In the 1850s, miners headed for the hills in search of silver and gold. These days, visitors and locals alike flock to the same mountains in search of aspens changing into a brilliant display of gold. Knowing where to go and what to do, along with being prepared with a few fall photography tips will help make the best of your autumn adventure.
There are numerous roads and trails that leaf peepers pursue, but if you’re looking for fewer crowds and cool, crisp mountain air, then Winter Park is the perfect place to begin your excursion. Biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and camping on the doorstep of Rocky Mountain National Park await recreation enthusiasts. While exact times that leaves change can fluctuate from year-to-year depending on weather, it’s a safe bet that the main event will occur during the latter part of September.
Did you know what Winter Park is known as Mountain Bike Capital USA? It could be the 600 miles of cross-country trails or maybe the two world-class downhill bike parks. From hardcore to mellow, if shredding single-track is your thing, then adrenaline junkies look no further than Bike Granby Ranch or Trestle Bike Park at Winter Park Resort, both of which are open through September. For a more secluded ride among brilliant fall color, check out Rogers Pass, a 5-mile ride gaining over 1,000’ of elevation and is rated as difficult. It’s a classic route, featuring panoramic views along the Continental Divide. For a longer ride, the nearly 30-mile Tipperary Racecourse Route is ideal for a final fall ride of the season. It gains 4,300’ and is rated as hard, but the effort is rewarded with vibrant red, orange and yellow leaves along creeks and meadows.
If taking it a little slower on your feet is more your speed, then the Meadow Creek Reservoir trail should not be overlooked. The 8.5 mile out-and-back trail climbs over 2,300’ through a mixture of aspen and pine trees that are stunning in the fall. Meadow Creek Reservoir features brook, rainbow and cutthroat trout so anglers should bring along their gear. The James Peak Wilderness Area boasts 14,000 acres of peaks, valleys, flora and fauna with a variety of trails from short, family-friendly hikes, to multi-day backcountry backpacking excursions so there’s an adventure for everyone to have their own secluded, up-close experience with the changing leaves.
The easiest way to leaf peep is to hop in the car and take a drive to where the color shines brightest. Cottonwood Pass/County Road 55 is a must-drive during autumn. County Road 55 is approximately 10 miles north of Winter Park and is designated a Colorado Scenic Byway in part for its dazzling display of color among aspen groves covering the road. The drive links Granby to Hot Sulphur Springs and onto Highway 40, which is also the Colorado River Headwaters National Scenic Byway. The free chairlift ride at Granby Ranch, 20 minutes from Winter Park, offers a tree’s perspective and provides visitors access to an abundance of hiking trails. While in the area, Rocky Mountain National Park is full of fall color and wildlife. The sounds of bugling elk echo throughout the valleys during the fall rutting season offer the perfect soundtrack on your leaf viewing journey. Other drives to check out include Corona Pass, Willow Creek Pass, Stillwater Pass, Ute Pass, and Church’s Park Road.
Casting a line into waters reflecting gold color is a highlight of anglers and Winter Park is known for its exceptional fly fishing. The Fraser River is the first main tributary of the Colorado River and is fairly flat with deep pools where large trout reside. The Colorado River begins on the west side of the divide in Rocky Mountain National Park and is fed by countless tributaries and endless fishing spots along the river’s journey through the region. Well-known smaller fishing creeks for angles to test their luck include Muddy Creek, Willow Creek, St. Louis Creek, and Vasquez Creek. There are also several ponds and lakes to choose from so fishermen will rejoice at the endless opportunities offered to them.
Not all the action happens out in the wild. The Town of Winter Park is host to a handful of happenings throughout the fall season. Happy hours, Barbecues, and Oktoberfest are events to look forward to when the air begins to cool and the leaves begin to change. You can even catch a unique perspective of the fall color and book a hot air balloon ride with Grand Adventure Balloon Tours and see what the birds see on a unique fall experience.
Perhaps the biggest reason people love to search for brilliant gold aspen leaves is to capture the spectacle with their cameras. The first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset is known as the golden hour. The warmer color temperature when the sun is closer to the horizon enhances the vivid aspen leaves. So be sure to get out during these times of the day for the richest colors. Don’t be afraid to shoot into the sun and play with back-lit scenes. The transparency of the leaves can make this angle particularly eye-catching. Experiment by shooting the same subject from multiple angles. Try wide angles and a greater depth of field to capture sweeping landscapes, zoom or walk in close to fill the frame with details, get down low, or find a higher vantage point. You’ll be surprised at how the same scene can look from several different perspectives, so shoot lots and edit your favorites later. Pay attention to the weather and how it can modify and create a certain mood to your photos. While the best light happens early and late in the day, afternoon thunderstorms can produce a dynamic feel to your images. Another really cool scene to capture is when seasons collide and you have fresh snowfall mixed with fall color. So get out there, explore, think different and you’ll come away with some spectacular images.
From bike rides and car drives, to hot air balloon flights and chair lifts, there’s a way for everyone to get out and enjoy the changing of the seasons. It’s a magical time of year for everyone to enjoy. Winter Park calls itself “Colorado’s Favorite Playground” and for good reason. There are endless opportunities to get out and play, but there’s only a short window of opportunity to do so while the colors shine their brightest so make your way to Winter Park this fall and enjoy all it has to offer.
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