| Here's the info for a great fall colors destination
The NW route on La Plata is -great- for fall colors - although the fall colors are at least a week late this year, with the best colors on this trip in the alpine terrain. Peak colors will be next weekend (high up) then, with the best at the base the following weekend.
Anyways, not only do you get to drive by the aspens at Mt. Elbert and Twin Lakes to get to the La Plata TH, but there are a bunch of aspens on the south facing slopes along highway 82. And you can see Independence pass from the summit.
One of the greatest difficulties for this trip is the limited parking at the trailhead. The trail begins for 1/4 mile on forest road 399/82C, which is bordered by private land on both sides for at least a couple more miles. There is a signed access trail to La Plata at 1/4 mile, which soon passes a short slot canyon. The trail continues through a steep forest section, seemed like for at least a mile, with an exposed west slope that is more potentially consequential than you see on many 14ers. Several groups had packed to camp in the flatter La Plata Gulch valley, above the steep forest section. The remainder of the route is an exposed alpine section above the Gulch valley. With a relatively low tree-line at 11,500 ft, you would not want to find yourself on this last 2/3 of the route in a lightning storm. While some parts are clearly steeper than others, there is a significant, steady gain of altitude the rest of the way. Good reason to bring a couple sports gels for energy going up. The path is mostly well-located medium and small stones, with minimal scree or outright dirt. The trail is well worn throughout its length. When all the ups and downs are counted, there is an elevation gain of more than 4,500' to the top; this is not a beginner 14er.
An early start (6 -7 am) is a good idea, even if you get a good stretch of calm fall weather, because of the big elevation gain. The nearby campgrounds (Twin Peaks and Parry Peak) are national forest CG's, i.e., closed after Labor day. We found that some just slept in their car at the TH. Others camped right next to the TH lot - I'm not sure how the sheriff would treat that. Other groups packed above the steep forest section of the trail to set up a basecamp in the flatter Gulch valley. It is not practical to drive in on FR 399/82C to camp - you have to go a long way on a rough 4WD road to get to public land. Another option (which we used) was to camp in one of the many pullouts along the road to Mt Elbert (turn north off of CO 82 before you get to the town of Twin Lakes).
There is also a SW route up La Plata. This seems a better choice for an early season (May/June) trip; there would not be a lot of views of remote aspens, across the valley, here. Ellingwood ridge is a more burly route on the north side. It has rock ridges and spires, so some interesting navigation is required. From the looks of it, i would personally bring a short 30 m rope, harness, helmet, disposable slings for rappelling, and an alpine rack in case you might need them.
Emily and I met Richard at the TH at 6:30. We started at 7am and summited at 11:15. We got back to the TH at 4pm. Our trip back was leisurely, meaning an hour for lunch and pictures on the summit, and we enjoyed the views on the way down because it did clear up some in the mid-afternoon. More focused climbers could probably shave an hour off of the descent.
The weather was mild and sunny (partly cloudy). There was frost in the north facing recesses of the valley in the morning. Wind gusts up to ~30 mph on the west side of the ridge and summit. Temperature of 30-40F at the summit. So i was wearing my winter base layer, a fleece, and winter shell on top. Definitely bring a winter-worthy or rain-proof outer layer in case you need it this time of year!!!
Link to photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19047247@N04/sets/72157635852493615/