Where to eat on a fall leaf-peeping road trip through Colorado

Leaf peeping is looking extra special this year, with Colorado’s fall colors ranging from rare reds to more signature yellows. Some areas of the state are starting to peak this weekend, so be sure to fit in a quick road trip and make a reservation at a scenic high-country restaurant while you’re at it.

OK, so dining among the trees might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering an outdoor fall excursion, but we think these Colorado dining rooms with views — and their pandemic-friendly outdoor patios — are worth the detour.

RELATED: Leaf peeping has started in Colorado, and it’s turning out to be extremely unusual this year

Here are six to get you started.

The Shaggy Sheep is a lovely stop along Highway 285, just southeast of the community of Grant and Guanella Pass. Husband-and-wife owners Chris Howe and Sarah Bennett run a relaxed log-cabin eatery and lounge here, complete with a little front porch and a sprawling side lawn. They are open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks through October, and then for lunch and dinner through the winter. Try the smoked brisket or the house green chile. 50455 U.S. Highway 285, 719-836-8845, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday to Monday (May 1-Oct. 20) and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday to Sunday (Oct. 25-May 1), the-shaggy-sheep.com 

If Buena Vista and Salida are on your route, stop by the Surf Hotel for an Arkansas River-side meal at Wesley & Rose. The French chateau decor matches a menu of fresh-baked breads and beignets, grilled Caesar, frittatas and pork chops. And don’t forget to check out the cocktail list (hello, reposado tequila, lemon, hops and Topo Chico). Open for daily happy hour and dinner and Sunday brunch. 1012 Front Loop, Buena Vista, 719-966-7048, 4-9 p.m. daily and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, surfhotel.com 

Just follow the signs for the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse and sleeping yurts as you’re on this mile-long hike (or on snowshoes or cross-country skis) from the Nordic Center north of Leadville. A four-course dinner at treeline (reservations only) awaits at the end with options such as Colorado rack of lamb and grilled elk tenderloin. A more casual weekend lunch is also available in the winter. E. Tennessee Road, 719-486-8114, dinners with reservations start at 6 p.m. daily (but you’ll need to arrive for the trek by 5:30), tennesseepass.com 

Piney River Ranch overlooks Piney Lake and the Gore Range behind it for one of the most beautiful dining vistas near Vail. Open late June through the end of September only, the lodge’s restaurant and bar serve barbecue — on banh mi sandwiches and in tacos — as well as beers from the local Bonfire Brewing. 700 Red Sandstone Road, Vail, 303-905-4439, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily in season, pineyriverranch.com

Another dining adventure starts outside Aspen in the ghost town of Ashcroft, where — depending on the season — you can hike, ski or sleigh ride up to the Pine Creek Cookhouse. Situated in the Elk Mountains, this upscale cabin serves “American alpine cuisine” for lunch only (prix-fixe, $45/person). Think smoked trout and elk bratwurst and buffalo dumplings. 11399 Castle Creek Road, Aspen, 970-925-1044, lunch served Wednesday through Sunday, reservations required, and the restaurant closes from October 12 to early December, pinecreekcookhouse.com 

In the tiny town of Marble (population 150), there’s a big-deal barbecue shack with picnic tables and an outdoor deck that backs right up to the fall foliage. Slow Groovin BBQ will pack you some ‘cue to go through Oct. 31 (though a second, Snowmass location stays open through the winter). While it’s still smoking in Marble, stop in for “hillbilly” nachos and BBQ platters, complete with beans, coleslaw and Texas toast. Take it with you or hang out and eat while taking in the scenery. 101 W. 1st St., Marble, 970-963-4090, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily from May 1 to Oct. 31, slowgroovinbbq.com  

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