Summer hikes bring the heat, but fall hikes in Colorado bring cool trails, fewer crowds, and — best of all — a chance to see the brilliant colors of changing leaves. All across our state, hillsides and mountains are turning golden yellow, fiery orange, and deep red — but our leaves change quickly, so don’t miss your chance to experience their splendor! Read on to discover the best autumn hikes in Colorado.
Located a short drive northwest of Golden, Colorado, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is an easy alternative to more crowded trails in the area — like the popular North Table trail that overlooks the city of Golden and the Clear Creek Valley. You’ll find over 35 miles of hiking within Golden Gate Canyon, spread over 12 trails (all named after animals of the area like the black bear, mountain lion, and mule deer!). The Burro loop is a 4.5 mile trail which climbs almost 1,000 feet to the top of Windy Peak, where hikers can get an eye-popping panoramic view of mountains blanketed in blue spruces, golden aspens, and yellow-brown alders. Keep an eye out for picturesque rock formations, wayward elk, and late-season wildflowers! Golden Gate Canyon State Park requires parking passes, which hikers can purchase at the Visitor Center or at self-service kiosks along the road.
The Cathedral Lake Trail lies within the White River National Forest, located south of Aspen. The trail begins in a forest of aspens fluttering their celebrated golden hue, then climbs nearly two thousand feet in elevation to reach Cathedral Lake, nestled between Cathedral and Malamute Peaks. This out-and-back trail runs 5.6 miles and is recommended for experienced hikers due to its challenging elevation and high altitude. Check out the imposing granite stone around the lake, which is covered in native mosses and lichen.
For the best fall hikes in Routt County, just look for the characteristic “Rabbit Ears” formations that soar above Steamboat Springs. Although the “rabbit ears” (which are actually basalt volcanic rock columns) have partially deteriorated, they still make a fun destination for this moderately challenging 5.2 mile out-and-back hike. The Rabbit Ears Peak Trail begins near Dumont Lake, around 20 miles southeast of Steamboat Springs. The trail climbs around 1,000 feet in elevation through groves of pine, spruce, and aspen. Though the trail begins with a gentle elevation, it scrambles steeply near the top for a heart-pounding cardio workout with a sweet reward — panoramic views of the Yampa River Valley and Routt National Forest.
Boulder’s landscape wouldn’t be complete without its characteristic Flatirons: soaring sandstone rocks jutting sharply into the sky, blanketed in evergreen trees. The First and Second Flatirons Loop trail is a perfect way to access the first two formations before heading deeper into the mountains, and makes for a moderate 2.7 mile hike. Wear your best hiking shoes: The trail begins through a meadow bright with wildflowers in summer, but by the end you’ll be scrambling over sandstone to reach the summit. The view (all the way to the Continental Divide) is truly worth the climb! You can access this loop trail by either the Chautauqua Park trailhead — where aspens display their classic golden shades — or via the Enchanted Mesa trailhead to the east.
Clear Creek County
West of the Denver Metro Area lies Clear Creek County, which contains many of Colorado’s most treasured mountains and hiking areas. Some of these hikes start from the Guanella Pass Trailhead. From the Pass you can peep aspens to your heart's content, as well as Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans — two of Colorado’s beloved “14ers.” The Bruno Gulch trail is a bit more moderate than the more difficult hikes at the Pass, and heads along a babbling brook through pine and aspen woodlands. Best of all, Guanella Pass is only between a one- and two-hour drive from our Shea Colorado communities.
No matter where your fall hikes take you, your Colorado Shea home is the perfect retreat to return to at the end of a long and rewarding day in nature. Perfectly poised between urban sophistication and rural adventuring, our Colorado communities keep you close to the action — in all its spectacular seasonal glory.