3 Places to Find Fall Colors in Arizona

Desperate times call for desperate measures. When there’s not a hint of crispness in the air, it’s time to hit the road and go in search of fall. Here’s where to go when you just can’t take another day of summer.

The National Forest Service anticipates that the fall color season will begin in early September this year, as it has in previous years. The colors will first appear at higher elevations and gradually descend to lower levels, peaking in late September/early October. While it’s still too early to anticipate how the season will unfold, there’s no better time to plan ahead with these spectacular drives to see Arizona‘s best fall foliage.

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

Spanning 2 million acres in east-central Arizona, the Apache-Sitgreaves forest plays host to vibrant fall colors through October. In addition to gaping at the colorful trees, visitors can explore eight cold-water lakes and the Mogollon Rim, which at 7,600 feet provides sprawling views of the lower lands to the south.

Aspen is changing at high elevations on the Mogollon Rim north of Overgaard, as well as in the mountains south of Show Low and Springerville. Peak viewing should take place during the first three weeks of October.

If you go: Rent a cabin in Show Low, Heber, or Alpine for easy access to the surrounding forest.

Mt. Lemmon

Southern Arizona isn’t typically thought of as a fall foliage destination, but Tucson’s towering Santa Catalina Mountains rise more than 9,000 feet above the city, providing the high elevation required to transform leaves into vibrant, earthy colors.

It’s time to embark on the 27-mile Catalina Highway, which also will take you through the Coronado National Forest to Mount Lemmon’s peak. The hillside trees have amber, red, and gold leaves, and there are various turnoffs and trails to explore along the journey.

Grab some of their renowned fudge at the Mt. Lemmon General Store and Gift Shop in the small village of Summerhaven. Make prior appointments for a SkyNights StarGazing evening at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, which houses two of the Southwest’s largest telescopes.

Coconino National Forest

As if Sedona and Flagstaff didn’t already have enough natural eye candy on display, they also happen to be located in one of the best destinations for fall colors in Arizona. The maples in the Mogollon Rim District are worth the visit, and the deciduous trees in Oak Creek Canyon and the Sedona area are spectacular.

Mogollon Rim

The Mogollon Rim, located just north of Payson, is a steep cliff that constitutes the southern border of the Colorado Plateau within the Coconino National Forest. The Rim, which is 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level, offers breathtaking vistas and borders the 2.8 million-acre Tonto National Forest.

Forest Road 300/Rim Road runs for about 45 miles along the edge of the Mogollon Rim. From Payson, take State Route 87 north and then a right onto FR300. Follow the muddy road until you reach State Route 260. Check the weather forecast, pack a lunch, and fill up on petrol before embarking on this adventure. On this rarely trafficked path, it’s not uncommon to witness only forests and wildlife for the whole of the voyage.

If you go: Take a trip up the Snowbowl chairlift for a birds-eye view of the changing leaves.

West Fork Trail

Burrowed under red rock overhangs and towering canyon walls in the Coconino National Forest between Sedona and Flagstaff, West Fork Trail dances a 3.2-mile minute with Oak Creek. This requires a bit of fancy footwork from boulder-hopping hikers who aim to stay dry during a dozen or so creek crossings. By mid-to-late October, the well-marked and maintained trail skirts under brilliant red oak and maple canopies. A few bottom-friendly sandstone slabs beckon those who want to stop and stay awhile.

Kaibab National Forest

Kaibab’s peak viewing season runs only through the month of October, but it’s well worth it to squeeze in a quick trip to this area near the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Rows of Aspen trees put on a colorful show, and remote hikes are aplenty, so you won’t have to share the view with hordes of other people.

If you go: Hike the Rainbow Rim Trail for views of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim along with the fall colors.


7 Delicious Healthy Iced Coffee Recipes

The Ghosts of Tombstone


Leave a Comment