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Unforgettable Fall Drives When Your Homebase is Vail, Colorado

The hills are alive with color come mid-September and early October around Vail, Colorado. Take an unforgettable fall drive to see stands of once-green aspens shimmering in gold with Vail as your convenient homebase.

Leaf Peeping in Colorado That’s Done in an Hour

Hoping for a quick trip from Vail so you have time for shopping and dining? Enjoy Vail’s gilded aspens for as little as an hour. Start with the scenic Vail Pass by driving east along I-70. Spectacular shades of scarlet and amber line the winding, high-elevation drive. You can turn around at either Frisco or Georgetown — your pick — before heading back to Vail.

Alternatively, soar above the trees with a weekend gondola ride up Vail Mountain. Stop by the ticket office in Lionshead or Vail Village (kids under 12 ride free with purchase of an adult ticket!) and let the scenic gondola guide you to some of the best autumnal views in the region. After hopping off, you can leaf-peep golden passageways on nearby hiking trails and even grab a meal before descending to your comfy homebase — your Vail hotel room.

Don’t overlook the Vail Recreation Path right in town. This route passes through West Vail to East Vail, with a sprawling network of “improved gravel” and paved trails for every skill level. Choose your own adventure with over 15 miles of foliage-filled hikes — and enjoy fall’s fiery palette with the soothing sounds of burbling Gore Creek in the background.

Multiple generations of a family walking by the creek in Vail

See Fall Colors in a Half-Day

Those looking for a longer road trip will appreciate these half-day routes striped with color. Allot at least an hour-and-a-half for a trip to Piney River Ranch for its views of the Vail Valley, framed in honeyed aspens and needle-covered pines. Or set aside a couple hours to drive along Loveland Pass. This high-mountain road, noted for its white-capped winter peaks, displays fall foliage perfect for leaf peeping with binoculars.

For a dirt-road adventure, drive from Vail to Shrine Pass in Red Cliff or Tigiwon Road in Minturn. The former offers the opportunity to bike Shrine Mountain Trail or gaze at the Mount of the Holy Cross, the highest peak in Eagle County. The latter, Tigiwon, provides picture-perfect views of Notch Mountain. The towering summit overlooks the Holy Cross Wilderness, where spruce and fir trees intermingle with fluttering aspens.

Bicyclist riding down an aspen-lined trail in Vail in the fall

Take a Day to Drive Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway

Crisp autumn Saturdays are meant for day-long drives. Few Colorado byways are better than Top of the Rockies, where off-the-chart views and verdant vistas abound (as well as EV-charging stations, each within 100 miles of another). Vail is located near the route’s start, which begins in Minturn and loops to Aspen — make time for stops along the way. If you aren’t up for a long drive, consider a smaller section which traverses Minturn, Red Cliff, Camp Hale-Continental Divide Monument and Leadville, where you can drive back to Vail from Copper Mountain, raked in autumnal tones. Either way, if you play your cards right, you’ll end your expedition in time for dinner.

Angler standing in the river fly fishing surrounded by bright yellow trees in Vail, CO

Vail in the Fall is Your Homebase for Leaf Peeping

Travel Tips

An invigorating fall road trip awaits, but not without a little planning. Consider booking a Vail hotel with access to all the golden views like Manor Vail Lodge, Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail and Grand Hyatt Vail. Book a table ahead of time to savor harvest dishes from restaurants that prioritize farm-to-table flavors like Slope Room and Sweet Basil. And, if you’re a first-time visitor to the area, learn from the pros and go with a guide. Locals know the best views around, and they’re happy to share them.

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