Are you ready for fall? Colorado state parks are already showcasing the best of changing nature, with cooler temperatures for hikes, leaves bursting into red, yellow and orange, and unique animal mating rituals on display in the mornings and evenings.
If you’re hunting for fall colors near Denver, where it still looks like summer downtown, there are multiple state parks within easy driving distance that already look and feel like fall. Here are 4 parks perfect for day trips:
Mueller State Park
At Mueller, dramatic vistas of Pikes Peak, the collegiate range and changing aspens are within easy hiking distance (less than a mile) from the trailhead. The 5,000 acre Mueller is also known for its heated cabins, evening elk hikes which allow you to experience bugling during the mating season and horse camping which allows you to set up camp near beautifully maintained horse facilities before hitting the horse trails to explore the park. Less than an hour from Colorado Springs and two from Denver, this park is at 9,000 feet, much cooler than the city and feels like a world apart.
Roxborough State Park
If you can’t get enough of the unusual red rock formations near Morrison, go explore the nearly 4,000 acres at Roxborough, which is less than an hour from Denver. An easy (less than 3 miles) round-trip hike to Fountain Valley Overlook provides plenty of geologic formation and wildlife sightings. Roxborough is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places for the restored stone house sitting on park property which once belonged to Henry S. Persse. Persse gave the park its name in the late 19th century.
Staunton State Park
Colorado’s newest state park (opened to the public in May 2013) recently opened a new trail deep into the 3,828 acre park to Elk Falls. That trail is about 12 miles long (round trip) and gains 1500 feet in elevation, but it’s worth it for the view and the waterfall. An easier, more family-friendly hike (about 1 mile) to Davis Ponds provides a peek at some lovely aspens and a little-known fishing spot by the dam. Hiking in Staunton feels much farther than an hour away from Denver.
Known for its rock climbing, particularly bouldering, Castlewood Canyon also offers stunning cliff views, changing leaves and special events such as gold panning in Cherry Creek and the upcoming Haunted Hike. One “spooky” sight at the park is the ruins of the original Castlewood Dam, which broke in August 1933 and caused the second worst flood in Denver’s history. Castlewood sits on 2,634 acres about half way between Denver and Colorado Springs.
Story by Alicia Cohn. Cohn is a communications specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She is also an avid outdoorswoman.