Top spots for viewing fall foliage

Fall is arguably one of the most beautiful times of the year, especially if you're lucky enough to visit the mountains. Although many mountain towns are blessed with stunning views of golden foliage, there is nothing quite like watching the leaves turn in Aspen Snowmass. Peak foliage season hits typically around the third or fourth week of September, and can be viewed from almost anywhere around town!

fall foliage in aspen snowmassPhoto: Aspen Snowmass / Jeremy Swanson

Whether you’re looking to take a scenic drive on a Saturday afternoon or want to completely immerse yourself in the trees, there is no shortage of fall leaf peeping views in Aspen Snowmass. Here is a list of some of the best spots to catch a glimpse of the autumn leaves this fall:

Maroon Bells and Crater Lake

maroon bells in fallPhoto: Aspen Snowmass / Jeremy Swanson

The most photographed peaks in North America are especially stunning during the fall, where visitors might witness a light dusting of snow atop the gold and orange leaves that surround the bells. A short walk from the shuttle drop off and parking lot brings you right into the perfect frame for a photo with the golden trees reflecting purple-and-white-striped peaks on the water. 

A 1.8-mile hike through a band of vibrantly colored aspens will bring you from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake, which sits in a rocky basin alongside more fall foliage. We recommend arriving around sunrise or sunset for the best views, with the sunset setting blaze to the already colorful leaves.

Cathedral Lake

fall leaves on the cathedral lake hikePhoto: Aspen Snowmass

A local favorite when it comes to hiking, the trek to Cathedral Lake is a difficult 6.4-mile journey, but the views of the surrounding scenery make the sweat all worth it. The first couple miles take you through a large aspen grove, where you'll be truly immersed in autumn scenery that is perfect for picture taking. The top of the hike lands guests by the emerald-green Cathedral Lake, where the raw edges of the mountain peaks provide the perfect backdrop for a fall afternoon. Make sure to keep your camera out on the way down to capture amazing views of the aspen-covered valley below!

American Lake

American Lake is one of the more popular day hikes in the Aspen area, and for good reason! The moderate 6.2-mile trip is an ideal choice for viewing autumn colors, as it takes you through long stretches of aspen grove and eventually up into the tree-lined American Lake. The hike back down offers more picture-perfect opportunities as you witness a sea of golden aspens blanketing the valley.

Hunter Creek

As part of a complex trail system that stretches from the Eastern edge of town to the Hunter Fryingpan Wilderness, Hunter Creek has something to offer for all levels of hiker. Immediately from the trailhead hikers are surrounded by golden aspens as the wind next to the creek. For inexperienced hikers the Benedict Bridge marks a great turnaround point (but not before you take in the stunning autumn views of downtown Aspen and Ajax below!), while seasoned hikers can opt to go a little further along the wash into a high alpine meadow, which provides a breathtaking array of colorful foliage.

There are a myriad of options to add miles to your hike, but most choose to take the Hunter Creek Cutoff, which winds past the Iowa Mine Shaft and connects to the Smuggler Mountain Trail on the way down.

Government Trail

This nearly 10-mile trail takes hikers from Buttermilk to Snowmass-or vice versa-and offers unrelenting views of the changing leaves and valley colors. The Government Trail alternates between vibrant aspen groves and ski runs, and turns into rolling terrain that passes through more aspen, lodgepole pine and flowered meadows rich with autumn color beyond the ski area.The trail can be started at either side and will often be referred to in two parts: Government Trail and West Government Trail.

Scenic Drives: Maroon Creek Road, Castle Creek Road and Independence Pass

We know hiking isn’t everyone's cup of tea, and luckily Aspen Snowmass has no shortage of beautiful mountain drives to view the fall colors. Maroon Creek Road will take you on a winding journey up through beautiful aspen groves and eventually ending at the base of the Maroon Bells. Keep in mind you can only drive your car up the canyon before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. from mid-June to early-October. Otherwise you can park at the base of Aspen Highlands and take the shuttle up.

fall colors on castle creek roadPhoto: Aspen Snowmass / Jeremy Swanson

South of Maroon Creek Road is Castle Creek Road, and another favorite for scenic drives during the autumn season. Castle Creek Road will take you past the historic mining town of Ashcroft, popular with fall leaf peepers, and through a riot of yellow aspens that glimmer in the sunlight. 

fall colors on the independence passPhoto: Aspen Snowmass

At 12,095 feet, Independence Pass is the highest paved pass in Colorado, and brings spectators from all over during the summer and early-fall seasons. This scenic byway provides fantastic views of the changing colors and has several pull-out points to get out and snap a few photos. There are also several hiking and camping opportunities along the pass for those looking to enjoy the crisp fall air.