Enjoy the Best of Leaf Peeping in Colorado with These Fort Collins Hikes
October is when Colorado really starts to show off. After an especially hot summer, it’s time for the delightfully cooler temperatures, golden autumn light, and blaze of colors that signify leaf peeping season has arrived in Fort Collins and throughout Colorado.
Fort Collins is a glorious place to live and has abundant choices when it comes to finding the perfect trail for your needs. Whether you need a short and quick jaunt for your leaf-peeping purposes, or a long day’s journey to really soak it in, there are Fort Collins hikes for all ages, ability levels, and scenic goals. Here is our list of the best Fort Collins hikes in Colorado for leaf peeping this October.
One of the most scenic areas of Colorado – and certainly one of the state’s best destinations for leaf peeping – is Horsetooth Reservoir, an outdoor area with hiking trails located just minutes from Fort Collins. Miles of hiking trails surround the 6.5-mile-long reservoir, a glittering lake that makes for gorgeous photos when juxtaposed with the fiery reds and yellows of fall. One of the most popular trails is the 3-mile Horsetooth Falls Loop, a tough climb to a beautiful waterfall that can also be combined with summiting Horsetooth Mountain (for a total of 6 miles).
Lory State Park
Just west of the Horsetooth Reservoir, so still within a stone’s throw of Fort Collins, you’ll find abundant hikes at Lory State Park. The park has 26 miles of trails, ranging from casual valley walks to more intense mountain climbs. A popular route is Arthur’s Rock, a 3.2-mile out-and-back trail that is sure to deliver on Colorado leaf-peeping glory if you hit it at the right time.
Cache La Poudre River Canyon
Poudre Canyon is one of Colorado’s leaf-peeping meccas, and for good reason. Since the canyon covers a range of elevations, there is more flexibility for when you can catch peak leaf color: early in the season, the higher elevations will be ablaze, while later in the season, there is more action around the canyon’s lower region. You can enjoy fall color right from the car, of course, as Colorado Highway 14 follows the Poudre River out of Fort Collins and up across the 10,000-foot Cameron Pass. But if you’re looking for a Fort Collins hike to knock your socks off, you’ll find trailheads all along the side of the road. A tried-and-true Colorado leaf peeping route is the Big South Trail, located about 50 miles up the canyon, which travels 12 miles through groves of the best color-popping tree species: Aspen, Spruce and Pine. No need to travel the whole 12 miles, simply choose your own adventure and turn around when you’ve had your fill (as if one could ever get enough of nature’s autumn palette).
Rocky Mountain State Park
Of course, no conversation about Colorado leaf-peeping would be complete without mention of the creme de la creme: Rocky Mountain National Park. How lucky that the trails of this world-renowned park count as Fort Collins hikes! Just a short 35-mile drive brings Fort Collins residents to this incredible park, with peaks over 13,000 feet (for those super-early leaf colors). One of the best spots in Rocky Mountain National Park for Colorado leaf-peeping is the Fern Lake Trail, a 7.5 mile out-and-back that delivers on the quivering Aspen color. The only downside is that you need a reservation to enter the park, and they can be tough to get. But it’s never too early to start planning for next year!
Leave No Trace, Stay Safe, and Time It Right
All of this scenic beauty only stays available if these trails are used responsibly. Always employ Leave No Trace principles: there should be no evidence that you ever walked these trails at all, except for some beautiful photographs. Be prepared for the changing weather conditions of Colorado, including rain, wind, and extreme temperatures, and always account for the abilities of your group before committing to a hiking trail. Remember, also, that timing is crucial when planning a fall leaf-peeping hike in Colorado. Once the leaves have changed, it takes just one windy afternoon before they disappear. Don’t delay joy: get out there and experience this autumnal bounty as soon as you can!
And while you’re in the neighborhood, check out how much more in the neighborhood these hikes could be: swing by Sonders Fort Collins and see how close and conveniently located this community is to all the best Fort Collins hikes and more.