10 Colorado Mountain Towns To Explore This Fall
Special Thanks Wendy Altschuler FORBES Contributor
Colorado is a year-round destination for adventure and outdoor fun, but fall is a particularly glorious time to visit the state. It’s the season of the golden aspens, when the air is cool and fresh.
From hiking, biking, and fly fishing to open-air festivals and events to leaf peeping opportunities, there’s much to do in the Centennial State this time of year. Colorful Colorado is home to a whopping 58 mountain peaks above 14,000 feet. These fourteeners, or 14ers, provide outdoor activities for all skill levels each season. Keep reading to discover the best things to do in 10 top Colorado mountain towns.
Enjoy a free gondola ride, no matter what time of year, which will give you easy access to hiking and biking in the warmer months, and skiing and snow sports in the winter. The gondola links Telluride with Mountain Village on a quick 13 minute experience. Fly fishing on the San Miguel, Gunnison, or Uncompahgre Rivers is also a popular activity. Visit the Telluride Arts District, one of the very first creative arts districts in the state. And, of course hiking is big in Telluride, with over 90 trails to explore. The Telluride Via Ferrata route is challenging, with breath taking views.
Just 90 minutes from Denver, yet seemingly a world away, Estes Park is the gateway town to Rocky Mountain National Park. Inside the park, you can hike on 355 miles of trails, enjoy a scenic drive with animal sightings—the highest continuous paved route in North America travels through Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park to Grand Lake, have a picnic, go camping, join an informative ranger-led program, go horseback riding, or try your hand at fishing.
One of the most unique things about this mountain town are the elk—herds are everywhere, especially during the fall rutting (mating) season. In the autumn there are a number of events as well to enjoy like Beer, Brats, and Bands: Autumn Gold Festival and Attention Model Trail Aficionados: Rails in the Rockies.
Featuring mountains and valleys, this mountain town seemingly has it all. There’s a cute downtown with plenty of shopping, dining, and nightlife. Every outdoor pursuit imaginable is at your fingertips, from biking, hiking, fishing, and camping to leaf peeping in the fall. One of the best things to do is visit Strawberry Park Hot Springs, part of the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop.
Autumn is a great time to spot migrating sandhill cranes; horseback ride through the aspens; take a scenic drive; marvel at Fish Creek Falls; and see a 110 year-old barn and hike to the top of Hahn’s Peak, a steep 3.6 mile round-trip wonder with panoramic views.
The air is a bit thinner in Silverton, in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, at 9,318 feet. You’re never far from outdoor activities as this town is situated within 15 miles of seven of Colorado’s famous 14,000-foot peaks. Silverton regularly makes tourist lists for “Best Hiking Mountain Towns” in Colorado.
The Million Dollar Highway is one of the best ways to take it all in—it’s one of the most beautiful roads in the country. You can ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, visit the Animas Forks ghost town, and wander around the historic downtown district full of shops, restaurants, and places for downing a cold one. Due to its mining history, Silverton is a National Historic Landmark District.
Dreamy and indicative of a classic Colorado mountain ski town, there’s plenty to do year round in Breckenridge. In the fall, drive the Boreas Pass Scenic Road, spend time wandering the streets in the downtown where you’ll find over 100 restaurants and bars, pop in Breckenridge Brewery and Pub, enjoy the thrill of mountain biking at French Gulch, visit the Country Boy Mine, and go hiking on one of the many trails—there are hundreds of options in and around the town.
Breckenridge also has a trendy and quirky arts district, perfect for finding one-of-a-kind treasures.
While winter skiing is the most well-known activity to do in Aspen, autumn is a wonderful time to visit, when the scenery is stunning, the air is crisp, and the Maroon Bells are in full show-off mode. To see the fall foliage, go hiking or biking, take a scenic drive, or enjoy a birds eye view from a gondola. Adventure seekers can go paragliding or stand-up paddle boarding to see the landscape from a newfangled perspective. Visit the Aspen Saturday Market, Aspen Art Museum, and check out a hot air balloon ride. Being outside during this season is truly a gift in Aspen.
The mountain air in Crested Butte simply doesn’t get any better. While the town is known as the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado”, there is no shortage of activities and events to do here throughout the year, from art galleries and the Center for the Arts to outdoor activities like biking, hiking, camping, fishing, and horseback riding to festivals and events.
Love trail running? Take part in a fun run or race or be a part of an established running community. Want to try rock climbing? Check out Taylor Canyon, Hartman Rocks Recreation Area, or a number of indoor gyms throughout the town. Crested Butte is a walkable and friendly town—you’ll have easy access to fun and entertainment.
Folks love Leadville in the fall for its uncrowded trails, the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad, the silver mining ghost towns, and all of the horseback riding opportunities. See the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum and the Healy House Museum & Dexter Cabin. Downtown Leadville has shops, restaurants, museums, and an old-town historic feel.
Arguably the most popular thing to do in Glenwood Springs, Colorado’s “land of water”, is to visit Glenwood Hot Springs Resort and take a dip in the thermal pools. Iron Mountain Hot Springs opened in 2015 and Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves is one of the few places on Earth where guests can experience a natural geothermal steam bath.
Located at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers, this town is also known for water sports and fishing. Kayak through Glenwood Canyon, visit Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon, marvel at Glenwood Caverns and experience the thrills at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
Known as the “Switzerland of America”, Ouray is a picturesque Colorado mountain town surrounded by the rugged beauty of the San Juan Mountains. There are five sulphur-free hot springs, with Ouray Hot Springs being the favorite. Visit Box Canyon Falls Park to view a stunning 85-foot waterfall. A unique museum, the Ouray Alchemist Museum, tells the story of pharmaceuticals in the state of Colorado and the Ouray County Museum is a sweet little history museum set in an 1880s miner hospital.
For more, follow travel writer, Wendy Altschuler on Instagram. Special Thanks to Forbes