Colorado Fall Bucket List: Top Must-Do Activities


Colorado is renowned for its incredible natural landscapes and abundance of outdoor activities across its diverse terrain that can help you fill your Colorado fall bucket list. From majestic mountains to red rock canyons lush forests to high desert plains, the Centennial State offers unique scenery and experiences for every season.

Fall in Colorado brings crisp air, golden aspens, and plenty of seasonal celebrations to embrace the changing colors. It’s the perfect time to take scenic drives through valleys of fall foliage, hike trails carpeted with colorful leaves, or relax at a mountain resort. Families, couples, and solo travelers alike will discover memorable adventures in Colorado’s autumn wonderland.


  • Colorado's fall season brings stunning golden aspens, autumn festivals, scenic drives, cozy mountain towns, seasonal cuisine, and cool weather perfect for outdoor activities.
  • Top experiences include hiking mountain trails swathed in fall colors, driving iconic routes like Independence Pass during peak foliage season, apple picking at orchards, and attending fall harvest celebrations.
  • The state's diverse landscapes, from the Rocky Mountains to Mesa Verde and the Colorado National Monument, offer ever-changing scenery and adventures as the season progresses.

Overview of Colorado’s Fall Landscapes and Attractions

From September through November, Colorado transitions from sunny summer days to chillier temps, shorter days, and dazzling fall colors. Aspen trees lining mountain slopes turn vibrant hues of gold and orange during the peak foliage timeframe of mid-September to early October.

Crisp air accentuates the long views over valleys and mountain ranges, like gazing at the San Juan Mountains or the terrain of Rocky Mountain National Park. The first dustings of snow on the highest peaks signal winter’s approach and the start of ski season at many resorts by mid-November.

In between hiking and biking trails, visitors can pick apples at the many orchards located on Colorado’s Western Slope and along the Front Range. Or sample seasonal craft beers like pumpkin ales and malty Oktoberfests at Colorado’s 200+ breweries.

The state’s scenic and historic byways also shine during the fall. Driving routes like the San Juan Skyway, Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, or Trail Ridge Road allow you to sightsee through a kaleidoscope of autumn hues. And you can even ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad past colorful hillsides dotted with evergreens.

Experiencing Local Culture and Traditions

Beyond the natural scenery, fall offers opportunities to experience local culture through community harvest celebrations, food festivals, and heritage events across Colorado.

Many towns host farmers’ markets and street fairs showcasing crops like apples and squash. You’ll find fall fruits featured in tasty pastries and ciders, too. Some quintessential Colorado flavors include Palisade Peaches and Pueblo green chile.

Don’t miss the signature event in Paonia – Pickin’ in the Park Bluegrass Festival. This September weekend is filled with live music and food draws pickers and music fans from across the state.

Also popular are Oktoberfest events, held in towns like Breckenridge, Durango, and Snowmass Village. Lederhosen-clad crowds fill the streets, swaying to oompah bands and raising steins of craft beer. You can even compete in bratwurst eating contests!

Top Scenic Drives and Hikes to See Fall Colors

One of the best ways to revel in Colorado’s fall beauty is by hitting the road or trails through landscapes draped in golden aspens and vibrant maples.

Here are some top scenic drives and hikes for leaf peeping:

The Million Dollar Highway – San Juan Skyway

This historic 25-mile stretch connects old mining towns Silverton and Ouray, winding past mountains glowing with fall foliage. Stop at overlooks for views and short hikes to waterfalls like Cascade Falls. Peak colors happen early here – late September to early October.

Guanella Pass Scenic Byway

This steep mountain road connects Georgetown and Grant, offering panoramic views of the Colorado Rockies. Pull over at designated areas like Geneva Lake Park to hike aspen groves and meadows turning golden. Prime time is late September into early October.

Maroon Bells Scenic Area

One of Colorado’s most iconic vistas is the towering Maroon Bells peaks reflected in Crater Lake. Hike the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail through shimmering stands of autumnal aspens. Due to its popularity, visitors must take a shuttle bus from Aspen Highlands to access the area after 8 AM.

St. Mary’s Glacier

Hike up to the shimmering blue lake ringed by rocky cliffs for a moderate mountain hike under a canopy of golden fall foliage. September to early October are best for colors here. Use caution as winter weather can arrive early.

And here are a few more stops you may wish to make along the way:

  • Pikes Peak
  • Estes Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Manitou Springs
  • Cripple Creek
  • Colorado National Monument
  • Grand Lake
  • Black Canyon
  • Aspen Mountain
  • Gunnison National Park
  • Vail Mountain

Can’t Miss Fall Festivals and Events

From food and music celebrations to heritage events, Colorado communities host a bounty of special happenings to welcome the fall season.

Telluride Blues and Brews Festival

This popular September weekend combines acclaimed blues musicians with top Colorado microbrews amid the picturesque mountain scenery of Telluride. Sip craft beers while swaying to blues riffs in the festival grounds with the dramatic San Juan Mountains all around.

Four Corners Folk Festival

Over three days in early September, Pagosa Springs hosts this family-friendly music festival celebrating cultural heritage. Expect plenty of folk, bluegrass, and traditional dance performances, as well as local Native American culture.

Cortez Cultural Center Scarecrow Festival

Taking place over one October weekend, this creative community event displays dozens of unique handmade scarecrows across Cortez. Take selfies with whimsical scenes while also enjoying live music and fall foods.

Emma Crawford Coffin Races – Manitou Springs

This wacky and macabre race down Manitou Avenue features homemade coffins on wheels, with teams in costume racing to the finish line. It takes place in late October to honor Emma Crawford, a Victorian woman whose coffin was unearthed by rain and slid down Red Mountain.

