Where to see the fall foliage in Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs — If I could use one word to describe fall, it would be “change,” the kind of change that relentlessly sneaks up on you. It happens every year, yet we continue to be in awe of what this remarkably transformative season brings.
As we settle into fall routines, that crisp breeze starts to pick up and taste buds begin to long for warm apple cider or all things pumpkin, from lattes to ales to pies. Football season is in full swing, Halloween is just around the corner and No Shave November will soon be in full swing.
But the most anticipated and surprising transition of this season? The fall foliage.
It seems as though it happens overnight; the aspens turn the striking golden hue that leaves us mesmerized, in awe or just speechless.
In Routt County, we are fortunate to be in the middle of a place that offers a season revealing this golden phenomenon once a year. Evenings turn colder; the days, shorter, and the chlorophyll begins to ebb from the aspen leaves to expose the golds, oranges and reds lying beneath.
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According to the United States National Arboretum, the brightest fall colors come after a wetter-than-normal growing season followed by a dry, sunny autumn with cool, but frost-free nights.
“The leaf blight has really impacted our colors close to town at lower elevations, but the colors are still amazing higher up,” said avid hiker and Steamboat local Reall Colbenson.
Before fall comes to end, find some time to take advantage of Colorado’s fleeting moments of color. Take a ride, go for a hike or venture out on a drive. After all, more change will be here before we know it.
Buffalo Pass: Head east to the top of Buffalo Pass Road, which is lined with rows of glowing aspen groves. The bumpy road winds up about eight miles toward the Continental Divide and Summit Lake. To get there, drive east on Routt County Road 38 following the signs to Buffalo Pass. It is also listed as one of the top 10 places in Colorado to see the changing aspen trees.
Rabbit Ears Pass: Just as picturesque as the wildflowers of summer, Rabbit Ears is a fantastic place to see the fall foliage, especially near Dumont Lake. Travel 22 miles southeast on U.S. Highway 40 (Rabbit Ears Pass), then head north on Forest Service Road 315 for about a mile.
Seedhouse Road: To get there, drive west on U.S. 40 to Routt County Road 129, then travel about 20 miles north of Steamboat on 129 to Seedhouse Road just beyond Clark. Turn right and drive 11 miles to the end of the road at the Slavonia trailhead to access the Zirkel Circle area. Colbenson also said the Zirkel Circle, located up the road, is one of her favorite hikes during the fall season.
Dunckley Pass: Another suggestion by Colbenson is to head toward the Flat Tops Wilderness via the Flat Tops Scenic Byway. At this time of year, the area will be bursting with the vivid hues of fall throughout the White River National Forest. A drive to Trappers Lake is also a worthwhile option. To get to Dunckley Pass from Yampa, travel five miles north on Routt County Road 17, 14 miles west on Routt County Road 132/Forest Road 16, to the top of Dunckley Pass.
To go on the scenic byway, take U.S. Highway 40 heading east out of town to Colorado Highway 131 and turn right. Follow Colo. 131 south to Yampa. Then take the first right turn on C.R. 17 and look for the scenic byway sign. Continue over Dunkley and Ripple Creek Passes. The byway ends at the intersection of Colorado Highway 13. Turn right and head north to Craig. Turn a right on U.S. 40 and return to Steamboat. This is a 168 mile loop and takes 5 to 7 hours.
Routt County Road 62: Colbenson also suggested a drive to C.R. 62 between Clark and Steamboat Lake for a view of the changing aspens in their fall splendor.
If you can’t find time for a scenic drive or hike outside town, here are a few options for hikes in the area where the fall foliage comes to life.
- Spring Creek
- Fish Creek Falls
- Mad Creek
- Red Dirt
- Emerald Mountain
- Thunderhead Trail on Mt. Werner
Hunt for the gold aspens outside Steamboat with these suggestions from Diane White-Crane’s book “Hiking the Boat II” and the Steamboat Pilot and Today article, “Chasing Color: Fall hikes aplenty.”
Gold Creek Lake: Take C.R. 129 to Clark and turn right on Seedhouse Road. Travel 11.9 miles to Slavonia, and park at the hiking kiosk. After signing the register, turn right at the junction of 1150 and 1161. White-Crane advises to be careful crossing Gold Creek and keep a close eye on children due to steep drop-offs around the trail.
Three Island Lake: Turn right past the Seedhouse Campground on NFSR 443 and continue approximately three miles to the trailhead on the left side of road. Turn right at intersection of trail #1163 and follow it to the lake in Mount Zirkel Wilderness. This trail follows the south fork of the Elk River.
Hahn’s Peak: Take C.R. 129 north to Columbine, then turn right onto Forest Development Road 490 directly across the street from the Columbine General Store. After driving about a mile, keep left for another mile and a half on 490. Turn left onto 418, and drive to a parking area. The jeep trail uphill is where the hike starts. Keep an eye out for trail 1158 on your right. Take this trail to the summit. Do not summit if lightning threatens.
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