Weekend Warrior

8 Fall Colorado Festivals Worth the Travel Time

Because no one puts on a toe-tapping, foot-stomping, beer-drinking, or film fan celebration quite like a mountain town.

By Allison Pattillo July 26, 2017 Published in the Midsummer/Fall 2017 issue of Aspen Sojourner

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The East Pointers will play again this year at Four Corners Folk Festival in Pagosa Springs.

No one puts on a toe-tapping, foot-stomping, beer-drinking, or film fan celebration quite like a mountain town, so don’t stash away your summer festival garb just yet. Those boots, straw hats, and the occasional flower behind your ear are still de rigueur for fall fun, although you may want to add a down jacket to the ensemble. Here, our picks to keep the summer vibe going until the first snow flies.

1. Yampa Valley Crane Festival and Wild West Air Fest
Aug 31–Sept 3, Steamboat Springs

Is that a bird or a plane? During this dual-festival weekend, it could be both. Celebrate the sandhill crane via sunrise viewing sessions, guided birding by foot and by boat, film screenings, talks, art displays, and a picnic at a Nature Conservancy ranch. Meanwhile, at Steamboat’s small airport—a safe distance away from the cranes—stunt pilots perform acrobatics and formation flying; dozens of planes are also on display. Don’t miss: Saturday morning’s Crane Yoga, an open-air session that mirrors the life of a bird in poses; the chance to fly in a T-6 Warbird or a 1943 Navy Twin Beech 18. coloradocranes.net, steamboatchamber.com

2. Four Corners Folk Festival
Sept 1–3, Pagosa Springs

In addition to 16 musical acts, including Los Lobos, Sarah Jarosz (who wowed Aspen audiences in 2015 with Garrison Keillor), the Wood Brothers, and Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, the fest inspires with uplifting views from its locale at Reservoir Hill Park. Don’t miss: The town’s therapeutic hot springs are a short shuttle ride from the music venue. folkwest.com

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Find two full weekends of Bavarian fun in Vail. 

3. Vail Oktoberfest
Sept 8–10, Lionshead; Sept 15–17, Vail Village 

Who cares that it’s only September? This boisterous nod to all things Bavarian includes a bratwurst-eating contest, stein-lifting competition, dancers, and live music, including the wildly popular Helmut Fricker and the Rhinelanders Band. Don’t miss: Keg bowling—instead of a ball, it uses a keg on wheels. vailoktoberfest.com

4. Hike to the Mic
Sept 15–17, Beaver Creek

This new music and arts fest is headlined by Elvis Costello and the Imposters, with Colorado’s Elephant Revival opening, plus art installations, free outdoor fitness classes, and restaurant specials. Don’t miss: Hike or bike up to the concert venue on Beaver Creek Mountain (a chairlift will also be running) and look for trailside art pieces along the way. beavercreek.com

5. Mountain Harvest Festival 
Sept 21–24, Paonia

The green-thumbed folks in Paonia whole-heartedly celebrate the season’s bounty with a two-day farmers market, winery and farm tours, chili cook-off, pie contest, yoga, 5K run, bike tours, art exhibits, and live music and theater from Western Slope performers. Don’t miss: Saturday’s 9th annual Grape Stomp competition—because you know you’ve always wanted to see it in action. mountainharvestfestival.org

6. Breckenridge Film Festival
Sept 21–24, Breckenridge

Whet your appetite for Aspen’s October Filmfest at this long-running Breck event, which includes screenings of some 60 indie features and shorts, panels, and plenty of chances to mingle with the filmmakers. Don’t miss: When you need a mental break or some fresh air, mountain bike the Flumes Loop, 6 miles of flowy riding accessible right from town. breckfilmfest.org

7. Vinotok Fall Harvest Festival
Sept 22–23, Crested Butte

Catch the culmination of this quirky tradition—part pagan ritual, part Renaissance Faire—that celebrates the autumnal equinox with a community dinner on Elk Avenue, a theatrical mock trial of the Grump (a type of communal scapegoat), and a huge bonfire in which an effigy of the Grump is burned. Don’t miss: Write down your own “grumps”—the things you want to get rid of or forget—and throw them into the fire for some mental cleansing. gunnisoncrestedbutte.com

8. Telluride Horror Show
Oct 13–15, Telluride

Those screams you hear may be your own, depending on whether you see a horror, sci-fi, thriller, or dark comedy flick at this unique fest that screens more than 70 films. Founder Ted Wilson said in an interview that the idea for the event came to him while walking through Telluride’s Lone Tree Cemetery. Don’t miss: In true fright night–style, this year’s event kicks off on Friday the 13th—who knows what may happen? telluridehorrorshow.com

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