Early leaf peeping – Kebler Pass, CO

We’d been hanging out in southwestern Colorado for several weeks, just so I could be awed by Colorado’s gold – the golden Aspen trees, that is.  This was Steve’s promise to me since I had missed this portion of our travels in 2015 due to a family emergency.  And I was excited that my first leaf peeping would be at Kebler Pass, a high mountain pass near Crested Butte at an elevation of about 10,000′.  It’s a seasonal mountain highway that connects Crested Butte with Paonia, and since I had heard good things about Crested Butte it only added to my anticipation.

Our 190-mile loop drive

We decided to take a full day to drive a loop from Montrose where we were camped to Crested Butte, over Kebler Pass to Paonia, then on through Hotchkiss and back to Montrose.  Knowing it would be a long day, we packed our snacks and water and left at sunrise.  Heading east, the sun was in our eyes from the start, but that didn’t hinder me from capturing some interesting features we saw along US50:

Impressive 500′ Drillion Pinnacles at Curecanti National Recreation Area
Colorful beaches lined the water at Curecanti NRA

I was a bit apprehensive about our timing, because I’d read on the Forest Service website that the full fall foliage in this area was at least a week away.  But I kept my fingers crossed that we’d see lots of gold along the way, and as we approached Crested Butte I realized I wouldn’t be disappointed!

I was smiling as we approached Crested Butte

Town of Crested Butte

We arrived at Crested Butte, a little 1880s mining town, before its businesses started opening.  We strolled through all of the quaint streets of the downtown area, which didn’t take long.  Local businesses are housed in beautiful and vibrant late 1800’s era storefronts, making it a picturesque mountain community. We could see why these folks boast about the panoramic views of Mt. Crested Butte’s dramatic peaks that can be seen from anywhere in town.

Hmm…do I really need yet another T-shirt?

These folks take their benches seriously!  I’d love to come back in springtime to see the wildflowers
Mt. Crested Butte hovers over the town, with golden Aspen trees prominent on nearby hillsides

Kebler Pass Road

After walking and gawking around town for a while, we continued up to Kebler Pass, a 30-mile segment of gravel road on the West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway.  It’s home to one of the largest Aspen groves in the world.  Even more mind-blowing is the fact that Aspen trees grow from a single root system and all of these trees are a single living organism named the Kebler Pass Aspen Grove.

Peaks towered in the distance as we passed through Aspen and Evergreen forests
A sea of gold!

There was a section in the Pass where we were in the midst of giant, tall Aspen trees.  I wanted Steve to pull over, but there were a lot of crazy drivers, leaf peepers and photographers on the sometimes narrow gravel road.  And to think we were still a week away from the peak colors!  On this beautiful day the trees were spectacular all around the unique landscape:

Three Lakes Trail


To avoid the main leaf-peeping traffic, we turned onto an even narrower and steeper gravel road leading to our planned hike on Three Lakes Trail.  This hike featured (you guessed it) three lakes, great views of Ruby Range, and a spur trail to a small waterfall.  It was a short 3.7-mile moderate and scenic trek, with plenty of families and groups of friends enjoying it along with us.

The trail weaved mostly through thick pine forest
The first lake we encountered, Lost Lake Slough
Another mile of hiking up a steady incline led us to Dollar Lake
A short detour to admire the falls at Middle Creek
It was fun walking on a carpet of golden leaves…
…and looking up through them
A forest opening revealed sweeping views of Marcinella, Ruby Range, and Lost Lake Slough
We finally reached the waters of the third lake, a very clear Lost Lake

We eventually escaped the busy area and continued over the pass into the friendly little town of Paonia, where we had a late lunch and were then inspired to taste some wines at a couple of nearby recommended wineries.  We were again surprised at how good Colorado red wines are, especially the Pinot Noir’s, which are my new favorite.

Wine tasting at Black Ridge Winery

Our final stop was at a pig farm in the town of Hotchkiss, which Steve had arranged several weeks before.  Say what?  A pig farm?  Since we first tried pasture-fed pork with my relatives in Arkansas a few years ago, Steve has been on the lookout for the delicious pork which is difficult to find.  We’re still not sure why it’s so easy to find grass-fed beef, but not pasture-fed pork – maybe it’s just not so in demand?

This place is a pigsty! Actually not, since the owner moves his 100+ piggies to a new grazing area every two weeks

Toby McPartland, “Lead Pig Wrangler” (his terminology), was happy to show us around his operation.  He was a super-nice guy and very knowledgeable.  We happily bought enough pork to last us several months.

If you get a chance to try pasture-fed pork, watch out – you won’t be satisfied with store-bought again!  If you enjoy a good pork chop now and then as we do, check out Colorado Pastured Pork if you’re in the area.  Although large “pork packages” are shown on the website, Toby was good enough to sell us just the cuts and amounts we wanted since we drove out to his farm.  Good stuff!

Steve looks a bit tired at Azura Winery, where I tasted a wonderful Pinot Noir.  Cheers!

It was a long day of circuitous driving, but who can complain with such awe-inspiring scenery all around?  The Kebler Pass Aspen Grove may not have peaked quite yet, but it portends well for more of the state’s signature golden Aspen trees at our next stop!




  1. Beautiful pictures! Enjoy following you on your adventures. Hope our paths cross again some day.

  2. That’s a beautiful drive through beautiful country that we’ve experienced in the past. Crested Butte is one of my favorite mountain towns. Thanks for an Aspen fix!

    • Sometimes I wished you are with me and get crazy with our cameras. I checked your archive and too bad we cant do some of the drives you mentioned, our little car cant make it.

  3. The quality of the color on the fall’s Aspens isn’t to be believed. Driving through a grove of them is like looking at the sun. I’m always taken with the mezmerizing patterns the trunks make, whether in their fall clothes or naked in the winter.Your photo’s are so beautiful MonaLiza.

  4. Sounds like a wonderful day with auto hiking and foot hiking!! The aspen are so beautiful. I am glad we got to enjoy them in Boulder Mountain. Hiking on a leaf covered trail is such fun. The blue sky is so necessary for the yellow to pop. Beautiful photos:) Love the hike to the lakes. A pig farm…what an adventure! I’ve never had fresh pork. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it! Thanks for sharing your loop day. I’ll keep it for next year when we try this area again.

    • The hike was really a quintessential Colorado trail even if you do it on springtime or summer. Pam you should try some pastured pork, it really tastes different from the port you get from the store. Hitting this area in the last two weeks is great for hiking and leaf peeping.

  5. It looks to me like you hit peak aspen fall colors! I can’t imagine it any more beautiful than what you captured in your photos. Isn’t it fascinating that the aspen in a grove all share the same root system? And I totally agree with you about pastured pork. That’s the only kind we buy—we find it at farmers markets all over the country and sometimes at natural foods stores. It’s so delicious!

    • Even if it was describe as Near Peak, I’d say we did have a good timing. I would want to go back there when it is really peaking, but it is just a wish for now.

  6. Love the colors in Crested Butte. On the houses and stores that is. AND the gold in them hills behind the town. Really fabulous views and pictures on the scenic byway. Steve kept his promise in spades with a little help from the Aspens. Glad you could get out for a hike to the lakes and up close to the color. Love that sun and beams burning through. Great picture.

  7. Pinot Noir is my favorite red as well. We agree that pastured pork is nothing like the conventional pork you see in grocery stores. Glad you are getting your fill of fall color MonaLiza.

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