Catch the Fall Colors on the West Side of Rocky Mountain NP

Colorado Trail Ridge Road

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Beginner

  • Season:

    Autumn

Bathrooms
Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Forest
Picnic Area
River
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Get amazing lake views on the start of your drive at Grand Lake. Take some great shots of the aspen changing colors. There is an abundance of picnic areas to hang out and relax.

A Fall adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park is among the most spectacular experiences Colorado has to offer. The change of the seasons offers an amazing change to the landscape that makes taking a bad picture darn near impossible. The light is perfect, the elk are in rut, and the mountains offer a backdrop that’s beyond description.Most people visit Rocky Mountain National Park via Estes Park and the East Portal and only venture onto the west side driving Trail Ridge Road (a unique adventure all its own). The road is generally open until mid October and all of the leaves have changed by then. The fall colors are best in the park between about Sept 18-28 (estimate, depends on the year). So the road is always open during this time unless there is some type of early snow storm. The colors are well worth the drive. Be sure to look in the meadows and on the edges of open areas around dawn and dusk as the elk are in rut and will be lurking around for you camera to capture.

While exploring, take Trail Ridge Road through Grand Lake and head north into the park. From there, you can wander trail ridge up to where it starts to climb up above 8000ft in elevation. Along the road there are numerous picnic areas, parking lots, and trail heads to stop and explore. Pack your camera, a lunch, and plenty of memory cards. Be sure to start early so as to catch the early light and have the longest time to explore.

Keep in mind that fall is a rather volatile time in the Rocky Mountains, be sure to plan for all weather conditions as you may see all four seasons make an appearance within an hour’s time span. Make sure you don’t ever approach rutting elk as the may become hostile and dangerous; use your telephoto lens and enjoy from a safe distance. Also, always check in at the local ranger station and ask what’s going on in the area as the staff may be able to direct you to wildlife, scenic, and trail locations based on your abilities and interests. Remember to Dress in Layers and most importantly, HAVE FUN!

On the way up have Breakfast at The Mountain Rose Café and sample some unique local fair (think hippie meets dinner). And then on the way down you can stop by The Mountain Rose Café or Grand Lake Brewing Taphouse for some great food and drinks.

Pack List

  • Cold Weather Gear (jacket, hat, gloves, etc)
  • Water (1-3liters depending on your size and consumption rate)
  • Camera Gear (note: I’m a photo junkie and carry a ton of gear with me: you don’t have to. It just makes the pack heavy)
  • Canon 70D (3 lenses)
  • GoPro 3+
  • Tripod & Monopod
  • Filters
  • Rain Cover for gear
  • Extra SD Cards
  • Cooler with food and drinks to enjoy
  • Headlamp
  • Light Gloves
  • Car
  • $15 for Park entry fee
Read More

Reviews

Overall rating: 

Leave a Review

This past fall, we took the Trail Ridge Road from the east side of RMNP to the west side, and it was incredible all the way through. The vibrant colors of the foliage and the abundance of elk are quite a sight to see!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

It's not one of the better places to view fall colors in Colorado but it's still pretty. The bigger forests of Aspens in the north are near Steamboat Springs and the Flat Tops Wilderness.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Kyle Colby

I travel, photograph, write, and drink local. The world is full of adventure and I'm out to find it. Always looking for a new place to wander, a new friend to teach me, and another experience in life. IG/T: @KColby87 -In the end, we are nothing but a collection of stories. Make yours worth reading - KColby

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

Nearby Adventures

Mountain Bike the Notch Trail

Colorado / Notch Trailhead

The trail is shared by mountain bikers and ATV users. The Notch Trail is located in the San Juan National Forest.  Photos: William Snow, Davey Nin, and Kent Kanouse

6 Saves

Hike the Hidden Valley Loop

Colorado / Hidden Valley Loop Trails

The trail is shared by mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners. The Hidden Valley Loop offers amazing views of the Animas Valley, especially when the foliage changes in the fall.

12 Saves

Hike the Jones and Dutch Creek Loop

Colorado / Jones Creek and Dutch Creek Trail

The trail is well maintained and is dog friendly. Bring extra water if using this trail in July or August.  Photos: Chris M Morris and Daniel Weber 

14 Saves