Guanella Pass Offers Gorgeous Fall Colors
Fall in the Rockies brings clear blue skies with puffy white clouds during the day and cool crisp nights. The mountain air is turning cooler and seems fresher. Wildlife is moving down from the high country.
People, on the other hand, are flocking up to the high country in their annual search for gold, mountainsides full of gold-leafed aspen trees, that is. And there is no better place to see the change of seasons, with bright gold and orange aspens set against dark green firs, spruces and pines, than the Guanella Pass Scenic and Historic Byway, above Georgetown.
The byway winds its way out of Georgetown and into the Colorado alpine tundra. Approximately a half mile up the road, above Georgetown, is an overlook where one can peer between the trees to see Georgetown and its lake below. On the way to the top of the pass, one crosses Clear Creek several times as it rushes and tumbles down the mountainside through Excel Energy’s hydroelectric complex that supplies electricity to the Denver metro area.
There are several picnic sites and campgrounds along the road, as well as numerous turnouts and wide spots on the shoulder where leaf peepers can pull off and drink in the view of golden trees and steep mountain sides. Photo ops abound. If you are lucky, you might even see bighorn sheep.
At the top of Guanella Pass, you’ll find parking lots with trails leading off into the tundra. With a sharp eye, limited crowds and a bit of luck, one can find white-tailed ptarmigan in this area. Ptarmigan, a species of alpine grouse, change the color of their feathers from brown in summer to solid white in the winter to blend in with their alpine environment during the changing seasons. To the east, across the paved road, is the Sawtooth, a gray, cold rock formation that lies between Mount Evans (14,264 feet) and Mount Bierstadt (14,060 feet).
The top of Guanella Pass can be reached in approximately 30 minutes on the 11-mile asphalt road that is in good condition.
From the top of the pass, one can continue south, down to the town of Grant on US Highway 285. From Grant, one can return to Denver and view aspen along the way or head south on Highway 285 to Kenosha Pass for more spectacular views of the changing colors.
Another option is to view the changing aspen from the Georgetown Loop Railroad that leaves from its depot in Georgetown. The railroad corkscrews up and over itself on its way up the valley to Silver Plume. For more information on departure times and rates, go to GeorgetownLoopRR.com.
Many people simply choose to return from Guanella Pass to Georgetown and wander the streets lined with colorful Victorian buildings filled with shops and restaurants. Some check out the local museums. The Hamill House Museum is well worth the price of admission. See HistoricGeorgetown.org for hours of operation, cost and information.
If you are hungry for Italian food at lunch or dinner, try Mountain Buzz Café and Pizzeria, 1200 Argentine St. in Georgetown. The C.C.C. Calzone, with sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage and cream cheese baked in a golden, crunchy crust, is absolutely delicious.
To get to the road up Guanella Pass, go west on I-70 to Georgetown. Take Exit 228 and go left under the highway towards the roundabout. From Parker, on a good day, it takes an hour and 20 minutes. Be sure to stop at the visitor center for information, gifts, coffee and restrooms. Then head into Georgetown. It can be a bit tricky finding the start of the road up to Guanella Pass, but if you follow the signs, you shouldn’t get lost.
If you arrive in Georgetown around 10 a.m., you may want to fuel up at Cake, located at the corner of Sixth and Argentine, before heading up the pass. Cake sells assorted fresh-baked pastries; the cinnamon rolls, which Cake advertises as being as big as your face, are covered in sweet, white frosting. But they sell out fast, especially on Sundays.