As scorching days give way to the crisp fall air in Arizona, thoughts turn to warm soup, apple pie, and trees ablaze with reds, oranges, and yellows. But can you find fall colors in Arizona? Of course you can, an Arizona fall can be very special, especially if you know where to look. From the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, all the way south to Sierra Vista, fall foliage emerges from September through November.
Where to Find Fall Color in Arizona
1. Visit Flagstaff and the Golden Aspens of the San Francisco Peaks
The vibrant hues of autumn spread across Flagstaff, from the San Francisco Peaks, across the Coconino National Forest, and even into historic downtown. The best time of year to spy these color-changing aspens is late September through October.
Start your tour of trees by driving Snowbowl Road on U.S. Hwy 180. Stop at the Arizona Snowbowl for a view of the leaves from above on the Scenic Chairlift. In addition to fir and aspen trees, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the Grand Canyon. After experiencing the sights from above, hike the 1.5-mile Aspen Loop Trail beneath the golden aspens.
Prefer some history with your leaf peeping? At Walnut Canyon National Monument, walk through ancient cliff dwellings while observing a variety of foliage, including aspens, cottonwoods, and Arizona walnut.
Lockett Meadow, located 20 minutes outside of Flagstaff, boasts brilliant yellows, reds, and oranges. Bask in the colorful scenery beneath towering aspens while hiking the 3.4-mile Inner Basin Trail. This hiking trail is popular so arrive early on fall weekends.
2. Find Fall Foliage at the North Rim of the Iconic Grand Canyon
From late September to early October, the Kaibab National Forest comes alive with the best fall colors in Arizona. Kaibab Plateau offers the best golden panoramic view of the area. But a scenic drive through the surrounding forest roads immerses you in the feeling of autumn.
Be aware that restaurants and lodging at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon close mid-October. The park remains open for day use until December, as long as the weather cooperates.
Spend more time in the area with our article Grand Canyon North Rim – Lodging, Things to do, & More!
3. Take a Scenic Drive Through the Oaks and Aspens of the White Mountains
In the first three weeks of October, the White Mountains transform into a golden wonderland. The green leaves of Gambel Oaks and aspens transition to vibrant yellows and oranges. A drive along Highway 260 shows passengers waves of fall colors in Arizona.
For a bird’s-eye view of the fall foliage, take Forest Road 117 to Greens Peak. Blue Vista Viewpoint and the areas around Big Lake also show off the dramatic contrast of the area’s aspen and conifer trees. Or hike part or all of the 7-mile East Baldy Trail where yellow aspen leaves shimmer through the meadows.
4. Hike Through Dappled Oak and Maple Trees at Oak Creek Canyon
Vivid maples and oaks decorate State Route 89A from October through November. These fall colors in Arizona almost rival the classic East Coast autumn hues. A drive along the highway between Sedona and Flagstaff promises a rainbow of leaves.
To truly drown yourself in color, hike the beautiful West Fork Trail. This popular trail rewards hikers with deep red leaves against red rocks, following a meandering creek. Expect crowds on autumn weekends, and come early to find parking.
Here are our favorite Things to do in Sedona with Kids.
For more secluded trail options, try Huckaby Trail (5 miles round trip) which drops down into Oak Creek Canyon partway. Allens Bend Trail (1.1 miles) gives you a short peak at the canyon, while Secret Canyon (9.8 miles) winds through forests, cliffs, and even short slot canyons.
5. Discover Fall Colors in Arizona’s Hualapai Mountains
Towering aspens, red maples, and Ponderosa pines create a patchwork of color from late September through mid-October. At 8,400 feet elevation, the Hualapai Mountains become blanketed with these colorful trees. Hike the Potato Patch Loop around Aspen Peak for dappled trees and impressive views of distant mountain ranges.
6. Have a Colorful Adventure at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood
The cottonwoods, willows, ash, and alders burst with tones of yellow and orange from mid-October to mid-November. View the trees while kayaking down the Verde River. Or stop by Trail Adventures, located inside the park, for a led horseback ride.
Dead Horse Ranch also has multi-use trails, fishing lagoons, and lots of space to place. If you really want to enjoy the fall colors, campsites and cabins are available to rent.
This is just one of the 10 Best State Parks in Arizona.
7. Enjoy the Crisp Air and Vibrant Colors of Payson and the Mogollon Rim.
The fall colors in Arizona aren’t hiding too far from Phoenix. Just an hour and a half north of the city in Payson, aspen trees take on a golden hue in October. Drive along Route 260 east from Payson to the Mogollon Rim. Stop at Woods Canyon Lake for a picnic in the crisp fall air.
Another amazing Arizona State Park is Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. In addition to traversing the world’s largest natural travertine bridge, visitors will see the brilliant fall colors of the cottonwood, aspen, and elders around the park. Head down to Pine Creek Trail to walk among the trees, finishing up at a picturesque waterfall.
8. Transverse the Multi-hued Desert Oasis at Hassayampa River Preserve
The greens and browns of the desert landscape along Hassayampa River Preserve pop with splashes of bright yellow in mid-October. The cottonwoods and willows create a gorgeous contrast to the saguaros and palo verdes of the area. Walk the trails among cottonwood-willow forests in the unique riparian landscape.
9. Observe Color Changing Flora at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
Witness the final colors of fall at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Since the park is only at 2,431 feet elevation, the fall colors arrive later, typically in mid to late November. But when they do make an appearance, the park is ablaze with reds, oranges, and yellows.
Located only an hour outside Phoenix, this is the closest place to really experience fall colors from the city. The variety of trees here, including pomegranate, soapberry, sycamore, and walnut, cannot be experienced together anywhere else in Arizona. While enjoying the leaves, be sure to explore the 323 acres of the state’s oldest botanical garden.
10. Meander Through Lush Forests at the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson
Drive up the Catalina Highway in early October to bask in the rainbow hues of aspen, maple, and oaks. Red, yellow, and orange line this 27-mile road up the Santa Catalina Mountains. Its proximity to Tucson makes it an easy place to see fall colors in Arizona.
Instead of staying in the car, see the trees up close on a trail. Bear Wallow offers the best view of maple and aspen trees after the trail passes under the highway.
Another option is the Marshall Gulch trail which starts in the village of Summerhaven and winds through autumn leaves. And near the top of the mountain, you can usually still find color until late October at the Mount Lemmon Ski Area.
Make the most of nearby Tucson with our Tucson Travel Guide – A Long Weekend in Tucson with Kids.
11. Spy bright Leaves and Birds at Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains
In November, Madera Canyon (just 25 miles south of Tucson) comes alive with various shades of red and orange. Hackberry, ash, willow, cotton, and sycamore trees reflect their autumn colors in the enchanting Madera Creek. Don’t forget your binoculars. This area is rated the third best birding destination in the United States.
12. Wander Among Maple and Sycamore Trees in the Huachuca Mountains Near Sierra Vista
Red maple leaves and yellow-gold sycamores dazzle visitors who come to the Huachuca Mountains from late October to early November. At Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve, follow the banks of Ramsey Creek to observe these trees interspersed with desert plants. The preserve offers guided hikes March through November.
Lead image by Flickr/CEBIMagery