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5 Scenic Autumn Drives in Colorado

photo by @outdoorx4

1. Autumn Drive to Last Dollar Road

Drive from Ridgway up to Telluride to find scenic views of the enchanted aspen forests that set the magnificent San Juan peaks ablaze with autumnal hues. Last Dollar Road takes you on a journey through the rural mountain countryside that you won’t soon forget. And it is one of the most scenic autumn drives in Colorado.

Prepare to pull over many times to capture the panoramic views of the thick autumnal forests. It will take approximately 3-hours to travel 13.1 miles on a bumpy dirt road. But it should be easy enough for any 4×4 vehicle. But use your own judgment and turn around if you feel the need.

The road is very narrow in spots and when it gets muddy and slippery after a rainstorm it can be hard to manage for any vehicle. This means the road is only open seasonally from June to November and is best attempted on a clear day. There will also be a few water crossings and possibly deep holes that will require extra care. All things to consider before you make the drive up.

No matter how far up you travel there will be wonderous scenic viewpoints that will require you to stop and take in the landscape for an extra moment. A picture-perfect photo opportunity is around every bend. Autumn may offer bright autumn hues but this road is also a popular destination to see valleys full of wildflowers in summertime.

photo by @wonderyonder.photography

2. Autumn Drive to Kebler Pass

Kebler Pass is known as one of the best places in Colorado to see fall foliage. This road stretches a long, 31.1 miles through the thick ecosystem of aspen trees in the Gunnison National Forest. Travel from Highway 133 to Paonia National Park and take the road all the way up to Crested Butte for the most scenic route.

This road is only one segment of the West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway which starts in Carbondale and loops around some of the most beautiful mountain towns and ends in Crested Butte.

There will be a lot of history and deserted mining towns to see on your journey. The road follows the Rio Grande Railroad past the old Keystone Mine and through Irwin and Ruby, which were old mining camps back in the day. Then there is the lumber camp of Telco. And coal mining town called Floresta.

This should be a much quieter route than Independence Pass in Aspen. When the leaves are at their peak the whole city swarms these beautiful places. If you go on a weekday it will be much calmer.

The road is suitable for any vehicle, even campers. And there is a lot of great camping spots along the way including Lost Lake and Lake Irwin.

Be prepared for the possible chance of rain and mud. Come prepared with a rain coat and rain boots just in case.

photo by @kirkjen1

3. Autumn Drive to Boreas Pass

There are always so many mining towns in Colorado that go undiscovered by most because they are off the beaten path, down a bumpy dirt road. If you take Boreas Pass deep into the Rocky Mountains you will find a small village named Como. Como was also a former railroad town that used to provide access to Breckenridge for families working on the mines in Como.

Travel East on 285 to Fairplay to begin your voyage up to Breckenridge. This is a great scenic route to take instead of I70. It adds extra travel time but it is worth it for the grand scenery.

The entire hour-long journey will be lit up with bright autumn colors as you trek up the 11,481 ft summit. There will be tantalizing views of the Blue River Valley and the Tenmile Range that will make you want to set up a homestead in the poetically vast mountain scenery.

This road is friendly for most vehicles as long as the weather permits it.

4. Autumn Drive to Trail Ridge Road

The famous Rocky Mountain National Park is on every adventurer’s bucket list. Even before they built Trail Ridge Road the builders knew what kind of legacy it would hold. They meticulously thought out every detail for the most scenic views. When the road opened for the first time it was like opening Disney World. The first traveler embarked on the unforgettable “scenic wonder of the world”.

Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles between Estes Park and Grand Lake. 11 miles gets you on top of the world at an 11,500 ft elevation. The alpine wildflowers in the summertime and autumn leaves in the fall make this autumn drives in Colorado one you do not want to miss out on.

Pika, marmots, big horn sheep, bears, elk, and moose are often spotted in this Rocky Mountain wilderness. Along with 200 different varieties of plants. The wildflower season is short here. Often only lasting 40 days. The weather turns quick high up in these mountains. The conditions are often compared to the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic.

If you decide to make this journey make sure you don’t rush things. There are a lot of stopping points to take in before you get to the top. Put aside some time to wander the trails too. Autumn is a magical time to discover this wonderland.

5. Autumn Drive to Piney Lake

Piney Lake is nestled at the foot of the Gore Range on Piney River Ranch. The ranch is 40 magical acres of pure adventure and scenic vistas. The road is 12 miles long but the nature of the road will have you moving very slowly to the lake. It is extremely bumpy and not suitable for all passengers. But any 4×4 vehicle can manage.

This adventure is a great day trip from Vail and offers an abundant amount of activities in the summer and fall. Like hiking, fishing, canoeing, and more. There is also lodging for those who want to stay the night. And the picture-perfect landscape is a popular destination for weddings.

We managed to travel here a few years ago just when the aspens were starting to fade away. It was a warm summer day in September. All the activities were shut down for the season. So we said we had to return another year for canoeing and more hiking. But one thing that we especially loved about this location was hearing actual silence for a change. It was ominously quiet that evening. Not a plane or cricket within earshot. Just pure quiet in the wild.

Here is my blog about our adventure to Piney Lake.

So Many Scenic Autumn Drives in Colorado

There are many more autumn drives to experience here in Colorado but these five I can say with certainty that you will love. From my own experiences traveling down these roads has been a life-changing experience. There are 10 scenic byways in Colorado that I hope to see lit up in all the glowing autumn hues. And I am sure there are even more hidden roads that I will stumble upon along the way.

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