A sunset of leaves: The 5 best spots to see fall colors this year in Routt County (with video, interactive map)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Fall has arrived in Routt County, along with the shorter days that spur the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs to turn from green to sunset shades of yellow, orange and red.
“Things are maybe just a little late this year, but they are starting to turn,” said Aaron Voos, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Forest Service.
The brilliant changes attract visitors from around the world, as well as locals who flock to their favorite viewing spots.
Threatening this year’s colors is a fungus that has infected some aspen groves, causing them to prematurely drop their leaves or turn them less appealing shades of brown and gray.
Carolina Manriquez, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, attributes the outbreak of the fungus to a moist spring. She said the aspens around Stagecoach and South Routt have been the hardest hit, but she is confident it should not ruin the seasonal show.
“I can see a few (infected) patches here and there, but next to it is a vibrant patch of green that will be beautiful yellow,” Manriquez said.
Opportunities to observe the fall colors abound in Routt County and each location peaks at a different time, according to Voos.
“We are seeing pockets of colors popping up all over the place,” he said.
Trees at lower elevations appear to be showing the most dramatic transformation, according to Voos. Forests at higher elevations have been showing dapples of color, but many trees remain green. They should turn more brilliant shades by early October.
The best times of day to view the trees are the golden hours of sunlight after sunrise and before sunset, when the leaves appear to glow, according to Voos.
Below are some of his top picks of places to explore fall in Routt County over the coming weeks.
Yampa River Core Trail
The easiest to access from Steamboat Springs, the Yampa River Core Trail follows 7.5 miles of its namesake river. It dips in and out of cottonwoods, willows and various shrubs that turn yellow and ruby red. The colors of some trees already have peaked, while others remain green.
For a longer walk, Emerald Mountain to the south of Steamboat offers a system of hiking and mountain biking trails surrounded by vegetation that has become increasingly tinged with fall colors. The Wild Rose Trail near the top of the mountain passes through one of the densest populations of aspens. The Lupine and Morning Gloria trails also have a mix of deciduous trees and shrubs with ever-brightening leaves.
Rabbit Ears Pass
The eastern gateway to Steamboat, Rabbit Ears Pass is a higher-altitude viewing option that remains in the early stages of fall transformation. Splotches of color can be seen from U.S. Highway 40, the main roadway over the pass. Numerous trails off the highway, accessible on foot, with horses or on motor vehicles, take observers through more remote forests with panoramic views of the Yampa Valley and surrounding area.
A short drive from Steamboat, the road to Buffalo Pass offers another higher-elevation landscape of aspen groves, ferns and shrubs. Patches of them have turned yellow, with more dramatic changes still to come. Voos recommends that vehicles traveling on the pass be able to navigate rough roads that could receive snow in the coming weeks.
Yampa River Preserve
About 30 minutes west of Steamboat, just off U.S. Highway 40, the Yampa River Preserve includes a hiking trail following its namesake river. Cottonwood, box elder and dogwood trees are among the most colorful this time of year. The trail also is popular among bird enthusiasts.
Other notable locations
These are far from the only spots to enjoy fall around Steamboat. Below are a few other popular locations.
- North Routt, including Seedhouse Road and several hikes, such as the Zirkel Circle and Three Island Lake trails
- California Park, north of Hayden
- Stillwater Reservoir, southwest of Yampa, bordering the Flat Tops Wilderness Area
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