QUESTION: I was thinking of visiting Colorado the beginning of October for hiking, sightseeing and beautiful country. I'm just not sure of the best area to visit since we only have 1-week. Would you suggest Rocky Mountain national park or Aspen or another area. Whatever suggestions you can provide would be appreciated. Thank you.
ANSWER: I'm so sorry for the delay in answering--for some reason the e-mail alerting me to your question ended up in my spam folder!
It depends a little on your goal for your trip. If you also want to see Denver and the urban areas, Aspen is a bit of a drive. Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful, but so are many of the drives through Colorado.
Our fall colors are starting to show pretty well right about now, so if you want to see Colorado in the fall, your best bet in early October would be to concentrate further south. By then, the colors in Rocky Mountain National Park may be past peak--but the elk will be bugling, so not a bad time to visit for that!
Personally I LOVE Aspen and the surrounding areas, and that is where some of the best fall colors in the state can be found! If you use Aspen as a home base, there is a fantastic loop for colors that heads over Independence Pass (east) from Aspen, down to Cottonwood Pass (a dirt road, but 4WD is not required) from Buena Vista to Crested Butte, then Kebler Pass (again, a dirt road, but as long as do not have a low clearance vehicle like a sports car, you should be fine) over to Paonia, and then back over McClure Pass (paved, and all weather....) along the Crystal River through Redstone to Carbondale and back to Aspen. If you want to make it a multi-day loop (that is a LONG drive for 1 day), Crested Butte is a good stopping point and/or you could take a side trip over to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park--gorgeous!
Of course, if you are trying to choose an area of the state, the Southwest Corner (Durango/Telluride) is spectacular as well. US 550 between Durango and Ouray is known as the "Million Dollar Highway", and is consistently rated as one of THE most scenic drives in the US by people like the Mobil Travel Guide. The passes along that route are definitely mountain driving, so you will have to be careful, but it is a major through route in that part of the state. There are plenty of scenic overlooks, and you will probably want to stop at most of them! You could also plan a day on the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway for a step back into history, with fantastic fall scenery as an added bonus.
Just a few ideas--what do you think? Am I on the right track? Please let me know what further information you might need.
Hope that helps!
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QUESTION: Steve - You are definitely on the right path. If we decide to visit Aspen and hike Maroon Bell, I'm wondering how many days we should spend in Aspen? I also heard that Durango is quite nice. We love hiking and are really interested in hiking easy/moderate trails while sightseeing as well. I was also wondering where to stay. We really like to be pampered, but not commercial. Any other must see suggestions would be welcome. Thanks again.
The hike up to the Maroon Bells is GORGEOUS--especially this time of year. I BELIEVE you will also be able to drive up to Maroon Lake (instead of having to take the bus up from town) as long as you are not headed up that way on a weekend. It's been a while since I lived over there, and I know some of the regulations may have changed--you might want to check in advance just to be sure about access up there. The hike up to the lake is a very easy trail, and if you continue past the lake, although it does climb a bit (I would still consider it moderate), you can also access some beautiful waterfalls, etc. without too much of a climb. Do keep an eye on the weather, as we are due for our first snowfall any day now. TYPICALLY (if there is any such thing in the mountains....) any snows we have this early will not stick. However, by the end of October, the snow definitely WILL be sticking, so you are not that far in advance of it......
I also really like hiking around the old ghost town of Ashcroft, which is in the Castle Creek Valley parallel to the Maroon Creek Valley. Basically, from the roundabout at the entrance to town, one road (Maroon Creek Road) takes you past Aspen Highlands ski area and then on up to the Maroon Bells, and the next road (Castle Creek Road) takes you up the Castle Creek Valley past the hospital up to Ashcroft.
In Snowmass, they have the Rim Trail, which basically follows the ridgeline around the valley up above the town. There are also numerous easy trails along the river through the town of Aspen, and there is a natural area (not sure of its "official" designation) with plenty of trails on the east side of town just before you head up Independence Pass. I also really like to hike around the ghost town of Independence (about 2/3 of the way up Independence Pass) as well.....okay....so I like ghost towns.....
Another fun way to see the Maroon Bells is on horseback. The T Lazy 7 Ranch is right at the base of the valley, and they lead guided trips up to the Bells.
October is definitely more of an off-season up in Aspen, so don't expect a lot of events going on--you will most likely have to entertain yourselves, and some of the shops/restaurants may be closed or on limited hours, so definitely check around.
If you want to explore the surrounding area, the little town of Basalt (about 20 miles down the valley) has a cute little downtown area, and further up that valley is Ruedi Reservoir--for more hiking and fishing options. I also love the Crystal River Valley from Carbondale down towards Redstone and Marble. The town of Marble is just a cluster of houses, but the marble for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was quarried there--and if you look carefully along the banks of the Crystal River as you drive up that way, you will see HUGE blocks of marble that fell off the wagons (yes....wagons....) as they were pulling it out, and they just left them by the river, as they did not have the equipment to get them back onto the wagons. Of course, you could also get some of your pampering by scheduling a day at the Hot Springs Pool in Glenwood Springs, and perhaps a spa treatment while you are there?
As for where to stay, one of the nicest in town is The Little Nell hotel. It is owned by the Aspen Skiing Company, and is RIGHT at the base of Aspen Mountain. Personally, I love the Hotel Lenado--it is a little 19 room B&B right in the middle of town--excellent quality, but low key. The Hotel Jerome is the large historic hotel right on Main Street--a beautiful place if you like the Victorian style.
How long to stay? Well....a lot of that depends on your personal preferences and how much time you have. You could definitely do some good hiking and explore the area a bit with about 5 days, but if you also want to go to the Aspen Art Museum, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, etc., you might plan some additional days. I lived there for 10 years, and still don't feel like I saw everything the area had to offer.....
Unfortunately I am not as familiar with any specifics in Durango, as it has been a LOOOONG time since I was last there. If things work out, I may be there on Monday, as that is the plan right now (I also like to travel around to see the fall colors). I know about the train, Mesa Verde National Park, and the scenic drives around the area (and Telluride is a DEFINITE must side-trip if you head down there), but I don't know lodging/restaurants/etc. in town.
Does that give you enough info to get started? What else can I do to help? Please let me know--and I hope you enjoy your trip!