Sunday, December 8, 2013

Kebler Pass Aspen Auto Tour

Kebler Pass with aspen foreground
Photo by: Matt Brincka
The Rocky Mountain region of Colorado is jam packed with GORGEOUS auto tours. One is hard-pressed to actually find a horrible drive through the mountains (unless you are stranded on I-70 thanks to construction, mountain goats, blizzards or run-away tractor trailers). My wife and I love to go for drives and no matter where we go, we are just awed by the beautiful scenery.

The beginning of October rolled around this year and I kept on hearing about the Aspen fall foliage in the mountains. Being from the east coast, fall foliage was the one thing other than water my wife and I were truly missing. We knew we wanted to get into the mountains one weekend this autumn to see the golden aspens, but we were hard-pressed on time and only one weekend popped up where we could actually do some exploring.

So before we went, I did a little Google Search on the best fall foliage in Colorado. The first thing that popped up on my radar was Kebler Pass, home of Colorado's largest aspen grove. The one problem? Kebler pass is down by Crested Butte, CO, which is quite a hike from where we live in Longmont, CO. That weekend we could actually go fell into the early time-slot of peak foliage season, so we risked being too early for the colors and just went for it

What was ultimately decided was we were going to take a full day road trip through the Rockies to Kebler Pass. In all, Google Maps was telling us to expect our loop to take 10-11 hours of driving, so we packed a lunch, left super early in the morning, and drove drove drove!

Red line indicates Kebler Pass. Blue lines indicate the there and back again driving trip

There is a lot to see between Longmont and our first stop, Crested Butte. We hopped on I-25 to I-70 and instead of going straight into the Rockies, we hooked south on I-470 to route 285. Route 285 is a drive filled with dynamics. You first push through the Front Range and once you get past Bailey, your surroundings change drastically - you've made it to South Park Basin. South Park is flat grassland basin that encompasses around 1,000 square miles and antelope and cattle are aplenty. Fairplay is the largest town found in the basin, with a booming population of around 600. Within Fairplay is a very interesting historical western town called South Park.

After passing through Fairplay, you skirt around the outskirts of Buena Vista and by-pass Salida (a cute artsy town) and turn right onto route 50. This is where things start to get a bit more interesting. On route 50 you cross Monarch Pass (one of the snowiest places in Colorado). You start to get small pockets of fall foliage and even some snow once you get to the peak of Monarch Pass. After crossing the Continental Divide you then roll into Gunnison, CO and make your way north to Crested Butte. The drive between Gunnison and Crested Butte has some great fall foliage itself, but we were racing against the clock so we didn't stop to admire!

Once you get to Crested Butte, CO there is a small visitor center on the main route with bathrooms. After 4.5 hours in the car... we were ready for them!

The entrance to Kebler Pass, to me, almost seemed like a forgotten back road through an older housing development on the west end of town. Which is completely A.O.K. with me, but to the layman trying to find Kebler Pass, it might take a bit without a map.

From Crested Butte to route 133 the drive is an absolute joy. This is the Kebler Pass we came to see. Most of it is unpaved and there are plenty of areas to stop and just... drop your jaw in amazement. Enjoy the following photos...

Lost Lake Slough in Kebler Pass
Photo by: Matt Brincka

Driving the Kebler Pass
Photo by: Matt Brincka

Once you hit route 133 and start your drive north you are still in some beautiful country. The most breathe taking part of the drive is when you go through the ever popular White River National Forest. If you EVER get a chance to explore the White River National Forest, make sure you go to the iconic Maroon Bells, one of the most photographed mountains in Colorado (yet to go there... so no pictures from me yet! If you google Maroon Bells you will find them).

The rest is kind of a blur; zooming down I-70 back east. You do pass some cute (and often unique) ski towns, such as Aspen, Vail, Eagle, and Avon. If you ever make it to Vail in the spring and summer, make sure you go during their Farmer's Market. It is full of interesting crafts and wonderful food vendors. Kebler pass is also the perfect drive for individuals visiting Aspen during fall.

Overall, if you are visiting Colorado during peak fall foliage and have a day to spare... don't rule out Kebler Pass because it is 5 hours away. Actually, rule-in Kebler pass because any 5-hour drive in the Colorado Rocky Mountains is a drive worth taking.

Aspen grove in Kebler Pass
Photo by: Matt Brincka


  1. Can you let me know - I a putting a thanksgiving card together, and I love your photo's. I live in Gunnison, so these are all home to me. Can I use one of your photos on my card? LMK. Thanks -

  2. We posted a link to this blog on the Colorado Byways Facebook page.