The Rifle area is a prime spot for those who want to experience first-hand the changing colors of the autumn leaves. Whether you want to take a drive to bask in the fall colors or go hiking on nearby trails, Rifle is the place to be. Popular locations in Rifle to view the bright colors are Rifle Falls, Riparian Zone, 3-Mile Hiking Trail, West Elk Creek, and throughout town. Popular drives that are within 30-60 minutes from Rifle are below:
Buford Road spans 42-miles throughout the Flat Tops Wilderness Area from Buford to Rifle and is one of the most scenic drives in the entire state of Colorado. The road makes you feel like you’re driving through a scenic postcard with mountains, valleys, lakes, wildlife and vibrant colors of the autumn leaves.
Even with the designation of being the largest ‘Flat Top Mountain in the World’, the Grand Mesa is still relatively unknown to many visitors to the area. It has an area of about 500 square miles and stretches for about 40 miles east of Grand Junction between the Colorado River and the Gunnison River, its tributary to the south. The scenic byway starts in Mesa, and travels through the Grand Mesa, Gunnison, and Uncompahgre National Forests and ends in Cedaredge. The 63-mile road travels through a massive canyon to the top of the mesa which plateaus at approximately 11,000′. The drive takes about 90-minutes along Highway 65 with an additional 30 minutes if you want to check out Land’s End Observatory. This drive is hands down one of the best to view fall colors.
Another picturesque fall drive that’s within proximity to Rifle is County Road 104 that begins in Basalt and travels 16-miles along the Fryingpan River to Ruedi Reservoir. Once at Ruedi, the road continues east into the mountains and ends at Wildcat Mountain, only a few miles west of Leadville (as the crow flies!) The colors along the Fryingpan River and throughout Ruedi and the surrounding mountains are some of the most vibrant you’ll see.
Hunters flock to the Rifle area throughout the fall season to experience some of the best elk, deer, and bear hunting in the country. The White River National Forest is 2.3 million acres of public land containing 10 mountain peaks that reach over 14,000 feet, eight wilderness areas and 2,500 miles of trail. The Flat Tops region is a few miles N/NE of Rifle and offers the largest elk herd in the world with a cow to bull ratio of 4:1.
The trout are large and in charge throughout the fall months in the streams and rivers in and around Rifle. Fly fishing aficionados know that fall fishing means streamer fishing, so get those large streamers ready to land a behemoth fish. Many guide companies in the area provide float trips on the Colorado River and Roaring Fork River, which give anglers a different perspective as opposed to fishing from the banks.
The fall season is the ideal time to rock climb the World Renowned Rifle Mountain Park because of the mild temperatures and smaller crowds compared to the busy summer season. Rifle Mountain Park is considered by many as the best limestone sport climbing destination in the country. It provides over 400 sport climbing routes and caters to climbers with expert to elite ability levels, with its 5.12 grades and higher.
Rifle and the surrounding area provide endless trails for those looking to take their OHVs for the ultimate joyride. Don’t own your own OHV? No worries! There are many companies in and around Rifle that provide daily/weekly OHV rentals.
Just a few miles north of town is Hubbard Mesa, which provides users with a variety of terrain and difficulty levels within the designated OHV area. The BLM has partnered with many entities to make the experience at Hubbard Mesa very enjoyable, with restrooms at the main parking area, a shade shelter, and a kids’ training course.
The Flat Tops region is some of the most beautiful terrain in Colorado and provides many miles of trails for those looking for 4WD adventures. With meadows, mountains, and over 100 lakes, there are endless opportunities to explore the Flat Tops with OHVs.
OHV trail maps can be accessed on the following link: https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/whiteriver/recreation/ohv/?recid=40405&actid=93
One of the hidden gems of Colorado is the Battlement Reservoirs, located about 20 miles from Rifle just south of the Town of Parachute. The designated OHV trail provides 8-miles of nail-biting rock crawling opportunities that end at the picturesque 7-chain lakes of the Battlement Reservoirs. The Town of Parachute provides OHV and trailer rentals year-round for visitors to explore the Battlement Reservoirs or anywhere else their heart’s desire. Head to TOPAdventures.co for rental information.
The Grand Mesa, located a little less than an hour from Rifle, is the largest Flat Top Mountain in the World and is known by motorheads as one of the top OHV locations in the state. The 150 miles of OHV trails on the Grand Mesa offer a variety of adventures that travel through meadows, dense forests of aspen, douglas fir and spruce trees, and provide a great way to explore the 300+ fishable lakes on the mesa.
Grand Mesa OVH Trail Map: https://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Vega/Documents/GrandMesaMap.pdf
Fall is the ideal time to go mountain biking in and around the Rifle area with the mild temperatures and small crowds. Three Forks / 2150 follows the headwaters of Rifle creek through spruce trees, aspen groves, and wildflower meadows. The trail is not particularly technical, but the deep grass and dense foliage reduce it to a narrow, at times nearly invisible thread of dirt below summertime wildflowers grazing your handlebars. Further east, the West Elk collection of trails provides a more extensive menu of options. Cherry Creek is an excellent shuttle-run or challenging climb to loop Mansfield Ditch; Clark Ridge provides an additional extension.
Hiking in Rifle throughout the fall months is a great way to experience the changing colors of the season. Visitors can experience the colors first hand at Rifle Falls, where the lookout points above the falls provide views of golden trees for as far as the eye can see. Additional hikes in and around town that provide optimal fall viewing are the Riparian Zone, Beaver Creek, West Elk Creek, and Three Forks Trails. The Rifle Arch Trail and trails around Hubbard Mesa are also excellent hikes in the fall but provide fewer colors compared to the aforementioned trails due to being in the high desert as opposed to the lush mountains in the surrounding area.