Ask a mountain town local to name their favorite season, and autumn tops many lists. Summer crowds have dispersed, cooler temps allow for perfect-weather hiking and biking, and a hint of optimism settles over America’s favorite peaks as the seasons change. So just where to go for the finest in fall leaf-peeping? The following not-to-miss autumn alpine experiences ensure a welcome shift in perspective.
One of the most rewarding ways to explore Utah’s most famous resort is by foot. Deer Valley and Park City are home to endless hiking trails, from lazy strolls to get-after-it, steep ascents. Hike the moderate Silver Lake Trail to the top of Bald Mountain. Begin at Silver Lake Lodge in Deer Valley and wind your way through a thick fall forest. Expect unforgettable views and brilliant colors surrounding Jordanelle Reservoir. Traveling with the whole family? Check out the mid-Mountain Trail, easily accessible from both Exclusive Resorts properties in Deer Valley—perfect for family adventure travel. You’ll still enjoy spectacular scenery, without the steep elevation gain.
September is one of the best times to visit Aspen’s sister resort. The Snowmass Balloon Festival (Sept. 10-12) is always a crowd-pleaser, with Snowmass Mountain and nearby Mount Daly awash in hues of orange and red. Now in its 46th year, the free event features three days of morning balloon launches, food trucks, and a special Balloon Night Glow. The following weekend, oenophiles pair high-end vino with fall foliage during the Snowmass Wine Festival (Sept. 18). The grand tasting offers top international wines and fare from the Roaring Fork Valley’s favorite restaurants. If you miss these autumn events, visit Snowmass anytime during fall to mountain bike or hike the Rim Trail—its meandering, intermediate single track offers unforgettable views of Snowmass Village.
Colorado is famous for world-class fly fishing, and while in-the-know anglers flock to stretches of the South Platte, Frying Pan, or Blue rivers during fall, the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir is a hidden gem. Located just 20 miles from Steamboat Springs, the tailwaters below the dam are primed for catching gorgeous rainbow trout. With the array of fall colors surrounding this scenic stretch of river, you’ll feel as though you’re on the film set of A River Runs Through It.
Experience Sun Valley’s fall kaleidoscope of oranges, reds, and yellows by foot or bike. Hike the intermediate switchbacks along Proctor Mountain and you’ll tread over a blanket of fallen aspen leaves. Music lovers won’t want to miss the Sun Valley Jazz & Music Festival (Oct. 13-17). Expect live performances of zydeco, blues, folk, vintage jazz, and more in venues around town. Lastly, history buffs should experience Sun Valley’s Trailing of the Sheep Festival (October 4-8), which celebrates the area’s unique sheep ranching past.
Even locals from Aspen and Vail will admit Telluride is arguably the most beautiful part of Colorado. Telluride’s iconic box canyon is defined by Bridal Veil Falls, which is hugged by fall foliage. After exploring all that town has to offer (simply taking the gondola from downtown Telluride to the mountain village ensures Insta-worthy fall colors), make time for a road trip over the rustic Last Dollar Road. Connecting Telluride to Ridgway, this road can claim some pop culture trivia, too: The view of Wilson Peak can also be seen on the label of a Coors beer bottle, while you’ll pass a sprawling ranch from the True Grit western film starring John Wayne.
Vail, too, is home to abundant trail systems (don’t miss hiking to Beaver or Piney Lakes), yet it’s also one of Colorado’s most enticing areas to take to the water. Weather dependent, kiddos will especially love turtle tubing—a slow-paced tubing trip that meanders down the river, with nonstop views of postcard-perfect fall scenes (tubing runs through early October). During September—and over two fall weekends—the Vail Oktoberfest features keg bowling, stein lifting, and bratwurst eating contests, in addition to live Bavarian musicians. Finally, the Taste of Vail (Sept. 16-17) stages the finest wines and cuisine by the town’s leading chefs.
Sure, we can list plenty of fall trails to tackle here, too (Whistler is a mountain biking haven), but this renowned mountain town has unique ATV-ing and ziplining as well. Adrenaline junkies can take a two- or four-seater RZR to navigate Whistler’s scenic backcountry. Alternatively, fly along the fall canopy via Superfly Ziplines. Your aerial perspective will frame a birds-eye view of indelible fall colors. After an adventure-filled afternoon, refuel at Whistler Brewing Company or unwind at the Scandinave Spa, which features traditional Scandinavian baths and frames views of the adjacent Lost Lake Park and its brilliant fall colors.