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10 day Colorado Road Trip in Autumn (Fall Foliage)

Autumn is a beautiful season, especially in the USA. Last year we did a road trip in Colorado for Fall Foliage to see the famous golden yellow Aspen trees. It was an amazing trip where we visited various parts of Colorado including 3 National parks. Fall is an absolutely beautiful time of the year to visit Colorado. We visited in the last week of September. At the time, most of the leaves turn into golden color which was an amazing sight!

We flew from Newark, NJ to Denver, Colorado, where we picked up our car and started our epic Colorado fall foliage road trip.

In this travel blog, I will share all the places we visited along with a detailed itinerary and travel tips. Just note I have not included Rocky Mountain National Park, Steamboat Spring, and Telluride area in our road trip itinerary. If you have extra days, I would suggest to include these places.

Renting a Car

We would suggest renting AWD or 4×4 as there are a lot of gravel roads to drive though we avoided the big boulder gravel mountain roads. We usually compare the price before renting between different websites – Rentalcars.comExpedia.comDiscovercars.com, and EconomyBookings.com

When to visit

For fall foliage, I would suggest planning between the last week of September and mid week of October. However, it is hard to predict the peak foliage so would suggest checking the predictions before you plan for the trip.

We visited in the last week of September. At the time, the Aspen area was at ‘peak’ however south Colorado was at ‘just changing’.

Budgeting for the trip

Flight

It would depend on the place you are flying from and the season you are traveling in. Summer is the busiest season and the flights are costlier. You might get better deals if flying in border/off season. So would suggest checking this flight website for estimates. We flew from NYC and it costed around $300 – 500 round trip per person. Even cheaper if you get a deal or free if you use credit card points. We usually check Skyscanner or Google Flights for the best price comparison.

Rental car

We used public transport but you can also rent a car and roadtrip in Croatia. We found the Budget for $50-100 per day. I would suggest booking 2-3 months in advance to get a better deal. Just a tip – check the rental car’s condition before picking it up. You can do a price comparison  using the different websites – Rentalcars.comExpedia.comDiscovercars.com.

Hotel 

We budget around $150 to $200 per night for decent hotels. Read the reviews before booking any hotels. We usually do a price comparison before we book – Booking.comExpedia.com & Vrbo.com

If you want to save some money and love nature, you can try camping. If you are not on the free campsite, it costs around $20-30 per night for a camping site. 

Food

We budget around $50-60 per day for the meals. We prefer hotels with breakfast to save time. If you want to save more, you can book a hotel with a kitchenette or Airbnb or Vrbo where you can cook your own breakfast and dinner.

Road trip snacks

We budget around $50-100 (depending on the length of the road trip).

Water 

Usually it is fine to drink tap water. But we always check with the hotel before drinking. If it is not advised to drink tap water, we buy a gallon of water from the supermarket.

Others

We budget around $100-200 for miscellaneous things. The budget also depends on what activities we have included in our itinerary.

Here is the 10 day Colorado Road Trip Itineary

Here is how we spend our 10 days chasing fall foliage around the Colorado. We have also included 3 national parks which we wanted to visit in this trip.

Day 1 - Fly to Denver

We flew from NYC to Denver, picked up our rental car, and drove to Georgetown. We booked a beautiful lakeside property for the night. We chose to stay in Georgetown as we wanted to start the road trip from the famous Guanella Pass.

Where we stayed – Georgetown

Day 2 - Drive to Aspen

We drove from Gerogetown to Aspen exploring – Guanella Pass (Gerogetown), Kenosha Pass, and Independence Pass (Twin Lakes). As we drove on this scenic road, we stopped in between to admire the stunning views. Finally, we reached the beautiful town of Aspen in the evening.

Where we stayed – Aspen

Fall Foliage in Colorado

Day 3 - Aspen & Maroon Bells

Aspen is a beautiful town. The main reason we included Aspen in our road trip is to visit the picturesque Maroon Bells. The most popular viewpoint is from the shores of Maroon Lake, a pristine alpine lake with the backdrop of Maroon Bells, a series of uniquely bell-shaped, wine-colored peaks. During Autumn, this place becomes a photographer’s paradise. A permit is required to visit the Maroon Bells. You can check all the details about how to visit here

In case you are not able to grab a parking permit or shuttle reservations for visiting Maroon bells, you can book an early morning private transportation from here. However, this is an expensive option.

There are several hiking trails in Maroon Bells and we did the Crater Lake trail, which is a 3.6-mile round trip moderate hike. The hike was covered with golden Aspen trees in the fall season. We really enjoyed the stunning views throughout our hike. Note that thunderstorms and hailstorms are very common in mountain regions, especially in the afternoons. So, plan ahead to start the hike early.

After Maroon Bells, we drove the Castle Creek road and enjoyed the breathtaking fall colors.

Note: Visit the famous Paradise Bakery in Aspen downtown. We tried the cookies, muffins, and gelatos which where really delicious!

Day 4 - Aspen to Montrose

We drove from Aspen to Montrose and tried to cover all the places in between. Our initial plan was to drive to Crystal Mill but later we came to know the last 5 miles from Marble to Crystal Mill is a gravel mountain off-road. We didn’t want to drive our rental car on a gravel mountain road so, we skipped it. However, we would definitely recommend doing the hike if you have time. We then drove a part of West Elk Loop (Marble – Paonia – Hotchkiss). This drive is absolutely breathtaking. Stop at Berg Harvest Mercantile and cafe in Paonia for amazing burgers & smoothies.

