10/04/2011 03:06 pm ET Updated Nov 27, 2011

Colorado Fall Foliage: A MapQuest Guide

Colorado fall foliage features brilliant hues and spectacular scenery. The changing colors of leaves in autumn is one of nature’s most beloved rites of passage -- and makes for one of the most popular and inexpensive getaways for families. As part of LeafQuest -- a MapQuest series helping leaf peepers across North America find easy and rewarding destinations -- here are three recommended spots for viewing Colorado fall foliage. — Saira Bajwa

San Juan National Forest

Nestled in the Rocky Mountain Range and home to the San Juan Mountains, Colorado's San Juan National Forest spans almost 2 million acres. From mid- to late September, the steep slopes put on a brilliant show of colors, transforming into shades of gold and auburn. Drive through the heart of the San Juan Mountains on the “road to the sky,” aka the scenic San Juan Skyway, which provides stunning panoramic views of fall foliage and ample opportunity to photograph the mountains in all their autumn glory. Want to experience the beauty up close? Pedal your way through the mountains and over the hills in this “biker’s paradise.” Begin your quest at the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez.

928 E. Main St., Cortez, CO 81321 | Get Directions

Maroon Bells Scenic Wilderness Area

Located in White River National Forest, the towering twin peaks of Maroon Bells offer breathtaking views of glistening Colorado lakes and fall foliage in all its splendor. Roads and trails, some of which lead hikers above 12,000 feet, meander through firs, aspens, spruces and krummholz (tree islands), as well as fields sprinkled with wildflowers. Maroon Bells, just outside Aspen, are likely "Colorado's most recognizable scene," internationally renowned for their photogenic panoramas, which draw huge crowds of tourists every year.

Aspen, CO 81611 | Get Directions

Trail Ridge Road

The highest paved highway in the country is also one of its most scenic routes. Trail Ridge Road in Colorado stretches through Rocky Mountain National Park, crosses the Continental Divide, winding through forests, the alpine tundra and scenic overlooks like the spectacular Rainbow Curve. In addition to the "Aspen Gold Rush" of vibrant yellow-leafed aspen trees, fall on the 50-mile-long Trail Ridge Road offers the opportunity to see and hear some unusual mating rituals, including bighorn sheep and their annual head-butting bouts, and bull elks bugling for attention.

1000 U.S. Highway 36, Estes Park, CO 80517 | Get Directions

Scenes from Rocky Mountain National Park during the fall season.

Did we miss a Colorado fall-foliage spot? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Want other great fall-foliage destinations? Check out more LeafQuest.