Fall is in full swing here in gorgeous Winter Park, Colorado! Our lush Aspen groves and willow trees are beginning to change, with brilliant autumn hues of red, gold, and orange. September & October are the perfect months to visit to appreciate this glorious wonder. Experience all the fun leaf peeping for for yourself on one of the fall hiking trails below.
Local’s Tip: For updates on trail status, use COTREX (a mobile and desktop application for a statewide comprehensive and interactive trail map) to always have your maps with you.
1. Creekside / Flume Loop
Distance: 5 miles Elevation Gain: 254 Ft. Difficulty: Easy
This popular loop trail follows the creek and has a number of wildlife viewing opportunities along with meadows of golden aspens. Watch out for moose down in the willows! The trail starts on the north side of St. Louis Creek and heads west offering great views of Byers Peak. Once the trail reaches Leland Creek Rd (FS 159), the trail follows the road until it connects with the Flume Trail and heads back east toward the valley. The St. Louis Trailhead also offers access to the Creekside Loop which is a 2-mile round-trip hike if you are not feeling up for the 5-mile Creekside / Flume Loop.
2. Meadow Creek Reservoir
Distance: 8.6 miles Elevation Gain: 2,329 Ft. Difficulty: Moderate
Meadow Creek Reservoir is a beautiful lake located just outside the western boundary of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. This deep lake contains brook, rainbow, and cutthroat trout in case you want to pack your pole, but the fish aren’t the only colorful species in the area! The region is also surrounded by foliage that is bright and beautiful in the fall.
To access the lake, driving from Fraser toward Tabernash, turn right on County Road 83, keep left onto County Road 84 and finally Forest Road 129. An Arapaho National Recreation Area pass is required, you will see the pay station on your way up to the parking area. There is a picnic area with a vault toilet at the lake but no drinking water is available. No formal campground is available at Meadow Creek Reservoir. But there is dispersed open camping along the USFS Road 129 around the reservoir area. The reservoir is approximately 10 miles from the town of Tabernash.
Hike through an Aspen-Pine forest, which is even more stunning in the fall. Along the way, see wildlife, waterfalls, and even cross a few creeks. This trail is popular with hikers and bikers, it’s also dog-friendly so plan accordingly before you embark on your adventure.
3. JAMES PEAK WILDERNESS AREA
Distance: Varies Elevation Gain: Varies Difficulty: Varies
This 14,000-acre area, which straddles the Continental Divide, is an alpine wonderland that boasts sweeping views, powerful peaks and lovely lakes. Wildlife, including elk, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bear live here. The alpine meadows and forests of Englemann spruce, subalpine fir, and lodgepole pine are not only beautiful but also provide outstanding habitat for several species.
James Peak Protection Area elevation ranges from 9,200 – 13,294 feet and terrain varies throughout the area. Alpine Lakes and Mountain Peaks dot the landscape and stun. With so much open space, there are many different hikes you can take depending on your energy and skill level. Take a quick easy hike or adventure on a backcountry excursion. Here are a few of our favorites trails in James Peak Protection Area:
- Jim Creek – The trail head is located on the east side of highway 40 across from the entrance to Winter Park Resort about 2 miles south of the Town of Winter Park. The trail follows Jim Creek 3.5 miles up to a small falls meandering through large spruce stands and open meadows. Large swarths of colorful aspens along the mountainside on the opposite side of the creek
- Buck Creek
- James Peak (from Rogers Pass)
4. BOTTLE PEAK
Distance: 3.64 miles (one way) (1.4 on Forest Service Road, 2.24 on trail) Elevation Gain: 9,809 Ft. Difficulty: Moderate
Views of old growth forest, tundra, flora and hillsides covered with wildflowers and surrounded by breathtaking 360° mountain views. Bike or hike 3.2 miles on the service road to the trailhead on the right. Follow the trail up 11 switchbacks through the old growth forest. At timberline take the right fork and bear right across the tundra to the summit of Bottle Peak. Continue down the saddle to Bottle Pass. Bear right up the hill to Ptarmigan Peak.
Additional Colorful Hikes…
LELAND CREEK TRAILS
The trail head begins on the west side of Kings Crossing Road less than 100’ past the railroad tracks. This fall there is logging project underway by the USFS and trail access has been limited. A great option is a 4-mile out and back hike – Leyland Creek-Sundog- Akima’s Way and back. Spectacular panoramic views of Winter Park Resort, the Continental Divide, Vazquez and Byers Peak with colorful stands of aspens along the trails and mountainsides.
This area is on the east side of town with the trail heads starting about .6 miles from Hwy 40 up Rendezvous Way. Panoramic views of the town, Fraser Valley and surrounding mountains and the colorful aspens that dot the landscape. The trails take you through pine forests, aspens, and meadows. Make your own loop.
ELK MEADOW AREA
Take CR 72 west from Fraser about 3 miles to a large parking area by the Elk Meadow trailhead. A recommended 3-mile loop is Elk Meadow-D2-CR 158 back to the parking area. Walk through aspen as you view meadows and mountains covered with colorful aspen. Extend your hike by adding additional trails to your loop.
WINTER PARK RESORT
Book a Gondola ride to Sunspot where several hikes are available to view the aspens dotting the mountainsides and meadows throughout the Fraser Valley.
Trails that meander through meadows and mountainsides lined with aspens and willows with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Trail fee required.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Hike trails on the west side in the meadows along the Colorado River surrounded by colorful aspen. Fee required (reservations needed through October 11, 2021).