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Even an off-year is a good year for fall colors in Colorado. Here's what you need to know.

Drought-stressed trees turn early, but the normal peak date is still impressive and worth the trip to the mountains.

COLORADO, USA — September gold and orange in the Colorado High Country are like Old Faithful: they never fail and they never disappoint.

They’re also pretty much always on time. That’s because it’s the tilt of the earth that turns the leaves, and that autumn tilt is very steady. Cool temperatures are also a symptom of the earth's tilt, but it is the waning daylight that cues the leaves to stop producing chlorophyll. 

Strange weather can add or subtract about seven days to that timing. The 2020 drought did turn some leaves early.

The fall display is better when the bulk of the leaves turn all in the same week, but that just didn't happen this year. The last week of September is the normal peak of fall color in the central mountains. A number of leaves shed their green last week, while other leaves stayed on schedule.  

You can look at that two ways: Either there was no true peak, or there was an extra week of pretty decent color.

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Either way, it will be well worth the look come this weekend. Boreas, Kenosha, Guanella passes, and the Peak-to-Peak highway, all showed pockets of true greatness on our 9NEWS tour Wednesday.

Be prepared though to see some dull freeze and drought damage, some trees already stripped clean, and in many spots more leaves on the ground than on the branches.

But that still leaves billions of gold leaves to be seen. After all, true beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And don’t just look high into the gold canopies of those aspens and cottonwoods, sometimes a look low will reveal an extra surprise. Deeper reds and purples may be more abundant this year. Arborist Tony Hahn told 9NEWS that plants that produce pigments called anthocyanans can react to drought and temperature stress with more vibrant color.

If you do visit the mountains this weekend, be aware of a storm system which could come in early Sunday afternoon. 

The wind from that storm may spell an end to the fall display above 9,000 feet, but the colors between 7,500 and 9,000 feet are really popping nicely now. 



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