A crisp breeze carrying the slight scent of cooler days ahead (you know what we’re talking about…) is the first sign of fall in the Rockies. Of course, it’s hard to let go of the short, sweet summer that we wouldn’t dare take for granted, but there’s also a new energy in the air. Ski season is just around the corner. No, there won’t be any skiing in this itinerary, but there are still plenty of other things to do! Find out why fall is a local favorite time of year—and may become yours, too!
First thing’s first… Let’s talk about dates. In the Rockies, fall hits a little earlier than it does in lower parts of the country. Leaves typically change color in September, so if you’re planning to catch autumn in it’s golden days, mid-September is your best window!
Where should you stay? Fraser Crossing/Founders Pointe is a great option. Not only is the location convenient, with walk-ability to a number of activities and dining options, but it also has a killer deck with two hot tubs and a grill so that you can spend your downtime lounging and snacking at will. Let’s get to the good stuff… here’s your plan for 5 fall days in Winter Park:
Breakfast at Back Bowl
It’s day one, so you’re probably ready to get things moving bright and early! Walk to Back Bowl for a breakfast burrito or sandwich to fuel up for the day. Plus, you can sit outside to enjoy the bubble of the Fraser River for a peaceful fall morning.
Hike Fantasy Meadow
After a hearty breakfast, round up some sack lunches to bring hiking. If you’re looking to stock up your fridge and make your own lunch, you can buy food at Trail’s End Mercantile in the Village.
Since it’s your first day, take the chairlift up to the top to save the huffing and puffing and get right to the views. Grab a scenic chairlift ticket at the window for $20 so that you can pack in high alpine hiking without overdoing it. Hop on the Gemini Lift, then hike over to ride up the Eskimo Express. Once you’re at the top, hike up the road a short distance to access Lower Roof of the Rockies. This multi-use trail links up to Fantasy Meadow–your destination for a serene picnic lunch (you’ll have worked up an appetite by now)! Fantasy Meadow Loops back to Lower Roof of the Rockies, then you can make your way back down via lift.
Want to hike a little further or try a trail that’s easily accessed without a chairlift ride? Check out our hiking map for more suggestions.
Mountain E-Bike Tour
We hope you’re not too worn out from your hike… because it’s time to hit the trail again! Mountain E-Bike Tours run daily from 1:30pm to 4:30pm. Not really into biking? Haven’t biked in years? No problem! E-Bikes save you the sweat and power you uphill with ease. You’ll also have a fun, knowledgeable guide to show you the ropes and lead you down the best trails for your ability. Cover more miles, see more sights (and hopefully some wildlife) and cruise more trails on this power-packed tour.
Dinner at Lime
You’re probably pretty worn out at this point… make it easy on yourself and wander over to Lime. Sip a classic margarita and fill up on Baja Fish Tacos and comforting tamales. Once the chill sets in, take the short walk back to Fraser Crossing/Founders Pointe, where you’re likely to promptly fall fast asleep.
Take the quick drive into downtown Winter Park to stop at The Perk for your caffeine fix. Try one of their specialty lattes or supercharge with a bulletproof coffee. This local coffee shop has a bright, welcoming atmosphere, so be prepared to want to stay awhile.
Rocky Mountain National Park
RMNP is so close that it’d be crazy not to make the scenic drive to spot some wildlife. You’re likely to see wildlife any time of year in the national park, but fall is especially cool because you can catch the elk rut. You’ll find dozens of elk wandering and bugling through the Kawuneeche Valley. If you’re visiting before the snow sets in, drive all the way up to the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet. Expect beautiful views, an opportunity for some souvenir shopping, and the option to take a few small hikes.
Get in a high alpine hike before the peaks are buried in snow! Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays we offer guided hikes up to the top of North Twin Cone and the Cirque, climbing to 12,060 feet. A little weary of making the climb? You’re in luck. We’ll shuttle you all the way up to Lunch Rock so that you can get right to the good stuff. You’ll get panoramic views of the Continental Divide and surrounding mountain ranges the whole hike up. If you’ve skied the legendary Mary Jane Territory before, you’ll be able to identify your favorite runs on the way up. Once you reach the peak, it’s up to you to decide if you’d like to continue on to the Cirque or find a place to refuel with lunch. Either way, your guide will have a full lunch spread ready to go for you. Once you’ve hiked to your heart’s content, head back down to catch the shuttle back to the base by about 3pm—just in time to get cleaned up for happy hour snacks and drinks. If a guided hike is on the top of your to-do list, be sure to aim for early fall (mid-September would be ideal).
Drinks on the Town
Head to Leo’s Kitchen in Cooper Creek Square, grab a seat on the balcony, settle in with your drink of choice, and watch evening settle over Winter Park. Leo’s is open Wednesdays through Sundays with happy hour from 4-6pm, so plan accordingly! Split a plate of crispy brussels sprouts and bruschetta, or go all in for a classic margherita pizza. Want to make a full night of it? Take a tour of the Winter Park nightlife with a pub crawl on foot. Get the details here!
Set aside some time to de-stress and relax in this beautiful mountain setting… get a massage at Alpenglow Massage right in the Village. Try the Mountain Massage, which you can book for just 30 minutes, all the way up to 120 minutes. After three straight days of adventure, you might need that extra time! There are tons of other options from hot stone massage to Iridology (we initially didn’t know what this was, either!), so explore their offerings to find what most interests you.
Not interested in spa time? Peruse the Village shops for Winter Park gear and souvenirs. Treat yourself to a chocolate drizzled waffle from the Waffle Cabin or watch the Trestle Bike Park riders tear down the hill from the Derailer deck. If you’re looking for Colorado local goods, you have to stop by James and Parry’s. Stock up on keepsakes for yourself, or get a little something for your favorite people.
Dinner Wagon Ride
Break out your favorite flannel and a comfy blanket… is there anything more quintessentially fall than a horse-drawn wagon ride? Sombrero Stables at Snow Mountain Ranch offers horseback and wagon ride year-round, so you can hitch a ride any time! The dinner wagon ride seemed like the perfect way to close out a relaxing day, but they also offer breakfast rides, if that’s more your thing.
Side by Side up Corona Pass
Grab breakfast in the Village before going full speed ahead on your last day in Winter Park! Goody’s has a varied breakfast menu that will satisfy your need for something savory, or biggest sweet tooth. You can’t go wrong with a Nutella crepe, topped with fresh strawberries.
Just a couple doors down from Goody’s you’ll find Grand Adventures, where you can book a side-by-side tour. They’ll take you all the way to the top of Corona Pass on an all terrain vehicle. On the way up you’ll get panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains and Fraser Valley. Stop at the historic trestle and see where the train used to traverse Rollins Pass. You get to drive your own side by side ATV, but a knowledgeable guide will be with you to lead the way. This is one of the best leaf-peeping locations in Winter Park, so keep your camera handy!
Soak in the sights one last time before heading back home. Find a table on the patio at Vertical Bistro for a beautifully crafted meal and drinks. Watch the sky glow pink and purple in the sunset as the alpenglow envelops the Continental Divide and reflects off the serene Village pond.
Autumn in the Rockies comes and goes oh-so-swiftly, but the bold colors and striking scenery are not to be missed! Catch the color change in Winter Park with lots of trail time, good eats, and mountain adventure. For more ideas on how to fill your fall visit to the Rockies, take a look at our other guides here.