Color Sunday, September 29, 2019, is just around the corner, and with it comes the opportunities to get out into nature and experience the amazing yellows, oranges, and reds that come with aspen fall foliage. Aspen trees are amazing for more than just their beautiful leaves. They provide winter feed for elk and habitat for black bear and other species unique to Colorado. The following are three of our favorite family hikes on nearby public lands. Pick one nearest you or check out our website at www.friendsofyouthandnature.org/maps.html for more hiking ideas in your backyard!

If you live in or near Montrose, one of our absolutely favorite fall hikes with children lies just to the south near the town of Ouray in the Uncompahgre National Forest. An easy 3.5 mile loop combines the Portland Trail with a portion of the Upper Cascade Falls trails. It explores the basin below a huge amphitheater of eroded cliffs rising through mature aspen trees above the eastern side of Ouray and features scenic viewpoints to appreciate this formation along with the peaks of the San Juan Mountains rising to the south and west of town. Our children always enjoyed looking for magic: bear claw marks on the aspen bark, feathers on the trail, and snail shells nestled in the rocks along the path. You can always soak off the trail dust in the Ouray pool afterwards!

How to get there: From Montrose drive south on highway 550 for 45 minutes to Ouray. Continue past Ouray for about a mile to the Amphitheater Campground and turn left onto the campground access road. The turnoff is past the second switchback leaving town. Follow the paved road into the campground keeping left at all intersections. The trailhead, marked for the upper Cascade trail is located at the top of the campground. Check out more details about this hike, and possible extensions into a longer hike at: hikingwalking.com and search for the Portland Trail description, under featured destinations of Southwestern Colorado.

Delta County residents can travel east to the West Elk Wilderness area taking the Kebler Pass Road (Colorado 12) towards Crested Butte. The Cliff Creek Trail, featuring a hike to Beckwith Pass, is a 4.7 mile round trip to the top of Beckwith Pass and back, and wanders through one of the largest Aspen groves in Colorado. This hike is rated moderate because of its elevation gain of about 1000 feet over 2.35 miles to the summit of the pass, but it is easy even for young hikers if you take it slow with a few snack breaks. The wildflower fields, mature aspen stands, and amazing views are worth the trip! This year the wildflowers have outdone themselves and are as tall as most hikers as you make your journey up this magical trail.

How to get there: From Hotchkiss drive east on Hwy 133 to the Kebler Pass turn off, following Hwy 12 for 17.9 miles. You will pass the Lost Lake Campground turnoff and turn off on the signed Cliff Creek trailhead. Drive up the dirt access road for 0.2 miles to the trailhead parking area. A trail description and trail map can be found at www.hikingwalking.com under central Colorado featured trails, Beckwith Pass via Cliff Creek.

Mesa County residents have the Grand Mesa National Forest right in your backyard! After driving up through the Pinyon-Juniper, Oak brush, and finally into the Aspen, you reach one of the most beautiful hikes on the Grand Mesa. The 2.8 mile Mesa Lakes trail loop begins at the Mesa Lakes Campground above Powderhorn Ski Area. You can add another 0.7 miles with a short out and back to Lost Lake, which involves a moderate climb with stunning views. This trail has the added value of fishing opportunities at Mesa Lake, South Mesa Lake, and Lost Lake.

How to get there: From Grand Junction, head west on I-70 to exit 49 for Highway 65 South towards Mesa/Collbran. Go 25 miles to Mesa Lakes Lodge. Drive into the lodge area and turn left just before the cabins. Follow the paved road to a parking area just beyond the trailhead. A map and short description of the Mesa Lakes trail can be found on www.alltrails.com/trail/us/colorado/mesa-lakes-trail.

For more outdoor safety tips, trail game ideas, and hiking trails, visit the Friends of Youth and Nature website: (www.friendsofyouthandnature.org). FOYAN is a non-profit that promotes opportunities for youth and families to get outside, experience outdoor activities, and explore nature.

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