August 18, 2021

5 must-see Southwest Colorado fall locations that should be on every photographer’s bucket list

By Lars Gesing
5 must-see Southwest Colorado fall locations that should be on every photographer’s bucket list

Colorado is a wonderful state to live in (duh!), and it’s photogenic pretty much year-round. But for a brief window in late September and early October, the Rocky Mountains here put on their best dress. When the leaves turn golden, this place becomes absolute paradise.

During that brief period of time, many pockets of Colorado offer wonderful opportunities for photography — but none more than the Southwest part of the state. The iconic peaks of the San Juans like Mt. Wilson and Mt. Sneffels are all dressed in gold. Rugged mountain towns like Telluride, Ouray and Silverton bustling with energy (and opportunities to make friends with fellow photography enthusiasts). Vast expanses of aspen groves invite you to wander and look for your own, intimate compositions. Add in a little luck and the first flurries of the season gracing the surrounding peaks, and you are truly in wonderland.

In short, during peak fall colors, there’s no place I’d rather be in the U.S. than Southwest Colorado. It’s why I am so excited to be taking a small group of you on a workshop there to help you create portfolio-worthy images and get blown away by a sea of golden leaves wherever you turn. 

To give you an idea of just how outstanding fall in Southwest Colorado is, below are five locations that should be on every photographer’s bucket list. (Good news: In my workshop, you’ll check off all of them — and more hidden spots that I’ve discovered over the years!).


Dallas Divide near Ridgway

Talk about mind-blowing. The Dallas Divide during peak fall colors is one of those most iconic American landscapes. Now, for photographers, this also means that you’ll be sharing this view with quite a few of your fellow shutterbugs. But especially if this is your first time in the area, the Dallas Divide should absolutely be on your list!


Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton

The Million Dollar Highway is a 25-mile stretch of high-alpine road between the iconic towns of Ouray and Silverton. Take your time to drive this road, and take advantage of the many views from pullouts along the way. The area around Ouray is called the “Switzerland of America,” and for good reason. This is one of the most beautiful drives I’ve found anywhere in the lower 48.

For bonus views, coming from Ouray, go through Silverton and keep driving over Molas Pass for many more incredible opportunities for fall photography.


Last Dollar Road Near Telluride

Well, we are going from a million bucks to your last dollar. Funny how quickly that happens. But seriously: Last Dollar Road outside of the town of Telluride is another one of those “can’t miss” roads. It’s unpaved, so make sure you have a suitable vehicle (or join me on my workshop and let me worry about the driving in our adventure van!). Last Dollar Road winds its way through beautiful golden aspen groves and also offers some stunning vistas, including of Mt. Wilson.


County Roads near Ridgway

County Roads 5, 7 and 9 just outside the town of Ridgway offer a network of photographic opportunities, with stunning views of Mt. Sneffels and the iconic and expansive Double RL ranch, owned by Ralph Lauren. Depending on the conditions, these dirt roads can be a little tricky to navigate. And since they lead through private property, please make sure you stay on the roads. This is not a location to park and wander off, there are plenty of other spots to do that in the area. Respect private property, and keep access alive.

And while we are on the subject: Southwest Colorado is a popular destination for landscape photographers during the fall, and is becoming more so every year — for good reason. That increased visitation doesn’t come without its strains and impacts on the land. Please familiarize yourself with the principles of Nature First — The Alliance for Responsible Nature Photography and make sure to do your part to protect and preserve these wonderful places so we all get to enjoy them in all their glory for years and years to come!


Mount Wilson near Telluride

Mount Wilson near the town of Telluride is undoubtedly one of the most iconic peaks in Colorado, and thanks to its placement on the Coors beer cans, it’s certainly one of the most recognizable. On its lower slopes are miles and miles of vast aspen groves, and a network of gravel roads leading through them. This is a place to get lost in and explore up close, after you’ve shot your share of sweeping wide-angle vistas all featuring Wilson in all its beauty.


As a sneak peek, here are some more images from more off-the-beaten path locations in the area that I will take you to if you decide to join me on my workshop!


Best Locations Colorado Fall Colors Photography