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Aspen fall colors in the Colorado high country

Finding the Fall Color Pop

Timing when and where to see Colorado’s fall colors takes both science and finesse. How do you know when it’s time to go? In general, September and early October mark when stands at higher elevation (and those that are farther north) will show colors. Lower, more southerly locations will follow.

Aspens take their cue to change as the days get shorter in the fall.

But color changes also depend on tree health, local weather, environmental factors like drought or increased moisture, elevation and latitude.

So many factors can make a leaf-peeping adventure tough to schedule. Your favorite spot one year can turn out to be a disappointment the next. Be flexible, adventurous and stick to the easier-to-predict leaf factors — such as elevation, latitude and stand health — when planning an outing.

Healthy trees are critical for aspens to display strong colors and retain leaves later into the fall. The more robust an aspen stand is, the more attractive its colors will be. Unhealthy aspen stands are less likely to have vibrant colors.

According to the United States National Arboretum, a wet growing season followed by a dry, sunny autumn with cool, frost-free nights results in the brightest fall colors.

Family Fun in Fall

Once the kids and coolers are packed for a road trip leaf adventure, don’t forget the games to keep everybody in the car entertained. Project Learning Tree has free, downloadable activities to keep kids and parents happy on the fall color trail.


Color Change Science

Every fall Colorado’s expansive vistas transform into vivid yellows, golds, oranges and reds. But most leaves aren’t adding a new look, instead they’re taking off their “masks” of green to expose their true shades.

Those bright fall colors are always there, all summer remaining hidden by the green that’s created by chlorophyll production as the tree turns sunlight into food. As the days get shorter in the fall, photosynthesis decreases, causing chlorophyll levels to fade out of the leaves and reveal the bright colors.

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Map powered by the Colorado Forest Atlas from the Colorado State Forest Service