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

Colorado Trail Ridge Road

Added by Kyle Colby

  • 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
  • Duration: A few hours

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). However, in the fall as the aspen turn, Trail Ridge is closed and the only way into the park is the West Portal north of Grand Lake, CO. 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!

Live Like a Local: On the way up have Breakfast at The Mountain Rose Café and sample some unique local fair (think hippie meets dinner).

The Mountain Rose Café 78542 U.S. 40 Winter Park, CO 80482 Open today 6:30 am – 2:00 pm

On the way out for a cold one:

Grand Lake Brewing Taphouse 9921 U.S. 34 Grand Lake, CO 80447

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

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More



Chillin, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:






Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Picnic Area

Are we missing something?

Suggest an edit

How to Get There

9 months ago

RMNP is gorgeous during autumn!

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!

9 months ago

10 months 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.

10 months ago

Added by 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

More Adventures Nearby

Hike to "The A" via the Foothills Trail

Colorado / Maxwell Natural Area

Why is there an A on the side of the mountain?  The "A" stands for Aggies. When Colorado State University was first founded in 1870, it was originally called Colorado Agricultural College.

Grant Whitty
2 Saves

Hike Arthur's Rock in Lory State Park

Colorado / Arthur's Rock Trail trailhead

The climb to the summit of Arthur's Rock in Lory State Park provides relative isolation and solitude just 30 minutes from downtown Fort Collins along with great hiking, trail running, mountain biking.

Josiah Roe
7 Saves

Hike the Spearhead

Colorado / Glacier Gorge Trailhead

Beginning from the Glacier Gorge trailhead, follow trail signs towards Mills Lake. At Mills, continue onward past Black Lake, and then continue hiking up into the incredible basin above Black Lake.

Kyle Frost
5 Saves