Aspen's Avalanche Of Gold

No color in nature comes close to matching the heart-stirring golden aspen found in the Rockies in autumn.

I've searched the world over and the verdict is this: No color in nature comes close to matching the heart-stirring golden aspen found on the flanks of the Rockies in autumn. And after hiking all over the Rockies, nowhere have I found the colors of fall to be more vibrant and alive than in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado.

For the best of the best, follow the West Snowmass Trail into the lofty core of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Don't be disappointed if there's a crowd at this popular trailhead. The leaf-peepers usually peter out after about a mile, and then you can head west up West Snowmass Creek in solitude. The trail passes through shimmering tunnels of gold as each breath of wind sets the leaves trembling, giving rise to this species' scientific name, Populus tremuloides, as well as its common name, quaking aspen. You'll be awed by the stunning display and the possibility that these massive forests of golden splendor may actually consist of a single organism.

After 5.5 miles along the West Snowmass Trail, you'll climb above treeline to a 12,000-foot saddle, with four of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks (Capitol Peak, Snowmass Mountain, and the two Maroon Bells) at your boot tips. Drop off into the drainages of Capitol Creek or Avalanche Creek, or stay high above the trees and set up a camp with a view. No matter where you look, you're sure to see slopes awash in an avalanche of gold.

Getting There:

From Aspen, take CO 82 northwest 14 miles. Turn south and follow the signs 12 miles to Snowmass Campground and the trailhead.

Late September to early October.

Prime Time:

Late September to early October.


The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas, by John Fielder and Mark Pearson (Westcliffe Publishers, 800-523-3692; $24.95).


Aspen Ranger District, White River National Forest, (970) 925-3445;