Tips for the Best Colorado Fall Drive & Family Adventure

Best Colorado Fall Drives Last Dollar Road

Last Dollar Road / Photo credit

You just can’t beat Fall color in Colorado!  When those Aspen trees turn brilliant gold, and contrast against the Rocky Mountain evergreens… it’s a breathtaking sight to behold.  Here’s my “Insider List” of where the locals consider the best Colorado Fall drive.  Plus my tips on exploring a bit off the beaten path, and how to keep your kids excited about this awesome family outdoor adventure.

A year-round outdoor lover, I’d have to say that fall is my absolute favorite season in Colorado.  I’ve polled the experts, and seen many of these for myself.  Here’s my Insider List of best fall drives.

Top 5 Colorado Fall Drives

  • NORTHERN – Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park
  • CENTRAL – Kebler Pass, part of the West Elk Loop that ends in fun ski town Crested Butte
  • CENTRAL – Grand Mesa Byway (My favorite! More on this below), 45 minutes from Grand Junction
  • SOUTHERN – Last Dollar Road, from Ridgeway to Telluride, both awesome mountain towns
  • DENVER AREA – Guanella Pass, starting at Georgetown

Be sure you check the road and weather conditions before heading out on your driving family outdoor adventure.  Things can get very unpredictable at these high altitudes.  Being prepared will keep you safe.

My #1 Pick:  Colorado Grand Mesa


Look at those colors! Colorado’s Grand Mesa

I’m admittedly a little biased about the Grand Mesa, as it’s my family’s favorite backyard stomping ground.  I do believe it’s one of the very best Colorado Fall Drives. Easily accessible from I-70, moseying along the paved Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway offers a gorgeous and enjoyable experience.

The Grand Mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the entire world. It covers an area of around 500 square miles, and stretches for 40 miles east of Grand Junction. Topped by volcanic basalt, the Mesa has a maximum elevation of 11,333 feet.

Once on top, much of the area is flat. Partially claimed as Grand Mesa National Forest, there are numerous recreation areas, trails, lodges, and a Visitor’s Center to explore.

The Grand Mesa is truly grand at any time of the year. But in the fall, it’s definitely something to see.

Tip for Kids ~ Stop and Be a Wild Child

Colorado Grand Mesa kids hiking

Whenever we head to the mountains to do some exploring, my kids are pretty tolerant of the driving portions. But the highlight is always stopping for some outdoor play time.

I recommend pulling over along your Colorado Fall drive route a few times. Take a short hike, climb some rocks, hunt for wildflowers, or go on a quest to find that perfect walking stick. Search for plants that are found in the wild.  But caution your kids not to pick any “mystery weeds”. Poison Ivy is found in the Rocky Mountains.

My son loves to climb anything he can find – the higher, the better. And my daughter’s favorite pastime is finding a way to work her gymnastic routines into any surroundings. That’s not just a fallen tree. It’s a balance beam!


Perhaps because I live in high mountain desert terrain, a highlight for me is always seeing water. If you see a lake – be sure to stop for some rock skipping!  Or just to let your family dog take a quick swim.  Playing fetch in a lake with our Golden Retriever entertains my kids endlessly.

We often bring our fishing poles along.  Fishing for rainbow trout is popular in the Rocky Mountains.  Many of the ponds are stocked regularly.  Makes it even more fun if you catch something!

colorado Grand Mesa playing fetch in mountain lakes with dog

Don’t Be Afraid to Explore

If you prefer (as I do) a side of seclusion with your dose of nature, don’t be afraid to explore. Take some of the offshoot gravel roads you see sprouting off. They are sure to be less crowded.  If you go early enough, there won’t be any snow to contend with.  There are several of these roads.  Being off the beaten path leads to some big sight-seeing rewards.

In the case of the Grand Mesa – true, it’s the wilderness. But you’d be hard pressed to get lost there. Most of the gravel roads on the Grand Mesa pop right back out onto the main highway. Worst case scenario, you have to back track from whence you came. And you get to see all that fall beauty from another angle, on your way out!

Colorado Grand Mesa Fall color drives

Back on the main thoroughfare, you’ll frequently see parking lots and pulloffs. These paved areas offer easy access points to park and traverse some of the more popular areas and lookout points.  Some areas will be a bit crowded during busy Fall weekends. But if a trail catches your eye, or you see that perfect photo spot, seize the moment!

Insider Tips on a Colorado Fall vacation! Best drives to see see the Autumn colors and breathtaking Aspens. Also things to do so your kids enjoy this family outdoor adventure.

When to Go

It varies each year.  The fall splendor can be enjoyed anytime during September and into October.  But the Aspens are typically peaking in all their gold glory towards the end of September.

And if you come later than that… well, just bring your skis or snow shoes and have some winter fun instead!

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About COMtnMom

Hi, I'm Tami! Writer, Influencer, and mom of two who loves travel, the outdoors, staying active, photography, reading books, and eating desserts. We are pretty much always planning our next trip to Disney World.

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