Did you know Crested Butte, Colorado is home to the largest aspen grove in all of North America?
The unmistakable trees go on for miles and miles. And in the fall they pop with the most vivid shade of yellow that nature has to offer. Seriously… if experiencing the aspens in Colorado is on your bucket list, you cannot go wrong with this destination.
Crested Butte is one of the best places in Colorado for aspens and fall colors.
The town of Crested Butte itself is charmingly quaint, with one main street and almost zero chain businesses. You can wander down the sidewalks to find tea, local soaps, a bagel shop, local restaurants, and overwhelming local charm.
When To Visit
The ski town undergoes its largest crowds in the winter, particularly in Mount Crested Butte (a recent extension to the town just 10 minutes north). So winter is a great time to visit for skiing and snowboarding — just be sure to make reservations in advance.
But Crested Butte is truly an all-seasons destination. The small town hosts a world-renowned film festival annually. It’s also well-known for its mountain biking trails. In the summer, the July wild flowers will take your breath away. And in the fall, the aspens will do the same. (All with far fewer crowds than Rocky Mountain National Park!)
To travel to Crested Butte, you will find the cheapest airfare into Denver. From Denver you can drive 4.5 hours southwest, passing through Buena Vista. Or you could fly into the smaller airport in Montrose, about a 2 hour drive away. Better yet, the Gunnison airport is just 30 minutes.
So are you wondering where to find aspens and fall colors in Crested Butte, Colorado? Read on if you would like to plan the perfect itinerary. Here are 3 places to find the best aspens in Crested Butte:
1. Kebler Pass: Cliff Creek Trail & Horse Ranch Park
Kebler Pass is a mountain road that’s famous for fall foliage. The route connects Crested Butte to Paonia, Colorado. It is out-and-back, and takes about 2 hours to drive in one direction. If you don’t want to drive back the way you came, you can continue to loop down and around toward Gunnison on the West Elk Loop, which takes 4-5 hours.
Note that parts of the pass are dirt or gravel roads, but you should still be able to make the drive with any car.
You will be astonished by the bright yellow colors creeping over the mountainsides.
Even if you don’t drive the entire pass, you should at least drive about 30 minutes west of Crested Butte to reach Cliff Creek Trail & Horse Ranch Park; they are across from each other on either side of the pass.
Cliff Creek Trail has a large grove of mature aspens, accessible directly from the parking lot. The trail stretches on for many miles, eventually reaching Beckwith Pass after 4.5 miles then connecting to the Three Lakes Loop (also worth hiking!), but you can easily enjoy the grove without stepping far from your car.
The trail starts out relatively flat among the aspens, before climbing steeply for beautiful mountain views. So you can come here for some easy aspen photography or a moderate hike.
Horse Ranch Park is also only about 30 minutes west of Crested Butte. You can take the trail for several miles up to a mountain pond, and most of the way you will be surrounded by aspens. This trail is truly stunning when the aspens peak. It will appear as if the mountainsides are on fire — particularly early morning or evening when the sun is low.
The entire trail is about 6 miles, but I turned back a little early, as the sun had set. Signs posted in the parking lot show the trail maps.
Near the parking lot of Horse Ranch Park is another pond. When I finished hiking in the evening, I watched beavers swim around their dam during the sunset!
2. Lower Loop Trail
This easy trail is directly on the edge of town in Crested Butte. You can park at the Woods Walk Trailhead (which you can find on GoogleMaps). The nearer trailhead is marked for handicap and families with children only.
Lower Loop Trail stretches though open fields, dipping in and out of magical aspen groves and evergreen forests. You are treated to beautiful mountain views across the valley, as well as Peanut Lake below.
There is a network of several trails in the area (Woods Walk, Budd Trail), but Lower Loop Trail itself is great for families. There are even some storytelling signs posted along the way. The entire trail is 6.4 miles, but you can turn back early, or loop back on the other connecting trails.
Overall, Lower Loop Trail will treat you to really amazing sweeping views, along with aspen groves, for minimal effort.
3. Ohio Pass: Beaver Pond Trail
The hike to Beaver Pond was my favorite while visiting Crested Butte!
To get to the trailhead, you should start out driving down Kebler Pass, from the west edge of Crested Butte. Continue west on Kebler Pass for about 6.5 miles or 15 minutes, until you reach signs for Ohio Pass (Rd 730). From the turn onto Ohio Pass, drive about 4.12 miles south to reach the parking lot for Beaver Pond Trail.
Just as with Kebler Pass, Ohio Pass has unpaved portions, but you should still be able to make the drive in any car.
The drive down to the trailhead is absolutely incredible! You will find expansive views over thick aspen growths. There are places to pull-off and take a million photos.
Once you reach the parking lot, you will be directly in the middle of endless aspen forest. The trail takes you at a gentle incline uphill until you reach Beaver Pond. It’s a relatively short trail, only about 1 mile, but it took me awhile to hike simply because I kept stopping to soak in all the beauty!
The trees are towering, with bright leaves fluttering down to the ground around you. Time your hike when the sun is hanging low rather than directly overhead for truly magical lighting.
Some Things To Note
Keep in mind that mother nature is subject to change, and chasing fall colors always involves some degree of luck. The peak colors depend on timing and altitude. The last time I found vivid fall colors in Crested Butte, Colorado was right at the end of September and into early October, 2020. Check local updates to plan your trip.
Also note that many mountain passes in Colorado (including Kebler Pass) close from November-May, due to winter conditions.
But the good news is that Crested Butte is a year-round destination, with tons of activities no matter the season.
Wow! Great article! I love those pictures too!
Thanks Alan! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I so lucked out having perfect blue skies to really set off the yellow in the photos!
These photos are stunning! I had never heard of Crested Butte, but now I want to go!
Thank you!! Crested Butte is really awesome. It’s famous for the aspens in fall, wildflowers in summer, and skiing in winter. I want to see the wildflowers next!