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5 free ways to enjoy the Colorado fall

There’s just something about autumn in Colorado. The air is crisp, the leaves are stunning and it’s finally time to bring those warm sweaters and vests out of storage.

Because, after all, every Colorado resident knows that winter snows will be here before we know it. (In fact, Denver has already seen its first snowfall of 2018 and much of the high country is already enjoying winter-like conditions on a regular basis.)

And that’s the trouble. Fall in Colorado is wonderful, but it’s short. Whereas areas like the American southeast and northwest enjoy long, lingering months of fall-like weather, autumn on the Front Range is generally measured in weeks.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

That said, the time is now to get out and enjoy the season while it’s here, and before the snow flies. Fortunately, the region has plenty to offer in this regard.

Here are five free ways to enjoy our fall before it’s gone.

Hit the trail at Bluffs Regional Park

This 253-acre regional park located just south of C470 is a local favorite, but it isn’t well known enough to attract the crowds. And that’s a great thing, because Bluffs Regional Park is a convenient way to get outside and enjoy the fall weather before the snow arrives.

It’s popular 2.7-mile Bluffs Loop Trail offers a tour of the area’s grassland vegetation and wildlife, with stunning views of the Front Range mountains and the entire metro area. Plus there are two spur trails that lead to overlooks with even better views.

Best of all, if that isn’t enough for you, the loop trail also connects to the Highlands Ranch trail system, the East/West Regional Trail and the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District’s trail system.

It’s also home to a variety of wildlife including prairie dogs, rabbits, red fox and more.

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Visit one of our farmers’ markets

Colorado is an agricultural state, with more than 31 million acres of farmland under cultivation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In fact, as of 2017 there were more than 33,000 farm operations up and running in the state with an average size of more than 900 acres.

And that’s on top of the 800,000-plus cattle, 445,000 lambs and 750,000 hogs that call our state home.

The good news for all of us is that this agricultural bounty is available at any one of the dozens of farmers’ markets up and down the Front Range, and the fall harvest is the prime time to enjoy what Colorado’s farmers and ranchers have to offer.

The south Denver region is blessed with a number of active farmers’ markets, including the Aspen Grove Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays from 10-2, the Landmark Farmers’ Market also on Wednesday afternoons, and the Highlands Ranch Farmers’ Market on Sundays from 10-2.

Naturally, browsing at these markets is free. But if you want to take something home it’ll cost you.

Go for a stroll at Schweiger Ranch

Located on 38-acres southeast of Lone Tree, Schweiger Ranch was founded by a family of Austrian immigrants to the area in 1874 and, at its peak, encompassed more than 4,000 acres across much of what is today south Denver.

It’s one of the earliest permanent settlements in the region.

Today it’s a historical site that offers a glimpse into Lone Tree’s agricultural past. The Schweigers farmed corn, rye, wheat, alfalfa, oats, apples and potatoes on their land, and raised cattle, chickens and other animals.

In the fall it’s also a great place to check out early frontier life, watch the leaves fall and try your hand at candle making and other chores.

Schweiger Ranch is open to the public for guided and self-guided tours every third Saturday of the month from 1-5 pm.

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Go leaf peeping

Autumn colors aren’t just a thing in the northeast. Colorado also has its fair share of fall colors, courtesy of our millions of acres of aspen groves.

Up in the mountains, the aspens tend to change from green, to red, to stunning gold over a few weeks between September and October, with great views available on Kenosha Pass, along the Peak to Peak Highway between Black Hawk and Estes Park, and up at Guanella Pass near Georgetown.

But one fact about Colorado’s fall colors that often gets overlooked is how great they are down here on the plains too.

In fact, the Denver metro area has one of the longest periods of fall colors of anywhere in the country, in part because there are five different climate zones within a two-hour drive of the city.

That means it’s still prime leaf peeping season all over south Denver, including area parks like Chatfield State Park and Waterton Canyon, where the colors tend to linger into mid-November.

Take advantage of free day at Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms

Located near Ken Caryl at the intersection of C470 and South Wadsworth Boulevard, Chatfield Farms couldn’t be further away from the hustle and bustle that surrounds the downtown Denver Botanic Gardens location. Encompassing 700 acres along the banks of Deer Creek in southern Jefferson County, the park includes both a native plant preserve as well as a working farm, with grasslands, ponds and cottonwood groves to explore.

Chatfield Farms is a busy place year round, with nature trails, display gardens, educational exhibits, a 19th-century one-room schoolhouse and even a concert venue that brings in a variety of national touring acts each summer.

But in the fall the park steps up the fun in a big way, with a massive, 7-acre corn maze and other fall fun. It even offers an after-dark version in the form of its Corn Stalkers Haunted Maze.

Best of all, on Tuesday, November 6, admission to Chatfield Farms is free.

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