Colorado aspen viewing: Delayed season means there’s still time to see peak colors
If you have yet to get out and see Colorado’s colorful fall colors, you’re still in luck because aspen stands in many areas of the state have not reached their peak.
Dan West, Colorado State Forest Service entomology program specialist, said this year’s peak aspen show is generally a week to 10 days behind most years. Even then, he said people should expect variability in conditions because of the drought that has gripped much of the western half of the state.
“The story if going on a leaf-peeping drive is it’s going to be hit and miss,” said West, who has flown and driven around the state the last few weeks looking at aspen as part of his job. “My advice would be if driving and one drainage doesn’t look good to keep driving because the next one might look great.”
He said timing your aspen outing will be critical this year.
“What I’m thinking will happen is we will have a shorter window of peak season this year because of the drought,” he said. “As the leaves turn, they will drop sooner. I have already seen that in some areas of the central part of the state where the aspen are already brown. That gave me a clue that that could certainly happen in the northern and north-central mountains.”
West said leaves change in tune with the decreasing amount of sunlight but that sunny days and cool nights are what makes the red and orange colors pop in aspen.
The National Weather Service is forecasting some rain — and snow for the higher elevations — Tuesday into Thursday.
A weekend drive through Northern Colorado to North Park showed everything from aspen stands still green to peak color to leafless trees.
The Pennock Pass area west of Fort Collins showed good color with some stands still green and some stands alive but leafless from the Cameron Peak Fire. If you wish to see stunning contrast from vibrant golden aspen to the moonscape left by the fire, this is your area. You can access Pennock Pass from the Pingree Park Road or on Buckhorn Road, where you may encounter delays due to construction.
Driving up Colorado Highway 14 in the upper Poudre Canyon, you can see the white bark of burned aspen stands among miles of charred mountainsides.
Once at Cameron Pass, the show picks up heading west toward Gould and Walden.
West said a recent visit to Rocky Mountain National Park showed color only at the highest elevations with the peak still a week to 10 days away, which is abnormally late.
He said drought has greatly impacted aspen in areas like Steamboat Springs, Gunnison and Kenosha Pass, a popular aspen viewing location most years that is southeast of Breckenridge.
He said conditions in the south-central section of the state in the La Veta and Cuchara pass areas southwest of Walsenburg are in good condition and “looking like they will have a heck of a show.”
Color conditions in the southwest corner look good for oak brush, but drought will damped the aspen color show, West said.
West said aspen aren’t the only fall color people should look for this year, adding that cottonwoods, oak brush, birch and alder all can add color to a drive.
And while a sustained drought has taken its toll on some aspen stands in the state, recent wildfires will make way for new stands because aspen quickly grow in burn scars.
“We will just have to let Mother Nature do her work,” he said.
This content was originally published here.