Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Skip to content

What is Leaf Peeping?

Leaf peeping in Vail comes with a warning. While there may be many places to see the leaves change into their fall colors across the country, you won’t see the same level of spectacular fall foliage anywhere else.

In short, there’s no going back. Once you’ve visited Vail during the autumn season, every other place is likely to pale in comparison.

That’s because Vail doesn’t just give you a range of golden and crimson hues during the autumn season, it gives you its magical vibe. You’ll feel the warmth of the town and the glory of nature in one fell swoop.

Whew. Just thinking about it sends out the tingles. Whether you’re an experienced leaf peeper or embarking on your very first foray, you’ll be over the moon that you’re doing it in Vail.

Yellow aspen leaves are contrasted against a bluebird sky in Vail.

Leaf peeping is a delightful term that refers to the art of taking in the beauty of fall foliage. And it is an art indeed. While you may think looking at leaves change colors simply involves, well, sitting or standing around to watch the leaves change colors, it goes much deeper than that.

The best leaf peepers will come armed with:

  • Suitable shoes for their specific leaf peeping adventure
  • Jacket and/or chunky sweater for that cozy fall feeling
  • Camera to get those once-in-a-lifetime shots
  • Open eyes, heart, and mind

Keeping your eyes, heart, and mind open is the best way to go about leaf peeping, particularly in Vail. You’re not just looking at leaves, you’re looking at the most spectacular swan song as the leaves bid their final adieu during their descent to earth before its long winter’s nap.

Examine the minute details of the leaves. Take note of the way the light enhances them. Listen to the music made by quaking aspen leaves. Let your mind wander into blissful thoughts or mighty and magnificent ponderings. Open your heart to the beauty of nature. Breathe deep and let it come in.

How to Leaf Peep

While there’s no right or wrong way to leaf peep – as long as you get to glimpse the vibrant colors – there are different options you can embrace to suit your mood of the moment.

Serene Mood

The sun shines through a towering stand of white-barked aspen trees with golden-yellow leaves in Vail. On the grassy forest floor, a group of hikers and a dog walk amid the trees.

When you’re feeling tranquil, serene and in the mood for a bit of peaceful soul searching, a meandering walk or hike is the ideal leaf peeping choice. Not only can you trek as fast or as slow as you please, but you can stop at special spots that call your name.

While some may liken serenity to slow and easy, there is a certain level of peace you get from conquering a steep trail all the way to the top – especially when you end up surrounded by heavenly panoramic views.

Invigorated Mood

A mountain biker in a silver helmet barrels down a Vail trail that's surrounded by white-barked aspen trees with golden leaves.

Fast and furious leaf peeping can be the ideal match for an invigorated mood. This calls for one of Vail’s top fall activities: mountain biking. Even if you’re not all that invigorated at the start of the ride, you certainly will be afterward!

Mountain biking through the gorgeous foliage gives you the best of several worlds, particularly if you take a trail heading up Vail Mountain. Biking up the mountain gives you a strenuous workout and a slower ride as you pedal toward the highest peak possible.

Once you reach the higher elevation and you’re ready to head back down the mountain – get ready for a thrill. Flying down the trail is an experience you’ll cherish, especially with the beautiful leaf colors zooming by in a swirling palette of stunning fall colors.

Lofty Mood

A person on a brown and white horse pauses next to someone leading a tan horse through a meadow with evergreen trees and yellow foliage. A gray mountain ridge rises behind them under a bright blue sky in Vail.

Horseback riding among the glorious fall foliage is an instant mood lifter. An additional layer of loftiness comes from being on horseback. Here you’ll enjoy the crunch of the leaves beneath a horse’s mighty hooves as you take in the colors from a unique perspective.

Because you’re connecting with the horse as well as Mother Earth, horseback riding can give you an even deeper connection to nature than other leaf peeping options. It’s no surprise horseback riding is another one of the wildly popular fall activities in Vail. It’s also another experience you’ll remember forever.

Laid-Back Mood

A family of seven stands on a bridge in Vail that spans Gore Creek. Behind them, yellow and green aspen trees rise up and are reflected in the creek's waters.

A laid-back mood is the perfect time for a scenic drive through the fall colors, and you have several ways to make it happen. If you’re visiting Vail and plan on landing in Denver, you’ll automatically get to leaf peep on your drive from the airport to your ultimate destination. The route takes you along Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountains where fabulous fall colors abound.

