When the aspen turn on the aptly named Flash of Gold trail at Buffalo Pass near Steamboat Springs, it’s usually a reliable signal that leaf-peeping season in Colorado’s high country is beginning. And while it hasn’t started there yet, it sounds like it is time to start counting down the days.
Leaf-peeping season in Colorado begins in the northern part of the state in early September and spreads south through the month into early October. In addition to latitude, elevation plays a role in the onset of the change — higher means earlier — which is why Buffalo Pass (elevation 10,300 feet) provides a good gauge.
Angelica Salinas, who works at the Steamboat Springs Chamber, rode her mountain bike to Flash of Gold last Sunday and didn’t notice much change.
“It was still pretty green on Flash of Gold when I was there,” Salinas said. “Usually it changes up on Buff Pass first, before we see those leaves in town.”
In the Sulphur Ranger District of the Arapaho National Forest near Winter Park and Granby, there’s just a hint of the change.
“Our folks over on Sulphur say it’s just starting now,” said Reghan Cloudman, public affairs specialist for the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests. “Not super noticeable, but those first few colors are starting to change. I think we’ve got a while before it’s going to be noticeable.”
Forest experts are saying it should be a good year for fall colors in areas of the state that got good moisture this summer.
“Because of the great moisture year that we’ve had on the Front Range, I would expect that the Front Range of Colorado will be a very good leaf-peeping year,” said Casey Cooley, a forest habitat coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The stuff on the west slope — because it’s more of a drought year for the west slope — might turn quicker and the leaves be off the trees sooner because they are a little bit stressed. Down in southwest Colorado, you’ll see aspens turn colors quicker and their leaves will probably fall off sooner.”
According to a widely cited annual interactive fall foliage map of the U.S. maintained by smokymountains.com, the peak color for northwest Colorado from Interstate 25 to the Utah border is likely to occur around Sept. 20, the peak for the central part of the state from the Front Range to Utah should follow a week later, and the peak in southwest Colorado is expected to occur around Oct. 4.
“The further north you go, and the higher in elevation, the earlier we see things changing,” said Andy Schlosberg, a supervisory forester for the Colorado State Forest Service. “Down here in Woodland Park (northwest of Colorado Springs) at about 8,000 feet, we’re just starting to see the first leaves starting. Typically the third week of September is when we start seeing things peak at the higher elevations, stretching into October as we get lower down in elevation and go further south in latitude.”
Nicole Cookson, who works in visitor information services for the national forest district headquartered in Steamboat, said leaves in town are starting to lighten up.
“But nothing is really popping out yet,” Cookson said. “We might see some changes starting next week, but I think two weeks is when we’ll really start to see more of a change.”
Cloudman said there haven’t been reports of changes in the Canyon Lakes Ranger District, west of Fort Collins. Kyle Patterson, public affairs specialist at Rocky Mountain National Park, said the same is true there.
“We aren’t really seeing any change yet, either.” Patterson said.
This content was originally published here.