This report covers the weekend of October 7, 2017.
October 5, 2017 — On our visit to the Park this week, we fully expected to find bare and battered trees defoliated by the recent snow. Instead, we found large swaths of colorful aspens and only a few naked trees backdropped by snowy peaks — at lower elevations, at least.
Three to four inches of snow blankets the ground as you climb from Deer Junction toward Hidden Valley, a chilly reminder of the nasty weather that visited the Park in the past week. While the leaves in the east side parques largely survived the storm, the same cannot be said of the aspen stands above 9,000 feet. The aspen trees at Hidden Valley, so brilliant in weeks past, are largely barren now, as are those along Trail Ridge Road leading up to Many Parks and Rainbow Curve. The shrubby willows, however, have taken up the slack and paint the valley bottom a golden hue. You should take advantage of the Park’s high elevations this weekend while Trail Ridge Road remains open, but if leaf peeping is the goal, it’s not an ideal destination.
Luckily, while the color fades in the upper reaches of the Park, it is still going strong in the lower elevations. The aspens in Horsehoe Park are displaying peak fall foliage. The alluvial fan is a mix of color from both low shrubs and taller aspens, and also has nice sightlines of nearby aspens on the hillsides. A parking area and picnic table near the Lower Lawn Lake trailhead is a good destination for those looking for a picnic spot. The West Horseshoe Park pullout is nicely situated near some large aspen stands if you’re looking for a nice photo opportunity.
You’ll continue to find autumn colors moving into Moraine Park. The groves near the Beaver Meadows entrance station display a mixed palette of gold, orange, and red, made even more stunning by a snowy Longs Peak towering in the background. The Moraine Park elk exclosures delineate dense golden groves with a multi-layered canopy.
Unfortunately, the Fern Lake area appeared more battered than other places. The road from the bus stop to the trailhead was still lined with fall foliage, but the colors seem duller than last week. The trail itself, a highlight of our recent visits, also lacked the pop of weeks past.
Finally, what aspen report would be complete without an update on Bear Lake Road? No report of ours, that’s for sure! As it has been for weeks, Bear Lake Road and Glacier Gorge are absolutely stunning. The colors remain strong and most trees have now changed, creating mosaic of color on a long hillside facing Longs Peak. For the full experience, do yourself a favor and go hike the Bierstadt Lake Trail. You’ll climb for a mile with non-stop jaw-dropping vistas.
Most of the trails we’ve recommended in the past month are still great choices. You can also see our past aspen reports from earlier in the season.
Bierstadt Lake Trail — Each of the past few reports included a recommendation to hike the Bierstadt Lake Trail, and this week is no different. Simply put, it’s unrivaled for leaf peeping in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Alluvial Fan Trail — The alluvial fan is a surprisingly beautiful place right now. This (very) short trail won’t get your heart rate up, but the denuded landscape offers great vistas of nearby hillsides draped in fall color. Tall aspens loom over the parking areas and the trail weaves through a dense understory of low deciduous shrubs changing color. So you not only get great aspen colors, but you’ll experience the redder shades of Rocky Mountain maple and the yellow of changing chokecherry and willow.
Afield Trails’ 2017 aspen coverage
The science driving the color change in aspen leaves
Ute legends have the best stories for why the aspen leaves are as beautiful as they are, but the science tells a fascinating story too! Discover more of both legend and fact.
More fall foliage resources, for Colorado and beyond
Natural History Wanderings has a great collection of sources for fall foliage locations around the country. It’s also a great website for information on birds, wildflowers, and nature photography.
A new Loveland Reporter-Herald article discusses many of the great places visit in Northern Colorado right now (and features Afield Trails!).