I was an advance leaf-peeper last weekend when I covered more than 200 miles of the central Colorado mountains with a buddy in pursuit of bicycle rides and a hike.
We soaked in the sights of Crested Butte on Saturday, gravitated toward Gunnison on Sunday and loved Lake City on Monday. From a leaf-peeping perspective, here's what we found: There are some pockets of brilliance on McClure Pass, but the vast majority of leaves have yet to turn. Ditto with Kebler Pass, well known for its thick, old aspen forest stretching for miles and miles.
In Crested Butte, we parked near Gothic and rode up Schofield Pass Road to the famed 401 Trail. More leaves were turning at that high elevation as well as where we camped in Washington Gulch, between Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte and to the west. Nevertheless, only a quarter to a third of the trees had turned in those drainages.
The drive from Crested Butte to Gunnison, then from Gunny to Lake City, is spectacular, and there's always scenery to capture your attention. But as of Monday, there weren't many trees turning yet along that vast stretch. As we approached Lake City on Sunday afternoon and traveled south-southwest of town, colors started to pop. One steep, vast hillside covered in aspen trees south of Lake City near Slumgullion Pass Road was ablaze in yellow. Roughly one-third of the trees had turned yellow and some with a hint of rust as we traveled 90 minutes out of Lake City to American Basin.
We camped at 11,400 feet just as the trees thinned, but in the valley below, roughly half the trees had turned or were turning. After we hiked Handies Peak on Monday morning, we departed for the 213-mile drive back to Basalt. An endorphin high from a fabulous long weekend might have clouded our vision, but it sure seemed like there was a noticeable difference in the number of leaves that had changed color compared with when we started our journey.
Get out there while they last.