Roads Less Traveled

Autumn Mountain Drives in Colorado
As the snow begins to fly don't miss out on the last of Colorado's color season.  

By Lisa Van Horne

Red Mountain Pass greets motorists with astounding beauty. Photo - Neill Pieper

Red Mountain Pass greets motorists with astounding beauty. Photo - Neill Pieper

Upper right, the aspens and shrubbery create the perfect scene on the way to Shrine Pass. Photo: Matt Inden/Miles

Upper right, the aspens and shrubbery create the perfect scene on the way to Shrine Pass.

Photo: Matt Inden/Miles

As summer turns to autumn, hues of green aspen burst into yellows oranges and gold, and the state’s mountain towns and roadways turn into fall spectacles.

It’s no secret that one of the best ways to take in Colorado in its autumn glory is by car, on a blissful drive to nowhere, wherein the journey is more important than the destination. There are bountiful roadway options twisting through the Front Range and the Rockies, some heavily trafficked and some tucked away. Here is a list of some of the roads less traveled so you can get fully immersed. 

So grab a coffee and a bag of snacks, hop into your car and enjoy these beautiful natural drives through Colorado’s mountains.

 

Shrine Pass

Known as a prime road from which to view lush, gorgeous wildflower meadows during the summer, Shrine Pass is also a wonderful drive in autumn. West of Frisco on the border of Eagle and Summit counties (just northwest of Vail Pass) this road offers views of prominent pines, fields of flowers, and a distant view of Mount of the Holy Cross. Traversing the pass, you’ll feel immersed quickly and completely in your mountain surroundings, and there are ample opportunities to hop out of your car to do a bit of hiking or exploring along the way. 

The clouds settle in below Dunckley Pass. Photo: Paul Johnson

The clouds settle in below Dunckley Pass. Photo: Paul Johnson

Dunckley Pass

Views within the White River National Forest via Dunckley Pass are unparalleled. The journey to the pass is beautiful in and of itself. Whether you approach Yampa (then turn west toward the pass) from the north or the south, visitors cruising along will be treated to panoramic views in all the vivid colors of fall. 

McClure Pass

One of Colorado’s scenic and historic byways, McClure Pass is just south of Glenwood Springs, between Carbondale and Paonia. Along the boundary of Pitkin and Gunnison counties, the pass and its West Elk Loop wind through a bounty of natural beauty from forests and small mountain towns to aspen groves and views of Paonia State Park. 

Lizard Head Pass

Within the San Juan Mountains on the border between Dolores and San Miguel counties, Lizard Head Pass is stunning at any time of the year. During autumn, visitors will be treated to ample aspens and backdrops of towering, snow-dusted peaks. This pass also benefits in its proximity to Telluride, an idyllic mountain town and great stopover during your drive. 

Red Mountain Pass never seems to disappoint when the colors start to turn. Photo - Neill Pieper

Red Mountain Pass never seems to disappoint when the colors start to turn.
Photo - Neill Pieper

Red Mountain Pass

Boasting an elevation of over 11,000 feet, Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains is one of the highest paved roads in Colorado. Named the Million Dollar Highway, this can admittedly be a white-knuckle drive, but the views of the nearby Red Mountain peaks are spectacular and filled with remnants of mining history.

The weather in Colorado can be unpredictable anytime of the year, and especially in the fall. Check for road closures and conditions with the Colorado Department of Transportation (cotrip.org) before heading out on your trek, and always drive safely.

From Massachusetts to New York to Reno to San Diego to Boulder, Lisa Van Horne is a writer who has found a home here on the Front Range.