Fall Among the Rockies

These small Colorado towns are a special delight when the leaves change.

By Kathryn O’Shea Evans

Autumn is arguably the best time of year to visit Colorado’s mountain towns: The summer crowds are long gone, ski-season swarms haven’t yet arrived, and quaking aspen trees cover the foothills in oranges and yellows almost too brilliant to be believed. Read on for ideas on where to play in the crisp alpine air.

Go Wild in Granby

At an elevation of 8,000 feet, the town of Granby is a Wild West wonder. To feel like a cowboy, head to Sombrero Stables (1101 County Rd. 53; 970-887-1999; trail rides, $48 a person) at Snow Mountain Ranch, a 5,200-acre YMCA property in the Fraser Valley. Hour-long trail rides lead travelers along the Continental Divide and through wildflower-strewn alpine meadows and spruce forests. Elk and moose also roam these lands. Until mid-October, golfers go high-tech at Grand Elk Golf Club (1300 Ten Mile Dr.; 970-887-9122; greens fees, from $64), where they can opt to scoot around the course at up to 10 miles an hour on a GPS-equipped, lithium-ion-battery-powered GolfBoard in lieu of a golf cart—which means a full 18-hole round can be completed in about two hours. It’s also the only course in Colorado designed by pro Craig Stadler, who was inspired by courses along rolling terrain in the United Kingdom. Here, the snowcapped Rocky Mountains form the background for every shot.

Soar High in Fraser

Activities lure travelers to Fraser, a small town near Winter Park, year-round. In autumn, leaf peepers can board a hot-air balloon with the aptly named Grand Adventure Balloon Tours (220 County Rd. 522; 970-887-1340; hot-air balloon rides, $275 a person) to float over mountain peaks. Not long after your sunrise takeoff, you’ll have an eagle’s-eye view of the red, orange, and green landscape—visibility often extends more than 100 miles in all directions—and, upon disembarking, you’ll enjoy a traditional champagne toast to welcome you back to earth. Afterward, you can join the locals at The Foundry Cinema & Bowl (22 Second St.; 970-363-7161; dinner for two, $16*). This combination movie theater and bowling alley also serves wood-fired pizza. Along with eight lanes of bowling, it offers throwback fun in the form of billiards and shuffleboard.

Take a Hike in Beaver Creek

Farther west near Avon, some 150 bands and dance companies a year take to the stage at Beaver Creek’s 530-seat Vilar Performing Arts Center (68 Avondale Lane; 970-845-8497), including classical acts like Copenhagen’s Trio Con Brio and Los Angeles–based BodyTraffic. It’s an urbane way to kick off your outdoorsy exploits. When you’re ready for the latter, consider taking a naturalist-guided backcountry hike through Vail Valley with Walking Mountains Science Center (318 Walking Mountains Lane, Avon; 970-827-9725; guided hikes, free). Not a hiker? Don’t fret: The center also hosts geological site explorations, flashlight-lit evening tours of beaver ponds, and even alfresco stargazing talks that reveal ancient myths about the constellations.

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: September 2018