This summer in Colorado has been HOT! The state has been experiencing temperatures running between one and five-degrees above normal compared to other years. Even with warmth, thanks to the high elevation that we have here, temperatures haven’t been above 80-degrees in many locations.
The heat was coupled with very dry conditions most of the summer as well which has led to drought covering all of Colorado. This is led to multiple large wildfires burning at once in several areas. So, needless to say, all of us here in Colorado are ready for the cooler temperatures and of course, we CAN’T WAIT for the snow to fall. Which is coming!
The next few months: September, October and November – to this Coloradan – are some of the best months of the entire year. The air turns crisp at night. The days have a slight chill (sometimes not-so-slight) chill to them. Most amazingly, the leaves begin to turn. The Colorado Aspen trees bring leaf-peepers from all over the country to our hills to view the great transition from dark forest green, to dark forest green with rivers of fluorescent gold dripping down the mountainsides. It’s simply one of the most amazing things you may ever see.
Let’s Talk Temperatures
Across the state, Colorado Ski Country member ski areas speckle the state from Steamboat to Telluride. Temperatures, although mostly uniform, vary to some degree which means that the trees in certain areas of the state experience peak color change at different times. Here is a look at average monthly temperatures for each of the next 3 months and when the first snows begin to fall:
September – 52.8º F
October – 42.2º
November – 28.8º
Snow starts falling on a more consistent basis in mid-October but they have received snow in early September before.
Winter Park/Granby Ranch
September – 48.0º
October – 37.6º
November – 24.6º
Snow starts falling in Winter Park and the Grand Valley in early to mid-October but they have also seen snowfall in September before.
September – 55.1º
October – 44.8º
November – 24.6º
These Front Range resorts typically see their first measurable snow in mid to late-October but they too, have seen snow accumulate in September. I’m sensing a theme.
Loveland/Arapahoe Basin/Copper Mountain/Cooper
September – 47.6º
October – 37.8º
November – 25.6º
Up in and around Summit County, the snow starts falling in early October and up on the divide (where Loveland and A Basin sit), they see snow in mid to late-September.
September – 55.3º
October – 43.4º
November – 31.6º
The four Aspen mountains begin to see their first snows in mid to late-October with some snow being reported in late September on certain years.
September – 51.8º
October – 41.9º
November – 29.0º
The western slope begins to see their snow start in late October.
September – 50.7º
October – 39.1º
November – 25.8º
Snow starts falling on Monarch Pass in early October but they have reported snow as early as September 3!
September – 47.8º
October – 38.5º
November – 26.5º
Snow typically begins to fall across the San Juan mountains in early October. Of course, differing weather cycles can change these dates but most of the aforementioned snowy dates occur year after year.
September – 63.2º
October – 51.5º
November – 39.7º
We usually see our first snow in and around the Front Range in late October. It’s happened as early as early September and as Late as New Years but typically between the last couple of weeks in OCtober and the first couple of weeks of November, it is normal to see snow in the lower elevations.
So, where do the leaves play into all of this? Well, cooler temperatures and a difference in the amount of daylight start the shutting down process of the trees. The trees will begin to go dormant and once that happens, they stop producing chlorophyll which is what keeps the leaves green. Once that happens, the colors change to yellow (or red, or orange or other colors).
When is Peak Color Season in the Mountains?
Peak color in the mountains differs from north to south. Why? Because the more north you go the quicker it gets cooler and the quicker you lose daylight. As you could imagine, since we are only talking about the span of a state, there is not a huge difference but there is enough of a difference that you should plan around it.
Largely, expect peak color in the Colorado Rockies to occur from mid-September to early-October. The only caveat to this is that we have been extremely dry and very warm lately and that has an impact on when and how vibrant the leaves get.
Dry conditions normally make the leaves drop a little early with little or minimal color change. We also have to consider that a healthier tree will produce more color and with the drought covering all of Colorado and wildfires reducing air quality, our trees are not extremely healthy.
This year’s color-peeping forecast does not seem to be ideal for extreme and vibrant colors but the Aspen trees tend to always put on quite a show regardless of weather conditions – you just have to be okay with it not being as great as years past.