Preparing for Winter: Early Skiing and Holiday Kickoffs

While fall days can still deliver sunny skies and warm temps, nights grow cold quickly in the Colorado high country. By mid-October, many ski resorts launch their earliest openings, revving up snow machines to build a base layer for avid skiers and boarders.

Here are some popular early-season ski resort opening dates:

  • Arapahoe Basin – Mid-October
  • Keystone – Mid-October
  • Loveland – Late October
  • Breckenridge – Early/Mid November

Some resorts also host pre-season festivals like Arapahoe Basin’s Beach Bash with live music and crazy pond skimming in mid-September. Breckenridge gets the holidays started early too – the town kicks off Christmas festivities over Thanksgiving weekend.

Top Family-Friendly Activities for Fall

From friendly mountain towns with kid-centric sights to farms offering hayrides and corn mazes, Colorado serves up plenty of family fun during the fall months.

Mesa Verde National Park

This archaeological wonderland features 600 cliff dwellings once inhabited by Ancestral Pueblo people. Ranger-led tours and hikes reveal ancient history amid the colorful canyon landscapes. September/October brings fewer crowds and pleasant weather.

Colorado Railroad Museum

Located in Golden, the Colorado Railroad Museum offers train rides aboard a historic 1880s steam locomotive chugging past fall scenery. Interactive exhibits also showcase Colorado’s railroad history through model train layouts and a roundhouse.

Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms

Kids will love exploring this working farm via hayrides, cow milking demos and corn mazes. Pick pumpkins, gourds and apples from the orchards and harvest barns overflowing with fall produce. Open late September through October.

Great Pumpkin Patch Festival – Steamboat Springs

Over one October weekend, this huge community event hosts free pumpkin picking plus carnival rides and games, zoo animals, arts and crafts, and entertainment for families celebrating fall.

Outdoor Adventures for Thrill-Seekers

While summer is prime time for most outdoor recreation, Colorado’s fall season allows adventures like mountain biking, rock climbing, or backcountry hiking under cooler and often drier conditions. It’s also the chance to get early turns in at the ski resorts.

As winter nears, some high-altitude trails and passes close due to weather concerns, so plan appropriate adventures based on conditions.

Popular fall activities include:

Mountain Biking

Cooler fall temps make an ideal time to bike the varied trails across Colorado without overheating or afternoon thunderstorms. Some top areas include Fruita, Winter Park, Crested Butte, and Durango’s Purgatory Resort.

Rock Climbing

The ridged sandstone walls and canyons surrounding the Colorado National Monument offer hundreds of climbing routes for all abilities amidst stunning fall scenery.

Backcountry Hiking and Camping

Trek to alpine lakes and make base camp under the colorful canopy of fall foliage across the Rocky Mountains and national forests. Practice cold weather safety as autumn nights get frigid.

Early Skiing and Snowboarding

By mid-October, several resorts kick off their seasons with limited terrain but plenty of festive cheer. Hit the slopes and après ski parties before the big crowds arrive!

Relaxing Retreats and Leisure Activities

Between all the high-adventure options, Colorado also boasts plenty of ways to bliss out amid the golden landscapes during the fall off-season. Soak in scenic views through a wine glass, rejuvenate at a spa, or unwind on horseback rides through the aspens.

Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tours

Sample award-winning Colorado vintages at the 200+ wineries clustered around the Western Slope. Balloon rides, wine-pairing dinners, and grape stomps make for fun outings.

Historic Hot Springs Pools

Melt away stresses while soaking in the thermal waters inside Glenwood Springs’ massive hot spring pool or at the snug vapor caves in historic Ouray.

Spa Relaxation

Luxuriate with a soothing massage, replenishing facial, or a relaxing soak at a high-end resort spa in destinations like Vail, Breckenridge, or Pagosa Springs. Many run fall specials, too!

Dude Ranch Vacations

Bond with horses and breathe in the crisp mountain air while staying at a dude ranch resort. All-inclusive ranches offer guided trail rides, campfire singalongs, and activities for all ages to experience the West.


What is the best time to visit Colorado for fall colors?

Peak fall foliage season runs from mid/late September through early October, depending on elevation and location. Aspen trees at higher elevations change first. Schedule trips to mountain towns like Steamboat Springs, Durango, and Breckenridge during this window.

What should I pack for a Colorado fall trip?

Weather varies dramatically across Colorado in autumn so pack layers and variable gear. Essentials include light jackets, hats/gloves, hiking shoes and cold weather accessories for possible snow at high elevations.

What winter activities start early in the fall season?

By mid-October, many Colorado ski resorts kick off their seasons with limited terrain openings. Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Loveland typically have the earliest openings for skiing and snowboarding.

Are fall festivals and events kid-friendly?

Many Colorado fall festivals like farm harvest celebrations and community parades welcome families and offer special kids’ activities. Others like beer fests and music events may restrict young children. Check individual event details for age guidance.

How can I best experience Colorado’s fall natural beauty?

Some top ways to marvel at Colorado’s blazing fall foliage include driving historic scenic byways like Trail Ridge Road, hiking through golden aspens groves, riding the Durango-Silverton train, or taking a hot air balloon ride over vibrant autumn landscapes.


About the author

Shannon Persad

As a seasoned journalist and Colorado native, I bring a deep-rooted connection and comprehensive understanding of Colorado to my work at My appreciation for the state’s rich history, vibrant culture, and pressing environmental issues drives my commitment to exploring its evolving landscape—from the bustling urban centers to the tranquil mountain towns.