The autumnal equinox is still two weeks away — on September 23 — but fall has most definitely kicked off in Colorado. Aspens around the state are already starting to paint them thar hills gold, and those in Southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains are no exception.
Experts agree that if the cool, sunny conditions continue, Colorado fall colors will be show-stoppers this year. Aspens between 9,000 and 11,000 feet elevation are the first to start changing in early September, progressing through to aspens at 8,000-9,500 feet by late September.
Trying to catch Colorado fall colors at their peak can be tricky. Cold snaps or early wet snow can cut the show short, so it’s usually best to go in mid- to late-September and try to get your fill of chlorophyll (see what we did there?!) before mid-October.
Here are some ways to enjoy fall colors in Durango and around Southwest Colorado:
San Juan Skyway
Take a drive on the San Juan Skyway, a 236-mile scene loop through the San Juan Mountains that passes through Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Telluride and Dolores. The drive offers stunning views of red-painted mountains, two 14,000-foot peaks, and plenty of golden aspens, especially along the 70-mile stretch called the “Million Dollar Highway.”
Dallas Divide and Lizard Head Pass
Dallas Divide and Lizard Head Pass is another favorite for fall colors in Southwest Color. Start in the town of Ridgway and take Colorado Highway 62 over Dallas Divide for great views of aspens all along the Mt. Sneffels range. The route takes a turn southeast on Colorado 145 to to Telluride. Then the entire 15-mile stretch from Telluride to Lizard Head Pass is packed thick with aspen groves.
Other Fall Color Drives
Some other recommended fall color viewing areas include Red Mountain Pass, which straddles the dividing line between Ouray and San Juan counties about an hour north of Durango on U.S. 560. Another favorite fall foliage drive in Southwest Colorado is US 160 between Pagosa Springs and Cortez — with Durango smack in the middle of the route.
Durango is the perfect home base for fall foliage. The city has all sorts of amazing restaurants, local breweries and fun stuff to do when you’re done hiking, biking and driving around the region to see Colorado’s fall colors. Be sure to book your room at the Durango Quality Inn for your fall foliage adventures!