We just spent a nice long weekend in Winter Park, Colorado to enjoy the fall colors, hike, and visit Rocky Mountain National Park to see the Elk rut! There are many great fall activities to enjoy within an hour of Winter Park, here are a few:
- Take the gondola up at the Winter Park Ski Resort, ride down the alpine slide, or take on the mini golf course.
- Grab some delicious food at nearby Winter Park (the town) or Fraser.
- Hike a couple of the nearby trails such as Jim’s Creek, St Louis Creek, or Broome Hut for the fall colors.
- Take a scenic drive to Hot Sulphur springs to see the aspens changing colors, drive through the scenic Byer’s Canyon, and take a dip in the hot springs.
- Stop by Grand Lake for the great views of the water and for some yummy food.
- Drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park to see the dramatic scenery and the Elk rut which happens only in the fall.
For our visit some of our family was also able to join and we all had a wonderful time. We stayed just across the street from the ski resort at a condo with a hot tub and great views. Fall is great time to come to Winter Park as accommodations prices are significantly cheaper than peak season and there are almost no other tourists. However, one thing that is not predictable is what the weather will be like in Colorado in the fall especially in the mountains. We were extremely fortunate to have sunny and 60 degree days the entire time during the beginning of October. To make it even better many of the aspen trees were peaking in color.
The Resort and Town
From the condo we enjoyed the easy access to the resort and the town. We were able to take advantage of the nice weather as Winter Park Ski Resort decided to keep their base activities and gondola running. They typically close these activities in late September or early October.
On our first day we took the gondola from the main base up to the top which afforded us great views without the effort to hike! The gondola is little pricey at $20 per person but it is well worth it and allows you to ride the gondola all day. If you have an Ikon Ski Pass the gondola is free during the summer and fall. From the top of the gondola you can hike further up, enjoy the views from the restaurant, and even play cornhole or giant Jenga. In addition to the gondola Winter Park has some of the best mountain bike trails in the country which we did not ride on.
They also have other activities including mini golf, an alpine slide, shops, and restaurants. We did do the alpine slide which apparently is the longest in Colorado. It was pretty fun!
To get from the resort to the actual town you simple take Highway 40 north for about five minutes. There are plenty of nice restaurants and shops in town that are cheaper than the resort. If you continue down Highway 40 for another five minutes you will go through Fraser which has even more options for food and shopping. During our time in the mountains we ate out quite a bit and our favorite spots were Randi’s Grill and Pub, Azteca, and Elevation Pizza.
Hiking to the Broome Hut
No trip to the mountains would be complete without at least a hike or two. One of the more interesting options close to Winter Park is hiking to the Broome Hut. The Broome Hut sits near the treeline overlooking the valley below. It is possible to reserve sleeping accommodations at the hut. Even if you do not reserve it you can still access the restrooms. The easiest or shortest trail to the Broome Hut is to start from the Second Creek Trailhead that sits along the north side of Berthoud pass. It is only about a mile up the trail to get to the hut with about 800 feet in vertical.
From the hut you can continue going up along a river and then above the treeline. The views are spectacular for a short hike.
Hiking Jim’s Creek
Close by to the ski resort is Jim’s Creek which has a trail that follows the waterway and provides great views of fall colors with the many nearby aspen trees. The main trailhead is a short drive down an easy dirt road. From the parking lot the trail goes east into the mountain valley. If you take the whole trail it is nearly seven miles out and back with over a 1,000 feet vertical rise. The trail is very mellow and can be enjoyed just walking a mile or two. Many of the aspens were near the beginning of the trail. When we hiked there were not many people but it seemed like a great trail for families and dogs.
Hiking St Louis Creek
Another great option for fall colors is hiking at the St Louis Creek Trailhead which is about ten minutes outside of Fraser. We hiked a loop called the Fraser Experimental trail. The loop follows the creek through a couple of aspen groves, burned down areas, and cut down forests. The diversity of the trail makes it interesting and there are great views looking at Byers Peak. The trail is very easy and is great to bring the whole family. Note that mountain bikers are able to use this trail but it was not an issue for us.
We recommend doing the loop in reverse if you want the best views first. Head east from the trailhead where you will head straight to the creek. If you are lucky you will see a moose! My dad saw a moose near the creek after my sister and I went hiking further ahead. Going east first you will reach a great overlook with a bench tat overlooks Byers Peak and the creek.
Hot Sulphur Springs
A great detour from Winter Park is to head to the Hot Sulphur Springs to enjoy the hot springs. To get to Hot Sulphur Springs we took the scenic route by going over Cottonwood Pass via the gravel County Road 55. It takes about 45 minutes to drive between Winter Park and Hot Sulphur Springs via this route. The pass provides great views of the valley, the changing colors of the aspen trees, cows, and many older ranches.
As we entered the town of Hot Sulphur Springs we decided to drive a little further before stopping to relax at the hot springs. Just outside of the town is Byer’s Canyon which is a surprising scenic two mile drive. The canyon has very steep walls and reminded us of a small Glenwood Canyon. It is worth the extra five minutes to checkout.
After the drive we stopped at the hot springs to enjoy the mineral waters for their relaxing and healing powers. It costs $20 per person to enter the hot springs. The day we went it was a perfect sunny fall day. We enjoyed many of the pools and even saw some otters attacking ducks in the pond below.
Another place that is a must visit from Winter Park is Grand Lake. It is only a 45 minute drive to get there from Winter Park with great views of Granby Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake, and Grand Lake on the way. The town of Grand Lake has a western feel with large streets and wooden sidewalks. Of course the views overlooking the largest natural lake in Colorado are spectacular. Grand Lake is also a great spot to eat and shop.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The highlight of our trip to Winter Park was driving up to Rocky Mountain National Park where we managed to see the Elk rut! While many people visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer time there was significantly less people here in the fall which made it really enjoyable.
We drove up to the top of the Trail Ridge Road and stopped at the Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Visitor Center which sits at 11,796 feet. From the top the drive is all above the treeline which provides panoramic views of the Never Summer Range, Mummy Range, and even into Wyoming. The temperature difference is quite dramatic from the bottom to the top of the park so come prepared. At the bottom it was 60 degrees but at the top it was in the 30s with plenty of wind. Note that Trail Ridge Road usually closes in October as tons of snow can fall at the high elevation.
The fall not only brings the colors but the Elk rut which is quite magical. We were really lucky as on the drive down we stopped at the Holzwarth Historic Site to hopefully see some Elk. We decided to walk towards the historic site when we heard an Elk bugling off in the mountains. From the middle of the field we listened to the bugling getting closer and closer and we saw a heard of 20 plus Elk come down the mountain and into the field right next to us.
We then saw the male Elk attempt to mate with multiple females while bugling. He didn’t seem to be successful but it was quite interesting to watch. The heard only had one male and he seemed pretty persistent.
Winter Park is a great base for fall adventures and is far enough from the major tourist spots to not feel overwhelming. There are plenty of activities at Winter Park Ski Resort and the nearby towns to keep the whole family entertained. Additionally, there are many hiking options for all levels. Make sure to head up to Rocky Mountain Park to hopefully witness the Elk rut.