Autumn in Estes Park is when everything falls into place. Your rock shoes will stick a little better, the trails are in ideal condition for mountain biking & trail running, and the trout are biting. It's peak season for your favorite activities but not for the crowds if you can play hooky – you may have the trail, river, or rock to yourself. Hike among the quaking, golden aspens and hear bull elk bugle. Even the alpine tundra takes on a new color. The rut is some of the best wildlife watching anywhere and has its own festival, along with others nearly every weekend. Here are ten reasons to visit Estes this fall.

1. The Elk Rut

Elk Sparring in Lake EstesAt some point in early September (and even late August), bull elk lose the velvet on their antlers and start sparring with other bulls to test their dominance, then get to work assembling a harem of cows. This is the rut. And this show is on display in various valleys in the National Park--and around town. It’s one of North America’s best wildlife viewing opportunities. Learn all about it here. And if you bring the camera, be sure to read up on how to nail your dream elk shot.

2. Those Electric Yellow Aspens

Fall ColorsAt roughly the same time as the rut begins, aspen at the higher elevations begin to change color. Here are some of our favorite ways to see this annual gilded spectacle.

3. The Have-it-to-Yourself Midweek

While September weekends can be some of the busiest of the year, the middle of the week is waiting for you. Yes, you! It’s perhaps the very best time of year to play hooky.

4. The Weather

Those summer storms that roll in like clockwork in the early afternoon are long gone (but keep an eye out), the air gets crisp, and the “golden hour” seems to last all day long. It’s heaven, man.

5. The Killer Events Lineup

Elk Fest Performance 1From races to hand crafts to craft beer and spirts, and concerts, this is our favorite season for fun events in Estes Park. See the whole calendar here

6. Rock Climbing

Climbing Edge of TimeThere’s a reason hardcore climbers have renamed the next months “Sendtember” and “Rocktober.” The cooler temps and lower humidity increase friction on the rock. It’s the best time of year to climb--and if you haven’t tried it yet but are curious--to try. Read our guide to rock climbing around Estes

7. Hiking

Yeah, hiking is great here year-round, but the weather and lighter crowds and wildlife and colors (all that stuff you just read about), make a walk in the mountains better than ever. Strapped for time? Here are some of our favorite half-day hikes around Estes

8. Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing Sprague LakeTrout are smart. They know winter isn’t far off and that they need to eat some fat bugs while they can. Come toss a line or hire one of our world-class outfitters

9. S’Mores

Family around a campfire above Estes ParkNostalgia on a graham cracker, the perfect treat around a campfire. Read our guide to camping here. But you can toast a marshmallow at a few local restaurants and hotels, too.

10. The First Snowfall

Another thing that makes Fall so special is how fleeting it is. Winter’s coming, and we’re never quite sure when it’ll arrive. Maybe you’ll see the season’s first flakes, a celebration itself.