After reaching Montrose, we then drove to explore the least visited National park in the USA – the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. If you are in the area, would definitely include this beautiful national park

Where we stayed – Montrose

Day 5 - Montrose - Crested Butt - Ouray

We started early and drove to Crested Butt covering Blue Mesa Reservoir, Kebler Pass, Ohio Pass, and Lost Lake. This is one of the best places to drive, stop, and enjoy nature. After exploring the area we headed to Ouray. 

Tip – You can also visit Crested Butt directly from Aspen and swap day 5 with Day 4. If you plan to do so, book a stay near Crested butt for Day 4 and Montrose or Ouray for Day 5.

Where we stayed – Ouray

Day 6 - Million Dollar Highway

From Ouray, we visited Owl Pass. The road to Owl Pass has some amazing fall colors – absolutely stunning! 

We then headed back to Ouray to explore the town and nearby area. If you plan to spend more time in Ouray, there are many things to do – (1) Check out the Box Canyon, (2) go hiking or (3) take a dip in one of the hot springs. Also, there are several hotels where you can stay with access to their own hot spring or hot tub.

Considered one of the most beautiful roads in the USA, Million Dollar Highway (a part of San Juan Skyway) connects Ouray and Silverton. We drove this stunning highway and stopped along the way for some amazing fall foliage views. Also, If you love hiking, there are several hiking options along this route – Blue Lakes Trail, Ice Lake Trail, Red Mountain III, and more. 

We drove further from Silverton to Durango (part of San Juan Skyway). During this part of the drive, we stopped at various mountain passes, lakes, and overlooks to enjoy this beautiful time of the year. 

There are several off-road adventure tours you will find in this area. You can book Jeep tours for the experience.

Tip – If you want to hike or do more things between Ouray to Durango, We would suggest giving at least 2-4 days here.

Where we stayed – Durango 

Colorado - Things to do

Day 7 - Durango

We went for the historic train ride (the short one) from Durango to Cascade Canyon with the Durango and Silverton narrow gauge railroad. We opted for an open-air coach to enjoy the beautiful view. 

After the train ride, we tried some amazing crepes at Michel’s Corner Crepes which is just a 2-minute walk from the station. In the evening we walked in the downtown area of Durango.

Day 8 - Mesa Verde National Park & Pagosa Spring

We started early to visit another national park on our Colorado Road trip – Mesa Verde National Park. It is one of the most unique national parks in the USA, created to protect the culture and history of the Ancestral Pueblo peoplewho made Mesa Verde their home for over 700 years. 

We saw the cliff dwellings, which is the highlight among other things in the park. We wanted to do the tour of ‘Cliff dwellings’ but at the time it was not available. If you are looking for more tours you can check here.

After Mesa Verde National Park, we went to Pagosa Hot Spring to take a dip and relax. There are many options in Colorado for Natural Hot Spring baths, so would definitely suggest choosing any and having fun.

Where we stayed – Pagosa Springs

Day 9 - Great Sand National Park

On this day we visited another national park – Great Sand National park. It was very windy the day we visited. However, everything looked absolutely beautiful and we even hiked a bit. We also visited Zapata Falls which is about 20 minutes drive from the visitor center. 

Where we stayed – Colorado Springs

great sand dunes national park

Day 10 - Colorado Spring and flight back home

On our last day, we drove to Pikes Peak which is situated more than 14000ft above sea level. The drive was spectacular. At the top, we felt a little dizzy, but it was worth the views. After that, we visited the Garden of Gods & Paint Mines Interpretive Park.

Our flight was at night from Denver. After an amazing 10-day trip with lots of memories, we head back home.

What to Pack

The weather was not the same for all the regions we visited, but it was mostly on the colder side. Here is the list of things I would suggest to carry –

  • Jacket for women (here)
  • Jacket for men (here)
  • Beanie (here)
  • Woolen socks (here)
  • Performance socks for hike (here)
  • Hiking Shoes for men (here)
  • Hiking shoes for women (here)
  • Hiking pants for men (here)
  • Hiking pants for women (here)
  • Sweater (here)
  • Rain Jacket (here)
  • Umbrella (here)
  • Sunscreen (here)
  • Sunglasses (here)
  • Reusable Water Bottle (here)
Road Trip accessories (Rental Car Edition)
  • USB car adaptor (here)
  • Car Power Inverter – If you like to Laptop and camera in a car. (here)
  • Phone Cable
Hot Spring accessories

Other things to know before you go!

  • Our itinerary includes driving on gravel roads and mountain passes. I would recommend to rent 4×4 or AWD for the road trip in Colorado.
  • There are no gas stations on these mountain pass roads so would recommend filling the gas or diesel up in the nearest town before heading to those destinations.
  • There are lots of campgrounds in Colorado. If you love camping, I would definitely suggest to check it out.

Autumn is a beautiful time to visit Colorado especially to see the golden yellow aspen trees. Hope this blog inspires you to plan your trip to explore Colorado. Let us know in the comment sections if you have any questions, happy to help! or If you found our blog helpful, happy to know! 

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