville. In Leadville, there is an extension that continues south, or take U.S. Highway 24 west all the way to Minturn.
Hoosier Pass separates Park and Summit counties. There is a large parking lot at the top of the pass for picture taking, as well as hiking trails for the adventurous.
"The wonderful thing about going to Hoosier Pass is it's one of the highest passes in Colorado that you can actually drive to with a solid road that's paved," said Veronica Anderson-Bodnar, a sales clerk with the South Park Historical Museum and Visitor Center. "You can look over onto Summit County; you can also look over into Park County. Right on the top of that is Montgomery Reservoir. Montgomery Reservoir is a really nice place to go on a short hike — it's not a very difficult hike. It's also a great picture place; they have waterfalls there, and you can actually fish."
Directions: Take Highway 9 about 20 miles south of Breckenridge to the summit of Hoosier Pass.
Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway is a 23-mile route through Pike and Arapaho national forest land that links Georgetown and Grant. From Georgetown, about 10 miles of the road is paved, with the remaining 12 to Grant unpaved, according to the town of Georgetown's website. Although maintained for passenger vehicles, slower speeds will be required. Guanella Pass is a less busy tourist destination because the road is rugged, Holbrook said.
Along the byway, catch views of Grays and Torreys peaks, both Colorado 14ers.
Directions: Take I-70 east to the Georgetown exit (228). Turn right onto 15th Street, and then take a right onto Rose Street and follow signs for County Road 381/Guanella Pass Road.
Take a drive through Park County toward Denver along U.S. Highway 285 to hit Kenosha Pass. The Colorado Trail crosses the summit of Kenosha Pass, and there are many hiking and biking trails nearby to take in the scene. There is a large parking lot at the top of the pass to stop, but it is super busy this time of year, especially on the weekends, so watch for slowing traffic and pedestrians when getting close to the top.
"This time of year, if you can drive (Kenosha Pass) during off-peak times, is probably the best advice I can give — for any of these drives, really," Holbrook said. "If you're hitting them on the weekends, try to go really early in the morning, which is actually really gorgeous for photography if you can hit some of these areas for sunrise."
Directions: Take I-70 east to Frisco or Breckenridge, and then follow Highway 9 south toward Fairplay. Once in Fairplay, turn left onto Highway 285 north. Follow 285 to Colorado Trail, and turn right.
The West Elk Loop Scenic & Historic Byway includes the 30-mile Kebler Pass road and travels through the towns of Crested Butte, Gunnison, Montrose and Carbondale. The route also runs through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park between Montrose and Gunnison. Although a decent drive from Eagle County, Kebler Pass boasts major aspen.
"Kebler Pass between Crested Butte and Paonia has the largest aspen grove in Colorado," Holbrook said. "It's probably our most iconic scenic fall drive. You also get McClure Pass on that drive, which is also stunning."
The whole historic byway loop is 205 miles and takes around six to eight hours.
Directions: Take I-70 west to the state Highway 82 exit (116) and head south. In Carbondale, follow signs for state Highway 133 to state Highway 135/Crested Butte around to Gunnison, and then to state Highway 92/Hotchkiss and back to Highway 133/Paonia.
Disclaimer: These are generalized directions from Google Maps and do not include every single turn. So don't get lost and blame us.
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