September 24  |  Our Communities

The Best Hikes to See the Changing of the Aspens

Now that it’s officially fall, we wanted to share a few of our favorite hikes to see the changing colors of the aspens! One of the first things I learned about Colorado after moving to the state was that the aspens put on quite a show in the fall. And I found this out well before the leaves began changing colors; people were that excited about it.

Those who eagerly anticipated autumn’s arrival spoke of breathtaking hikes I should embark on at just the right time in order to get the best views of these golden aspens. Suddenly, my fall weekends were booked.

If you are as curious as I was, here are a few hikes we recommend going on in order to see the changing aspens. And lucky for you, they are each relatively close to us! The hikes on this particular list progressively get farther away and more intense in difficulty. We figured that the higher your hiking dedication, the longer you’re willing to travel for some of the best autumn views in Colorado!

These are just a few of the breathtaking hikes for seeing the changing colors of fall. Do you have any favorites that are not on the list? We’d love for you to share those with us. Who knows, you may inspire us to try a new adventure as well!

Aspen Colorado Hikes

Bear Lake Loop at Rocky Mountain National Park

Hike Difficulty: Easy
Hike Distance: 0.8 Miles (roundtrip)
Elevation: 9,475 Feet

Grab your jackets, pack a picnic, hop in your car and head on over to this breathtaking gold mine of treescapes! This trail is perfect for anyone seeking a mellow and peaceful aspen experience. Little work is required to see views that will make your jaw drop. Rocky Mountain National Park hosts amazing views as a whole, but this particular trail is known for its display of golden aspens, doubled by the reflection on Bear Lake’s mirror-like surface.

The Bear Lake Loop trailhead is located at the end of Bear Lake Road, which is 9 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36. There may be an abundance of visitors to the park during the beginning of fall as this is a popular destination within the park. You may consider taking the free park shuttle or visiting on a weekday to avoid high foot traffic and crowded parking lots.

Your hike will begin just beyond the Bear Lake Ranger Station. The park recommends hiking the loop counter-clockwise so you can follow along with a booklet that can be purchased at the trailhead. The booklet provides natural, geographical and historical information that is sure to enhance your experience. Plus, you might just learn a thing or two!

As the trail circles around Bear Lake, you’ll be immersed in a forest of spruce, fir, pine and of course, aspen trees. You’ll soon have a commanding view of Hallett Peak on the eastern shore of the lake, and views of Half Mountain and Longs Peak as you near the northern shore. These are great opportunities to whip out your camera—there’s nothing quite like a mountain reflecting on calm lake water.

The trail is relatively flat with a hard-packed terrain, so it should be doable for all members of the family. There are also several benches to relax at in order to fully take in the spectacular views.

If you’re feeling up to it, continue on the network of trails that form a 12.5-mile loop linking Bear Lake, Lake Helene, Odessa Lake, Fern Lake and Cub Lake.

Aspen Colorado Hikes

Three Island Lake Trail near Buffalo Pass

Hike Difficulty: Moderate
Hike Distance: 12.2 Miles (roundtrip)
Elevation: 8,150 Feet

One of the most popular places to see aspens changing is in the Steamboat Springs area, located a few hours away. Buffalo Pass is just west of Steamboat Springs and is lined with an overwhelming number of glowing aspens. The pass eventually reaches the Continental Divide and Summit Lake, which provide wonderful views of fall foliage. If you want to skip the whole hiking idea, this scenic drive would be a great alternative!

However, if you want to get your boots muddy, the Three Island Lake Trail nearby is what you should set as your GPS destination. This hike is positioned in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness and supplies glacial lake views and a more substantial trek through coniferous forests and high-elevation meadows.

This stream-side trail is overflowing with lush greenery, but during the fall, the scene shifts to include yellow and orange aspen trees.

The hike is considered moderate in difficulty, but the length of the journey means you should come equipped with water, snacks, sunscreen and appropriate footwear. Be sure to take as many breaks as needed, which will also help you enjoy the scenery more — and your experience in general.

And guess what? You can also bring your dog along for the ride in case all of your human friends are booked for the weekend! Either way, enjoy the view at the top and take a long, well-earned break while you appreciate the stunning views that Three Island Lake Trail has to offer. And maybe while you’re up there you’ll start daydreaming about and planning your next and even greater feat — conquering a fourteener.

Aspen Colorado Hikes

Various Hikes Surrounding Maroon Bells

Hike Difficulty: Easy-Difficult (Depending on Hike)
Hike Distance: Depending on Hike
Elevation: 14,019 and 14,163 Feet

When discussing the aspen craze in Colorado during the fall, it is only right to mention the iconic Maroon Bells, which are famous fourteeners. Nicknamed the Maroon Bells, Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak are separated by about a third of a mile and are the most photographed mountains in North America.

We would like to draw your attention to a few hikes surrounding the Bells because they are just that spectacular this time of year and, well, always. Don’t worry, we’re not trying to trick you into climbing a fourteener on your casual Sunday afternoon stroll. These two towering beasts just happen to make an extravagant backdrop for whatever difficulty level of hike you choose. In other words, pick your poison! At least your surroundings will look pretty, blisters or no blisters.

The following hikes are among the most recommended hikes for optimal autumn views in the Maroon Bell area:

  1. Maroon Lake (Easy)
  2. Crater Lake (Moderate)
  3. Cathedral Lake (Difficult)
  4. American Lake (Difficult)

Be aware that you must take a shuttle to enter the Maroon Bells area from mid-June through October 4 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. You can park your car on site before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m. but be prepared to pay a $10 per vehicle fee.

Okay, now you know where to go. But you might be wondering when do I go?

Aspens start changing colors in late August in higher elevations and this transformation works its way down to lower elevations in October. So mid-to-late September is usually when you can expect to see those golden aspens at their prime.

Not a hiker? No sweat (literally).

There are various fall foliage drives — and even a zip-line or gondola tour! — that you might take instead.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF: ProTrails,, Earth Porm, The Trail Girl, Examiner, and TripAdvisor.

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