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Best time to travel to Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Rocky Mountain National Park Fall Colors

Golden aspens carpet the mountains while snowy peaks tower above


Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen
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Located in northern Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is among the top five most visited national parks in the United States. With the Continental Divide running through the center of the park and the Colorado River traversing the park's northwestern corner, Rocky Mountain National Park boasts various climates and landscapes: mountains, alpine meadows and lakes, forests, and tundra. During the last two weeks of September, the park looks the best as its landscapes get completely transformed with golden tones.

When is the peak of fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park

The best time to see fall colors in both eastern and western parts of the park is from late September to the beginning of October. The fall foliage season usually peaks between September 18 and September 28. However, every year, the color change can occur slightly differently, depending on the weather.

Fall colors in Estes Park and Eastern Rocky Mountain NP

Estes Park serves as a base for the Rocky Mountain National Park in Northern Colorado. The peak of fall foliage here, late September to early October, coincides with the breeding season of large elk. Dusk and dawn are the best times to hear elk bugling. Overall, fall is a great occasion for wildlife and nature viewing hikes in the park. Take a scenic fall drive or bike ride on Bear Lake Road, which links Upper Beaver Meadows and Bear Lake. This 23 mi (36 km) road offers spectacular views as well as access to hiking routes and campgrounds, picnic areas, and the Moraine Park Discovery Center. Most popular fall-time trails include: Alberta Falls, Bear Lake, and Wild Basin.

Twin Sisters is another perfect hike, which passes through a thick aspen forest aflame with scenic fall foliage. The Twin Sisters/Lily Lake Trailhead is located just outside of Estes Park. The hike features a series of scenic switchbacks, a forest, and finally, a perfect summit view at the end.

In addition to scenic drives and hikes among the glorious aspen groves, the town of Estes Park invites everyone to the annual Autumn Gold Festival, held over a weekend in late September. Come to Downtown Estes Park-Bond Park and enjoy the change of seasons with street foods, live bands, and a classic car show. The admission is free. More information is available on the official website in the External Resources below.

Fall colors in Western Rocky Mountain NP

The west side of the park is a great fall destination. It's usually less crowded, and the colors are even more spectacular than on the east side! Take the Trail Ridge Road from Grand Lake to Timber Lake Trailhead, and you won't be disappointed by amazing fall foliage views. Make sure to stop at Fairview Curve Outlook to enjoy a stunning panorama of the Kawuneeche Valley and the Never Summer Range.

Scenic drives

One of the best ways to take in the scenes of fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park is while driving. The park is traversed by Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road. Both roads close for the winter season approximately in mid-October. Trail Ridge Road is one of the most scenic leaf-peeping routes in the park. The road is a 48 mi (77 km) stretch of US Highway 34 from Estes Park to Grand Lake. It is also called The Beaver Meadow National Scenic Byway. Trail Ridge Road boasts postcard views with colors ranging from green to yellow and bronze throughout September. Elk, bighorn sheep, bears, and moose are often spotted along the road. Old Fall River Road is a dirt road that starts at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It winds through the park up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Lush aspen groves, rugged mountains, and scenic waterfalls along the route make this road a must-see in the fall.

Once you are done with Rocky Mountain National Park, there're plenty of other scenic fall destinations in the state of Colorado that are worth checking out.