A Secret Leaf-Peeping Heaven at Willis Gulch

I have driven to Aspen from Boulder County many times. How I ever missed the slice of heaven at Willis Gulch during leaf-peeping season blows my mind. It was a secret to me, but it was the parked cars that caught my attention. Another discovery piqued my curiosity and lured me into hiking a little further along the river bank.

A bridge spanned turquoise Lake River — yes, that is its real name, LOL — and contrasted with the golden aspens.

The unusual river tumbled over the rocks with a lyrical rush.

But what was that? A cave? A tunnel? I had to take a closer look.

The river tunneled through the rock!

The other side of the tunnel was even more dramatic.

Definitely worth the trip from Aspen or Leadville.

Between Leadville and the Continental Divide, this aspen oasis was breathtaking and well worth the visit. Roxy enjoyed it too!

There’s a great hike from the trailhead to Hope Pass and Twin Lakes. We’ll have to hike it next time.

After taking a ton of photos, the pressure was off for our day trip to Aspen.

That was a most excellent thing since most of the aspens in Aspen remained green, but I found a few golden elms!

Are you enjoying the change in seasons? Are you getting into the autumn feels — making stews, soups, and apple pies?

43 thoughts on “A Secret Leaf-Peeping Heaven at Willis Gulch

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  1. Love that Colorado gold. It’s always fun discovering a new find. I’ve been enjoying the vibrant colors in northern Wisconsin and can’t help but feel there’s a unique resemblance between birch and aspen trees. It’s getting cold up here and almost time to head to the desert southwest for the winter, but not before giving my camera a serious workout.


    1. I wasn’t sure if you were still there! I would love to go to Bayfield and Door County again some day. There are some amazing fall vistas to explore!

      Birch and aspen are very similar. We can grow aspens at a mile-high but they are susceptible to disease. They are indigenous at much high altitudes. You many already know this, but aspens are the largest living creature in the world since one tree connects to others through their roots. The largest one (mass of them from one tree) is in Aspen!


      1. Since we use to live in Co. Springs and our kids went to CU and CSU, we’ve had the opportunity to explore much of Colorado. One of the biggest groves of aspen I saw from one tree was at Kebler Pass … fascinating!
        We won’t have time to meander through CO on our way back to Phx this month, but perhaps next year I’ll plan better so I can take in fall colors in WI and CO.


  2. I’m finding the colours especially brilliant this year. I’ve only been able to take them in on a couple of drives (I always took the most scenic route to work about an hour away so I got to see them every day) this year.


    1. Woohoo! That’s such a great idea. It’s important to slow down and peace-out for a while. It’s so beautiful here in Boulder right now too! The meteorologists warned the leaves would drop since we had that early snow and freeze, but like you, I think the color is even more spectacular this year! We rarely see red and orange aspens, but this year, they are plentiful!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can almost hear and feel CO fall.
    Yep, fall is here…the grass only needs mowing every other week HAHA
    Looks beautiful. Glad you’ve managed to escape the smoke.
    (Saw the grocery had their chocolate pecan pies out – time for chili and pumpkins. Turn down the AC!)


    1. Oh, wow, yum! — I just said that out loud. LOL!

      Yes, Boulder is starting to burst with color! Cottonwoods and willow are the only indigenous trees at this elevation since the state is semi-arid, but cities and towns are full of oaks and maples among many other colorful varieties, thanks to irrigation systems. LOL! The smoke is still here, unfortunately. I can’t see the mountains today. GAH!

      Thanks, Phil!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dude I’m enjoying the pics with your blue skies and rich colorful leaves! The leaves!!! We don’t get that effect over here, if I drive up north probably. Looks like it was a good little spot. Leaf peeping! Ha! That was a good title 🙂


    1. Cottonwoods, and aspen at higher elevations, are plentiful. This year is unusual in that some of the aspens are orange and red! The bright midwestern color can be found in towns where homeowners have irrigation systems.
      Thanks for stopping by, John!! Happy weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Our colours are just beginning to come on. What is pretty around here with so much evergreen forest, is the contrast between the green of the firs and cedars and the yellow, orange, and red of the maples and alders. Lots of leaves hitting the ground today with the first of our wintery blows.


  5. The deserts of Arizona don’t really experience seasons like this, so thank for the gorgeous photos and the reminder that it’s actually fall. I think we’ll finally dip below 100 degrees next week.


    1. That is hot!!!! I hope it cools down like they’re predicting. I’ve never been to Arizona, but thought it would be similar. That must be the difference between semi-arid vs. desert.


  6. Nice! May have to try to check it out in one of our next outings! We were in Buena Vista last weekend—not too far away! And this is funny, because as we drove there last weekend, my mind actually strayed toward Leadville and that area.

    Cue Twilight Zone music….


  7. Thanks for the hiking tip. We live in Aurora and Willis Gultch looks like a great excuse to get back into the mountains. It’s a shame I didn’t find your post on our way back from Moab this week. Would have been a fun little detour. The aspens are absolutely lovely this time of year especially at the lower elevations where they leaves have yet to fall.


    1. You would love it, Tobias! There are mountain peaks and the Twin Lakes to explore. Definitely worth the drive, a hike or backpacking trip. There’s another trailhead nearby called La Plata Gulch with a view to that 14er. I’ve lived in Colorado for decades and had never explored this area. 😎
      Nice to meet you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My adoration for hiking and photography greatly motivated our decision to move to this colorful state. It just happened that last year my Fiancé and I both found work that moved our careers forward. I’ve added La Plata Gulch to our list too. Thanks again and enjoy the Aspens while they last.


  8. Beautiful hiking trail and river. Our color is almost non-existent so far but in about 10 days we’ll go up to visit our daughter in Charlottesville. It should be peak in the Blue Ridge by then.


  9. Goodness Susie, Colorado looks incredible with all that gold! I am glad the weather is perfect for you to enjoy it!

    The trail doesn’t even look too busy! Any pretty autumnal trails here are packed with people!


    1. We were so lucky but it was midday and many hikers probably started early to hike to the lakes. As I recall, they were four miles away, and the peak was beyond them. It really was gorgeous, Josy!
      It’s always great to see you!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I remember when I was a kid, taking a tour through Aspen and I have never forgotten it! Even as a young annoying teenager, I was transfixed by the colours and beauty of the day in, day out drive through such amazing country. Your photographs are stunning!


    1. Thank you, Sam!
      I remember those raging hormones. 😂 It is beautiful country and this location is less than 45 minutes from Aspen.
      I’m heading to Aspen and hope to bike to Maroon Bells! Parking sold out weeks ago. That’s a new thing!


  11. Lovely. I dream of living in the mountains, but it may remain a dream. I am flatlander and always have been – southeast and the plains of the Midwest have been my home from most of my life. I did live in northern California for three years but never appreciated what i had until I didn’t. The colors here have been amazing, the color peaked this weekend and it’s going to be raking and fall clean up for the weekends until mid-November. The upside – its great exercise, the downside I’d rather be hiking in the mountains. Stay well, safe, and healthy. Peace.


    1. Hello, Clay!! I was just thinking about you yesterday. No lie!

      The fall color is amazing in the Midwest. We several varieties of trees in the yard. Danny has been doing the raking so far. 😂 I love California too and can’t wait until it’s safe to travel. It’s the fires here that have kept us indoors. Just when the Cameron peak fire was over 50% contained, high winds blew in and stoked it up again. They had massive evacuations today. It’s raining outside and it wasn’t predicted, so someone must be dancing for rain! ☔️
      Stay safe, Clay!

      Liked by 1 person

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