You can also take a road trip from Vail toward Rocky Mountain National Park, another route that will give you plenty of leaf peeping opportunities along the way. Even if you don’t drive the entire 162 miles, you’re certain to get a fall foliage eyeful.

Best Time to Leaf Peep in Vail

While you have plenty of ways to leaf peep in Vail, all of them need to be done during peak foliage. Fall foliage season in Vail is typically short, consisting of a two-week period in mid to late September.

Because leaf peepers may flock to Vail during peak color season, your best bet is to plan your trip in advance and book your lodging as quickly as possible. Once you see what all the fall color fuss is all about, you’ll completely understand why the autumn season is one of the most dazzling times to visit Vail.

Best Spots to Leaf Peep in Vail

Two people walk along a trail lined with foliage next to a towering stand of aspen trees in Vail, each burgeoning with golden leaves.

Now that you know the peak time to see the leaves change color, your next step is to pin down exactly where to go. The entire area is packed with prime leaf peeping spots, all of which serve up amazing views of the changing leaves in a deciduous forest of aspen trees.

Your perfect Vail leaf peeping option depends on how high, low, tough, or slow you want to go. No matter which way you choose, please do your part for the environment by taking the free public bus to all the surrounding trailheads as parking is very limited. Buses to the outlying trailheads leave from the top level of the Vail Village Transportation Center and parking in the structure is free in the summer.

Gore Creek Path

Really Low, Easy-Peasy

When the time is right for a sweet stroll instead of a strenuous or moderate hike, leaf peeping on Gore Creek Path is the way to go. Paved and welcoming to walkers, hikers, and bikers alike, the Gore Creek Path is easily accessible to both Vail Village and Lionshead Village.

Gorgeous foliage surrounds this 1.8-mile path, taking you along a stretch of Gore Creek from Lionshead to Donovan Park. You’re treated to a lovely view of the town and nature’s glory along the way.

Strawberry Lane Trail

Really Low, Medium-Tough

Even though the name implies red strawberries, you’re going to get amazing views of golden hues from the brilliant grove of aspen trees at the very start of this trail. This trail kicks off in Vail Village, adjacent to Gondola One.

The 2.7-mile hike takes you along ski runs and ski lifts leading through the ski resort, but there is plenty of gorgeous fall foliage to balance out the views. In fact, the bounty of beautiful fall colors will likely be the only thing capturing your attention.

Take the trail to its conclusion and you’ll get an elevation gain of 682 feet, although you can also turn around any time once you get your fall colors fix.

The North Trail

Pretty High, Medium-Tough

This nearly 12-mile trail system runs parallel to I-70 from Davos Road in West Vail to Spraddle Creek in the middle of Vail and takes you to some pretty amazing overlooks with jaw-dropping views of the Vail Valley and mountains aflame with golden aspens.

You can hike any portion of the trail – or all of it if you’re feeling ambitious. A popular starter hike in this trail system is the 2.5-mile out and back to North Trail lookout point from the Buffehr Creek trailhead. After climbing a series of switchbacks from the trailhead for about a mile,  you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views of the Town of Vail and Vail Mountain.

Berrypicker Trail

Pretty High, Pretty Tough

A challenging option on Vail Mountain, the Berrypicker Trail Trail is definitely worth the strenuous, 7.9-mile hike. The trail switchbacks up the Vail Ski Resort, winding through aspen tree groves along the way. It’s an out-and-back trail that reaches an elevation gain of 2,286 feet. Get to the top and you’re treated to panoramic views that stretch blissfully into what seems like eternity.

Leaf Peeping in Vail Awaits

A green golf fairway in Vail sits between a still pond and a mountain ridge blanketed in yellow foliage.

Fall is the favorite season for many. Once you’ve spent part of it leaf peeping in Vail, you’ll never wonder why. You’re not only treated to the vibrant colors in and around the town, but you’ll be embraced by the enchantment and warmth that comes with the territory.

It’s easy to join the Vail leaf peeping club. Just show up during the peak time for fall foliage and enjoy the show. Just remember it’s probably going to be the greatest fall foliage show you’ve ever experienced, and one with which nothing else will compare.