It’s leaf-peeping time in Aspen |

It’s leaf-peeping time in Aspen

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times
Warren and Kathy Phillips take in the Fall foliage on the Rio Grande Trail in Aspen Friday evening.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Fall favorites

While there are a host of leaf-peeping opportunities across the state, here are a few favorites right in Aspen’s backyard.

Hike it: When the aspen leaves peak, the Castle Creek Valley is a sea of gold year after year. Kravitz says there are stands he enjoys near the Pine Creek Cookhouse and at the start of the American Lake and Cathedral Lake trails. The valley is also home to the ghost town of Ashcroft, which the public can walk through on their own or with an Aspen Historical Society guide. The guides are stationed there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Tuesdays until the end of the month.

Drive it: The section of Highway 82 from Aspen to Leadville is part of the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway, named for good reason. And countless aspens line the road as well as the trails and peaks surrounding it. The byway continues to I-70 by two different routes — Highway 91, which ends at Copper Mountain, and Highway 24, which takes drivers to Minturn.

“On this drive you can be a part of history, as countless generations have experienced viewing the fall colors on this pass, from skiers, miners, ranchers, railroad travelers, and many generations of Native Americans,” says the White River National Forest’s website.

Bus it: OK, yes, there’s lots of hiking here too. But the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will continue to offer bus service to the Maroon Bells every day through Oct. 4. That will be the only way to access the site between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Bus tickets to the Bells cost $6 for adults, $4 for children ages 6 to 16, $4 for seniors and are free for children under 6.

Bike it: A cyclist’s dream singletrack, Tom Blake Trail in Snowmass Village is also a leaf-peeper’s paradise, as it is flanked by a thick grove of aspen trees. You might just spot some wildlife peeping back at you, too.

With the first day of fall just around the corner, Aspen’s trees are starting to show off their autumn colors. Aspens are turning yellow, maples are turning red and enthusiasts are turning on their cars or putting on their hiking boots to look at the leaves.

The fall colors around Aspen typically peak from about the middle of September to the end of the month, said Jim Kravitz, naturalist programs director at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. The turning of the leaves is dictated by the length of the days, so the timing can’t change that dramatically year to year, he said.

“There can be variability on how intense it is and things like this leaf blight, but as far as the onset and when the peak is, that’s pretty set by daylight,” Kravitz said.

The blight he’s referring to comes in the form of two different types of fungus affecting aspens and cottonwoods, respectively. The fungi are thriving this year because of the additional rainfall the valley received this summer, Kravitz said. They appear like spots on the leaves of some trees, and leaves of trees that are most impacted also will brown and drop early.

“One year, it’s no big deal,” Kravitz said. “(The effect is) not long-term unless the tree’s already stressed.”

With mostly clear skies in the forecast, this weekend could be the perfect time for an early jaunt among the fall foliage. Kravitz said the next three weekends should all be ideal, but he prefers the beginning of the transition.

“I like it when it’s more coming on still and there’s still some trees with green, because that just adds to the mosaic,” Kravitz said.

Also adding to the color palette are the maples and oaks, which turn hues of red and orange. Some aspen leaves can look orange, which Kravitz said is because of their genetics.

“If you go every year, it’s the same ones that are orange,” Kravitz said. “Those are genetically different, and they will display the orange pigments more.”