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The Cheesman Ranch loop tours the homesteading history at what is now Mueller State Park.

Coloradans have their favorite pilgrimages when fall colors pop. Those golden aspens are special members of the landscape — something conservationists indeed considered in setting aside some of the 42 state parks.

It’s as good a season as any to appreciate the preserves. Here are three for your consideration:

Golden Gate Canyon

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Golden Gate Canyon State Park in the fall.

While one of Colorado’s most-visited state parks — largely due to its proximity to Denver — there’s plenty of room to spread out across these 12,000-plus acres. The environs are as varied as you’d expect with elevations ranging from 7,500 feet to 10,400 feet. And the leaf peeping is aplenty.

Enchanting, old growth aspens greet hikers near Bootleg Bottom, an ideal place for a picnic. This intersects Mule Trail, which in its entirety loops seven-plus miles through peaceful meadows and tranquil ponds.

Horseshoe Trail is a short option visiting shiny stands. The moderate four-mile Raccoon Trail is popular, starting above 9,100 feet and rising through brilliant groves to Panorama Point overlooking the Continental Divide.

You might elect to camp — or glamp. Options include traditional campgrounds and backcountry sites along with cabins and yurts.

Mueller

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A couple walks through Mueller State Park as some fall colors still hang on to the aspen trees on Oct. 8, 2020. Temperatures approached the upper 70s and low 80s during the week for the Colorado Springs area and into the mountains.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife considers this preserve one of its “hidden gems.”

Mueller doesn’t see the numbers of Golden Gate Canyon and other parks closer to Denver. But to Teller County locals and residents from Colorado Springs, the park is certainly no secret. When foliage is at its peak, you’ll want to go early and on weekdays.

The parking lot fills fast at the trailhead for Cheesman Ranch, a memorable trip touring nostalgic homestead scenes and granting sweeping views of aspens against Pikes Peak. Elk Meadow is another great option, as is Outlook Ridge, with several spurs to breathtaking overlooks.

Also to consider: the 11-mile trail encircling adjacent Dome Rock. A state wildlife area pass (or hunting or fishing license) is required for the hike.

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake State Park glows in autumn glory, surrounded by White River National Forest in Eagle County.

“Sylvan,” meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, “living or located in the woods or forest.” An apt name for this park in Eagle County, a quaint and magical hideaway off Interstate 70.

The 42-acre lake is a jewel protected by the slopes of White River National Forest. The water reflects autumn’s dazzling grandeur. Adding to the palette are reds and oranges of ancient geology, like craggy crowns atop the mountains. It’s a photographer’s dream.

One might cast a line for trout. Or one might paddle from shore to shore. Or one might cover the shore with a leisurely walk or bike ride.

The premier way to see the land is along West Brush Creek Trail, totaling close to six miles. The park also recommends trails in the bordering national forest: Sneve and McKenzie gulches, Nolan Lake and Lake Charles.

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