Fall foliage coming soon — prepare for fall hikes | VailDaily.com

Fall foliage coming soon — prepare for fall hikes

fall is in the air, and as pumpkin-spice everything fills the stores, soon the hiking trails will be shadowed in the colors of the changing leaves.

"This time of year — September and October — are the best times of the year to be hiking," said Nate Goldberg, director of the Beaver Creek Hiking Center. "We don't have the wildflowers, but we do have the fall foliage, and there's just nothing like fall in Colorado."

Usually, the third week in September and the first week in October make up the peak season for fall foliage, Goldberg said, and the valley is just beginning to change colors.

Hiking this time of year can be different from summer hikes, from the gear involved to the timing of the hikes to what hikers will see.

'BE PREPARED'

With summer storms rolling in consistently in early afternoon, the fall months provide a more stable weather pattern, allowing hikers to worry less about the weather and not fear for being chased off of a peak.

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Goldberg recommends hikers still hit their turnaround points around noon, but September and October allow for some flexibility.

With cold mornings, warm afternoons and frigid temperatures — even snow — at some peaks, hiking with compactable layers is important when adventuring in the fall. Goldberg also recommends bringing a headlamp because the days are getting shorter, and early-morning ascents require illumination.

Light gloves and wool hats are also not a bad idea to bring along, Goldberg said.

"Pack like a pessimist, and hike like an optimist," he said. "Be prepared."

'MASS EXODUS FROM DENVER'

Hikers will soon see some telltale signs of fall hiking, which includes pikas collecting flowers and grass to take to their winter homes, marmots enjoying the last few weeks of the sun and underbrush changing colors and beginning the decaying process.

"You can smell it," Goldberg said.

Another telltale sign of fall hiking — the crowds flocking to see the fall colors in the Rocky Mountains.

"Pretty much, these next four weeks, there'll be this mass exodus from Denver up to the High Country for the fall foliage," Goldberg said.

Fall hiking coincides with hunting season, so he also advises hikers to be visible, especially on BLM land where hunters are more prevalent.

'HIKING OPPORTUNITIES'

Ideal fall hikes are at an elevation of 8,000-9,000 feet, before the deciduous forest turns to conifer forest up higher.

At Beaver Creek, "Aspen Glade, Allie's Way and Village-to-Village trails probably have some of the best, most beautiful colors that you'll see," Goldberg said.

In East Vail, there are trails that start with aspens and will feature prime fall foliage. Meanwhile downvalley, leaves near Sylvan Lake and Nolan Lake are starting to turn.

"We've got a lot of great hiking opportunities right in this area," Goldberg said.

The Beaver Creek Hiking Center offers guided hikes through mid-October, and the gondolas at Vail and Beaver Creek are switching to weekend operations starting Sept. 10. Call the Beaver Creek Hiking Center at 970-754-5373 or visit them at the information center at Beaver Creek.

And while snowfall will bring cheer to powder hounds, it can sometimes knock the leaves off of the tree before their prime.

"September and October are probably the best two hiking months out of the year," Goldberg said. "It doesn't get any better, so get out there."

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

Changing colors

In the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and temperature, leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears and the yellow to orange colors become visible.