The Outdoors,  Travel Guides

Best Camping Trip to Experience the Beauty of Colorado Fall Colors

These days, fall is right around the corner. I don’t know about y’all, but after this summer of highs and lows (a double reference to the weather and my life) I’m ready for the steady energy of autumn. With school starting and summer trips ending, fall marks a return to routine. However, before you get too cozy in your routines, don’t forget to get out and catch the colors of fall. It sounds silly saying “Don’t miss the fall colors” as I write to you from the Midwest. You truly can’t miss it here. However, if you’re in Denver, you know that you have to work for it each year. Colorado fall colors only come around for about 1 mysterious month in September/October and if you’re not careful, you could miss it. While we try to predict the fall colors in Colorado, sometimes you just have to go at a moment’s notice. 

Last year, Sam and I got the word and headed out last minute to Twin Lakes. By this time, Twin Lakes Colorado camping seemed to be in its off-season. So, finding a first-come, first-served campsite was a breeze. Even better, the rumors were true. Everywhere you looked you saw patches and trails of beautiful, bright yellow aspen trees coursing through the mountainside, lining your scenic drive, and highlighting your hiking trails. That’s why I cannot recommend a Twin Lakes, Colorado camping enough to experience the very best fall colors in Colorado. 

What is the best time to see fall colors in Colorado?

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Best dates for fall colors in Colorado 2022
Colorado fall foliage map 2022
Colorado fall colors 2023 (0 right now, could grow?) 
Best time to see fall colors in Colorado 
What is the best time to see fall colors in Colorado? 
Are the aspen turning in Colorado yet? 
What trees change Color in Colorado?
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As a guide, you can view this Colorado fall foliage map from the Colorado State Forest Service. According to the State Forest Service, Colorado fall colors depend on many factors including tree health, weather, elevation, and other environmental factors. However, you can generally expect leaf peeping to begin in the Northern part of the state from mid to late September. Color change will then work its way down South from late September to early October. Sam and I visited Twin Lakes (Southwest of Denver) September 23rd-25th 2022 and felt like we nailed the timing. You might be asking why this is such a tight timeline and what trees change color in Colorado. Well, the answer is synonymous for both of these questions. Aspen trees are the only trees that change in Colorado. From a bright green to a gorgeous yellow. This is why the timeline is so tight. 

Twin Lakes Colorado Camping in the Fall

Twin Lakes provides camping near Leadville, CO, and Aspen, Colorado camping as the historic village and massive lakes sit perfectly between the two iconic cities. You’ll take a 2-hour road trip from Denver, and while the drive is unbelievably scenic with Colorado fall colors, it can’t hurt to have road trip podcasts and other things to do cued up. Twin Lakes provides the appropriate feeling of seclusion for your cozy fall getaway without a hefty drive. Activities and adventures are endless in Twin Lakes with gorgeous weather through this time of year. The days are sunny and warm while the nights are crisp and chilly.  

Twin Lakes Colorado Camping: Where We Stayed

As I mentioned earlier, Sam and I planned this adventure last minute. Meaning that I had to trust him with a first-come, first-served campsite. Thankfully I was proven wrong about the scarcity of dispersed sites and we easily snagged a spot near the South Mt. Elbert Trailhead. To get to this free camping in Twin Lakes, CO just put “South Mt. Elbert Trailhead” into your GPS. Once you’re there, continue past the trailhead a bit and you’ll begin to see the dispersed camping spots on your left. While the site had plenty of spots left, we definitely felt safe with many other campers around us. There are several spots with firepits to accommodate cooking and staying warm but that’s pretty much the extent of amenities. Prepare to pee in the woods 🙂. We arrived on a Friday night and stayed until Sunday afternoon. 

Twin Lakes Colorado Camping: How to Pack

I recommend starting with my 4 Essential Lists for Camping Even if You’re a Beginner. Twin Lakes, CO camping in September has pretty cold nights so pack some extra layers. I slept in 3 layers on top and 2 layers on bottom plus a winter hat. I tend to run cold though so you may not need that much. Other than extra layers, you can prepare for the cold with essential tools to make a fire including firewood (available at the Twin Lakes General Store), a lighter, and kindling. Finally, we were tent camping, so a warm tent setup is key. Use a sleeping bag that’s equipped for 30-40 degree temperatures. Bring a tarp and rain cover to keep the tent warm and free from heavy morning dew. 

Twin Lakes Colorado Camping: What We Did

Took a Scenic Drive:

After spending Friday night setting up camp and hanging out at the site, we were ready for a Saturday adventure. This took the form of a scenic drive along Independence Pass. Of course, we had to stop at the Twin Lakes General Store for some breakfast burritos and coffee before our trek, then we headed out on this epic drive for some of the most incredible views of Colorado fall colors. While you definitely don’t need a final destination along the pass, we were headed to a short hike near Aspen and also stopped at the top of the pass along the continental divide. Independence Pass runs between Leadville and Aspen. From Twin Lakes, head toward Aspen so you can catch the continental divide. If you’re looking to go all the way to Aspen for the day it only takes about an hour. 

Went Hiking:

We had the corgi with us, so our hiking options are pretty limited with him. Typically we aim for something that’s no more than 1 mile. Weller Lake Trail was the perfect fit at just 1.1 miles out-and-back, easy elevation gain, and right off of the pass along our scenic drive. The hike starts along the Roaring Fork River and ends at Weller Lake. This hidden lake provides breathtaking views of more changing aspens and mountain views. I encourage you to stop here and hang in the quiet for a bit. We also “hiked” around the Twin Lakes Visitors Center along their short and well-maintained trails that lead to beautiful overlooks that provide some history of the landscape and incredible views of the Colorado fall colors. 

Hung Out By the Lake:

As I said earlier, the weather was still sunny and warm at the end of September in Twin Lakes. It was perfect for a beach day. Of course, the water was too cold but we grabbed lunch from The Twin Lakes Inn and Saloon, cracked some beers, and picnicked on the shore. I can’t quite remember if we saw any boaters on the water this time of year, but there were floaties in the water and options for kayak rentals. You can also take a cruise on Interlaken Boat Tours to see the abandoned 1800s Interlaken Resort that lies across the lake. 

If you’re looking for an authentic way to see the Colorado fall colors, there is no better activity than camping. Heading just a few hours into the mountains for some Twin Lakes, CO camping is the perfect way to see stunning, leaf-peeping views and have a relaxing fall weekend. Just don’t forget to check the predictions, pack your layers, take the scenic route, and snap as many photos as possible.

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