Posted by: Sandy Steinman | September 28, 2017

Rocky Mt. National Park Fall Color 9/28/17

Afield Trails has a fall color report for Rocky Mt. National Park with predictions for the week of September 28. See photos and learn about Afield Trails app for Rocky Mt. National Park at Current Aspen Conditions, 2017 – Afield Trails

The cold and wet weather this week will likely quicken the dropping of leaves and reduce the length of the leaf-peeping season, but there is still plenty of color to be seen. The aspens at lower elevations are finally changing and you will be able to find fall foliage throughout the park if you visit this weekend.

As in weeks past, the terrain along Bear Lake Road offers the most stunning vistas of autumn color, in my opinion. The whole east-facing hillside between the Bierstadt Lake trailhead and the Bear Lake parking area is full of color: red, orange, and yellow groves form a brilliant aspen tapestry. A few stands here and there retain their green leaves adding to the mosaic of color, but most of the leaves are now splendidly autumnal in their appearance.

For weeks, Hidden Valley was a great spot to see the leaves, but the recent snow and rain appear to have taken their toll: the area now has a mix of colorful leaves and bare trees stripped of their foliage. Because of bad weather this week I did not get much higher than 9,000 feet in elevation, but I expect that many of the higher-elevation groves are undergoing similar changes as Hidden Valley. You will still see nice colors, though the aspen stands may lack the fullness they exhibited early in the month.

Luckily, as the leaves begin to fall at higher elevations, they are just changing color in the montane forests and valleys of the park. Shrill bugles and large-racked bull elk make these areas even more enticing right now. Horseshoe Park is really pretty as the aspen leaves transition, and many of the trees in the elk exclosures add gold highlights to the valley. Entering from Fall River Road, a trip to Endovalley and the Alluvial Fan offers both great vistas of colorful hillsides and close-up views of transitioning groves. There are some gorgeous colors near the West Horseshoe Park pullout, and a picnic table near the Lower Lawn Trailhead overlooks a trail bordered by autumnal aspen trees. In addition to the aspens, many other species are also changing color right now. Rocky Mountain maple, chokecherry, and willows all contribute different hues to landscape and make the east-side parks particularly appealing.

The aspens are changing over in Moraine Park as well. There are a number of large groves as you approach the Moraine Park campground. Keep an eye out for elk in that area as well, as it is a popular place for the large mammals right now as they rut. The leaves only get better as you arrive in the Fern Lake area. The walk from the Fern Lake bus stop to the trailhead is lined with color, from the reddish understory up to the golden canopy. The Fern Lake trail is one of the best places you can visit for leaf peeping this weekend, and there are a ton of elk in the area as well.

Trail recommendations

Most of the trails we’ve recommended in the past month are still great choices. You can find past aspen reports here.

Bierstadt Lake TrailThe trail networks originating out of the Bierstadt Lake and Storm Pass trailheads are excellent starting points for a fall hike. The views from the steep and exposed hike are spectacular, and as you hike you can see all the groves in the valley. Because this trail is so exposed, I recommend doing it in the morning or late afternoon/evening on sunny days. It is not long, but steep and sunny.

Alluvial Fan TrailThe alluvial fan is a surprisingly beautiful place right now. This (very) short trail won’t get your heart rate up, but the denuded landscape offers great vistas of nearby hillsides draped in fall color. Tall aspens loom over the parking areas and the trail weaves through a dense understory of low deciduous shrubs changing color. So you not only get great aspen colors, but you’ll experience the redder shades of Rocky Mountain maple and the yellow of changing chokecherry and willow.

Fern Lake Trail to The Pool — The area around the Fern Lake and Cub Lake trailheads is gorgeous right now, and you will be hiking through all kinds of color on the Fern Lake Trail. Aspen leaves shimmer above you as the lush red and orange understory grace the trail with color. You can turn this hike into a large loop past Cub Lake or just do an out-and-back. Best of all, take the shuttle here from the visitor center and avoid dealing with parking.

Bonus scenic drive recommendation —The Peak to Peak Highway (CO 72) runs from Estes Park north past Nederland and offers a great Rocky Mountain Experience. You can access Rocky Mountain National Park from the Lily Lake and Twin Sisters trailheads, both of which currently host great autumn colors.

Nature isn’t static. Your guidebook doesn’t have to be either.
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See photos and learn about Afield Trails app for Rocky Mt. National Park at Current Aspen Conditions, 2017 – Afield Trails

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