Colorado’s Greatest Fall/Autumn Drives and Road Trips

Willow Lake from Willow Peak

When was the last time you loaded up your vehicle and had a proper Fall/Autumn road trip through the Rocky Mountains? We know that Colorado used to be a hidden treasure chest of precious metals, but today most of that treasure has been cashed in. In fact, many of Colorado’s ghost towns and mining areas have been raided and picked over by looters, who have literally taken everything, including the stuff that was nailed down (like kitchen sinks).

But don’t you worry, there are still a few closely guarded secrets that Colorado holds for those with a trusty vehicle, legs of steel (if you plan on biking or hiking) and an adventurous spirit. In celebration of the change of seasons, we present six of Colorado’s best-hidden treasures for leaf-peeping and all-out adventure, but let’s just keep them between us, shall we?

Pay Your Respects
at the Snowmass Shrines

What do Elvis Presley, John Denver, Frank Sinatra, and Jerry Garcia all have in common?

Yes, they are all famous and dead. However, according to Colorado locals, the spirit of these men is very much alive in the Snowmass ski area. The Snowmass Shrines are a tribute to the various musicians, heroes, sports teams, and ski pioneers who have touched our lives, and their memory lives on through the photos, metal art, souvenirs, and trinkets that have been pinned to the trees in the area.

Unfortunately, there are no directions to these 50-plus shrines, so you’ll have to hunt them all down yourself. But let us assure you that this ‘Easter Egg hunt’ is a beautiful trek through the forest, whether you’re battling the snow, sun, or beautiful fall foliage.

Photos via David Wood of AspenSnowmassShrines

How’s Your Aspen?
Too Busy to Travel, We’d Guess

One beautiful Fall morning we found ourselves faced with the decision: Should we hike up the Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, Capital Peak, or Snowmass Peak?

According to mountain trekker, Andy Crisconi, if you start your voyage up Willow Peak, through the Maroon Bells/Snowmass wilderness area, you can experience all four of these majestic Colorado treasures for the time and energy of a one-day trip.

Andy has given the direction, we’ve offered the inspiration, and now the leg work is up to you. But like a lemon in your autumn tea, we can promise any effort will be well worth the squeeze.

Photos via Andy Crisconi of One World Trekking

Discover Your Roots
in Leadville

You may or may not have roots here in Leadville, but either way, it feels like home once you get here. Leadville is one of the highest incorporated cities in North America, which leads to some incredibly spectacular autumn foliage that literally surrounds you from every viewpoint.

Some of the best ways to see the foliage are by horse, train, and zipline (rips at 11,200 feet). With that said, the traditional road trip works too. Just load yourself and a couple of good friends into a vehicle (a 4×4 will not be necessary) and head up Interstate 70 to the top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway. From that point on, let beauty be your guide.

In and around town, you can discover some of the rich and wild histories that lie behind all those beautiful aspens. They have museums, mine shafts, an abandoned resort, and the historic Tabor Opera House. You will not have difficulty filling your entire day with memories that will last a lifetime.

Photos courtesy of and the Denver Public Library

Dine with the Owls and Bathe with the Eagles
in Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Strawberry Park, located in Steamboat Springs, is something that a lot of Colorado locals know about. And the trip here is absolutely gorgeous in the autumn.

However, what not everybody knows, is for as low as $70 a night, you can rent a cabin, wake up at the crack of dawn, and sink yourself into the 104-degree natural mineral water, long before the pools are even open to the public. Yeah, we kid you not.

Combine that enveloping warmth with the crisp, blissful reminders of Fall surrounding you, and you’ll soon forget your troubles ever existed.

Get Spooked
in Phantom Canyon

As Fall creeps its way underneath your doors, it brings with it hints of Hallows Eve, which is actually not all that far off. Did you know that you can mix a bit of fright with some of that beauty and solitude, which is a rare feat in the busy mountains of Colorado? You see, Colorado’s greatest foliage treks have all been let out of the bag, so anytime you try to take a leisurely drive, you end up bumper-to-bumper with the other tourists trying to fit a lifetime of foliage into a couple of days.

Well, this is not the case with Phantom Canyon (located less than an hour from Colorado Springs). During this 30-mile road trip, you will experience some of Colorado’s most colorful fall colors, wildlife, unique tunnels/bridges, and spooky roadside rocks (the rocks resemble shadows of phantoms during the evening).

While you’re enjoying the scenery, keep in mind that you are also getting a glimpse of the route once traveled by the Florence and Cripple Creek railroad, built in 1884.

Based on our experience, we’d recommend a 4×4 or all-wheel drive as your best mode of transportation. This road is only open from summer through early fall, so don’t wait too long. Thanks for the tip, Amanda!

Photos via Amanda and Jeremy Krill

Hang Out with the Wild Bunch
at the Bucksnort Saloon

There are lots of hole-in-the-wall treasures in Colorado’s mountain towns, but the Bucksnort Saloon has a special place in the hearts of many Colorado locals.

“We go to this dive bar in the middle of nowhere near Conifer every time we visit or have guests,” says Colorado native, Gina Freize. “The burgers are true, the bar is old, and the setting is hilarious.”

As hinted above, Gina recommends bringing a designated driver to take in the full experience. You will also need to plan around their schedule, as they are only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Photos via Gina and Roger Freize

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About Dr. Eric J. Leech

Eric has written for over a decade. Then one day he created, a site for every guy.

About Dr. Eric J. Leech

Eric has written for over a decade. Then one day he created, a site for every guy.