Last year, we were able to wait until late October to take in the splendor of the seemingly endless mountainsides filled with neon yellow and orange aspens. However, since the foliage season seems to be in full force earlier this year, we decided to check out Guanella Pass last weekend. And, it’s a good thing we did, as the Guanella foliage has hit its peak. Plan on visiting this weekend to get to see the neon aspens before their leaves have fallen.
We began through Georgetown, which is my favorite way to go. Any excuse to go to this cute little mining town, any time of year, is a good one. It was quite bustling last weekend, as it appeared that everyone was trying to cram in a foliage trip. Winding up onto the beginning of Guanella Pass (through the back of Georgetown), we saw more traffic than we have before. Since we have been so many times previously, we knew where the best photo ops were to be had.
The first temptation is to stop at a pull-off overlooking Georgetown. This is definitely interesting to see, but it is not a view that offers a lot of foliage color. The second temptation stop is a babbling brook and small waterfall, just before a switchback in the road up the mountain. Cars were jammed along the road sides to see the waterfall. However, if you are here for the most spectacular foliage display, this is not it.
In fact, the very best view of Guanella Pass’s fall splendor is just around the hairpin turn, and actually just above the waterfall and creek. This is a large pull-off with safe room for several cars. In fact, you can even walk to the far left beyond the fenced area and see the top of the very same waterfall everyone is crowded around below. But because everyone is parked near the waterfall below, it was somewhat difficult to get the perfect perspective on this expansive and magnificent view—without cars ruining the shots. I find that by moving to different positions on the “best view pull-off”, often I can cover the cars below with some of the trees above. From here, you can see colorful mountainsides, a distant lake and the road below—it is quite breathtaking.
Continuing on, you will reach a lake where you can pull in and picnic, with restroom facilities. However, the lake is a bit shallow this year and the foliage is somewhat sparse in this area. Continuing on, you will eventually reach a parking area just below the summit This is a great place to take photos of the adjacent mountains and walk down to the water. The other side of the road offers some great mountain views, as well. Unfortunately, most of the mountains seen at this height are somewhat brown and barren this time of year. Continuing up to the summit, you will find occasionally functional restroom facilities, and a great 360 degree view of the surroundings. There are several summit trails that are delightful, and easy for pets or children. As far as foliage goes, this is not the place; but the views are vast and spectacular.
In my view, there is little point in continuing on once you have reached the summit. Beyond that, there is access to a creek and camping and picnic facilities (someone even made a child’s swingset entirely of logs—bark and all!), but the next body of water you reach on your descent is a private late, and there is really no good vantage point for photos. If you drive down to the side of the lake, you will find it posted with no trespassing signs, and a huge pile of boulders makes any access or even view impossible.
Eventually the road turns to the dreaded corduroy grooved sandstone, which ruins car suspensions (similar roads have ruined our car’s suspension in the past), and it is slow-going and not scenic. I-285 towards Denver, it is an unpleasant fast-moving road with constant stomach lurching curves. I-285 is probably my least favorite road in all the parts of Colorado we have traveled, and I won’t make the mistake of going on it again. There is virtually nothing to recommend it. It is much better to turn around at the Guanella Pass summit, and retrace your way down the mountain to Georgetown, then take the efficient I-70 back to I-470 and the Denver area.
Even though a lot of the fall foliage has already fallen, you can’t leave Guanella Pass out of your leaf-peeping this year—you still get some fantastic views.