Besides the elk rut and their resonating bugles, another sure sign that fall is approaching in the Rockies is the aspen gold.
Throughout the summer, thin, emerald green leaves sprout on slender white birch trees, or aspens. Just as the toasty summer air brings a bit of chill, those leaves transform into golden yellow and orange and shimmer in the autumn breezes.
At some point, the leaves give up their fight against the increasingly stronger winds. Those lucky enough to hike through Rocky Mountain National Park during this time might feel like they’re at a confetti-strewn party when the aspen leaves fall from the branches. Some may even swirl around Estes Park lodging grounds.
Every aspen grove has a different time when its color is on display and when the leaves scatter. The primary aspen gold season occurs from late August in the upper elevations to mid-October in the foothills and valleys. Visitors will notice the golden patches of color on the mountainsides. Unless a trail goes up to those spots, they won’t be able to view these patches up close. Tourists fortunately can see them in other places in the park and surrounding the town. Here are two local favorites:
Bear Lake Road
One of the most popular drives in Rocky Mountain takes visitors to the Bear Lake Trailhead as well as other park trails. Along the way, the aspens line the road and run all the way up the adjacent hills and mountains. The best aspen gold viewing is along any of the park’s trails on an invigorating fall hike.
A two-year construction project will end on Oct. 9, and the improved road will be more accessible for the winter months. This also means that motorists can soon freely drive the 5.1 miles to the road’s end. If you should visit the park before that time, expect to take a shuttle bus to the Bear Lake parking lot.
Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway
For an even better view of aspen gold, many visitors drive south of town on Colorado State Highway 7 toward Allenspark. This postcard-worthy area is replete with soaring mountains, open-range ranch land—and countless groves of shimmering trees.
This road makes a terrific day trip from any Estes Park hotel and offers visitors quintessential Colorado scenery. From this road, side trips can be made to ghost towns such as Caribou, Hesse and Apex. Its endpoint lands motorists in the gaming towns of Black Hawk and Central City, where they can try their luck in the casinos.
Photo courtesy of www.eptrail.com
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