A leaf peeper’s guide to Eagle County
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – If you don’t look now, you could miss it.
Fall colors have brought Colorado’s high country to life, adding hues of green, yellow, gold, orange and red to the hillsides and valleys. And, it appears, the glowing trees are at or near their peak this fall, so now is the time to go for that drive, hike or bike ride to take it all in. The White River National Forest Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District is reporting more orange and red colors this fall than have been seen in “quite a while.”
Here are five spectacular local viewing destinations for the weekend:
Take Interstate 70 to Highway 24 at Minturn and head south along this scenic byway. On the ascent up Battle Mountain toward Red Cliff, the aspens have turned brilliant shades of yellow and orange, with the occasional reds scattered throughout.
“That whole stretch is just really pretty right now,” said Hannah Irwin, a naturalist with the Vail Nature Center.
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Irwin recommends doing the drive up Tennessee Pass with Camp Hale as the end point. From there you can hike the Colorado Trail, off Forest Service Road 714, which leads up to Kokomo Pass. You can mountain bike parts of the Colorado Trail, hike or horseback ride.
“I was there last weekend, and it was fantastic,” she said.
You can access the Colorado Trail from Highway 24. Turn left on Forest Service Road 702 (at north end of Camp Hale immediately after crossing a bridge over the railroad tracks), which is about 17 miles south of Minturn. Follow Road 702 for 1 mile to Road 714 (past the East Fork Eagle River bridge crossing). Turn right onto Road 714 for about 2 1/2 miles to the trailhead on the left.
On the north side of Interstate 70 in Vail is Red Sandstone Road, which leads to some quick and close fall colors viewing. The road is bumpy and a slow ride in a car, and there will likely be heavy traffic both from cars and mountain bikers, but the end result just might be worth it.
Lara Carlson, the community programs director at Walking Mountains, said the Upper Red Sandstone Road area is great right now.
“I was just up around the Piney Lake area this past weekend and the colors were great up there,” Carlson said.
The road winds along Red Sandstone Creek and then Indian Creek, with views of Vail Mountain along the lower portion. It reaches its high point near the trailhead for Lost Lake Trail. From there, you can decide to head west toward Muddy Pass or toward Piney Lake. There is nice hiking around Piney Lake, especially on the Upper Piney River Trail, but the lake is surrounded by Eagles Nest Wilderness, so biking is not allowed.
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While a simple drive down Interstate 70 through Vail will show off the area’s autumn glow, take an exit ramp and look a little closer.
The Berry Picker trail on Vail Mountain, which can be accessed both from Vail Village and from Lionshead, meanders through tons of aspen groves that are alive with color right now. Irwin said Berry Picker offers views all across the valley and is a good option, especially since it’s a relatively easy hike.
The North Trail, which parallels Interstate 70 along the north side of the highway, also has many aspens and offers panoramic views of Vail Mountain from the north. The trail has many trailheads and access points, including Trapper’s Run, Buffehr Creek, Red Sandstone Road and Middle Creek.
And Irwin said any of the East Vail trails, such as Bighorn Creek, Booth Creek and Gore Creek trails, are going to be gorgeous right now.
For more information on Vail hiking trails, visit http://www.vail.com/summer/activities/hiking-and-backpacking.
Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch offer some of the most beautiful fall colors in the valley. Drive through the welcome gates at the resort entrance at Avon Road and Highway 6 and park up top. You can take in the views from the base area of the mountain, or pick any one of several hiking trails. There are also many mountain biking trails in the area.
In Edwards, Carlson said East Lake Creek is a great aspen viewing area. The trail begins as a moderately uphill dirt path through pine and aspen groves, with the first 2 miles traveling through “damp, lush aspen forest,” according to the U.S. Forest Service trail guide.
Carlson said it’s a relatively easy hike. However it goes up in elevation slightly before sloping down, meaning the hike on the way back to the car is more difficult than the hike in, she said.
Take a drive down Brush Creek Road, south of Eagle, toward Yeoman Park or Sylvan Lake State Park for fantastic views of Colorado’s fall colors.
Sylvan Lake State Park offers camping and hiking, including a 1 1/4-mile trail around Sylvan Lake.