Falling for Fall: Arizona’s Best Spots
It’s finally fall again, which means everyone is on the hunt for leaves, shades of yellow, orange, and red, and some cooler weather!
I have been getting a TON of questions about where to find the best leaves and where to experience fall in Arizona.
This post will include some of the popular trails and spots, but it will also explain how to find fall color and where you can look for leaves. No matter where you’re at in the state you can hunt for fall colors, you just need to know where to look!
As a reminder, don’t carve into trees, especially aspens, because it exposes the tree to disease and is harmful to the tree. In order to protect these beautiful places for future generations we want to make sure to not harm or vandalize these trees.
Now that’s out of the way- let’s get into the info!
How To Find Fall Colors in Arizona
Contrary to popular belief, fall in Arizona isn’t only in Flagstaff. Generally speaking, aspens in Arizona grow between 6,000-9,000 feet. That means that anywhere in the state in that elevation range could have aspens. For instance, in the mountains way down in southern AZ that are commonly referred to as the “sky islands” you can find them!
And those maples and sycamores with hues of orange and red? You can find those in tons of canyons throughout the state. Generally if a canyon has a perennial stream that runs through it, you’re probably going to find some fall color there! Trees you want to look for are cottonwoods and sycamores.
While I am going to share the “popular” spots, I highly encourage you to grab a map and find a canyon or high elevation environment that piques your interest. Some of the best color I’ve found has been off the beaten path away from the crowds.
Without further ado, here are some of the trails! As a disclaimer, every year is different so peak could be the last week of September or it could be well into October. My recommendation is to check hashtags on Instagram and also check weather for your desired fall destination. I will add some suggested hashtags to look at for each trail.
Parking for any of these spots fills up fast in the fall on the weekends. So, I highly recommend aiming for 8:00 a.m. or earlier start times. Sometimes the forest service will close roads or limit parking, so always check before you head out!
Lockett Meadow is notorious for having an awe-inspiring display of golden aspens. Prime season is typically the first two weekends of October and potentially into the third weekend depending on wind conditions or early season snow.
Because there are so many aspens on display at Lockett Meadow this hike gets busy and the parking lot fills up fast. Weekday visits are recommended and if you do visit on the weekend, the forest service typically limits the number of cars that can drive the road to the trailhead.
Dogs are allowed, just make sure they’re on leash. To check current conditions, check out the hashtag #lockettmeadow on Instagram to see if others have posted recent photos!
Mileage: 3.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 839 feet
Mount Baldy via East Baldy
The White Mountains in eastern Arizona near Pinetop and Show Low typically see less visitors than the Coconino National Forest simply because the White Mountains are harder to get to. More than a three hour drive from Phoenix, it takes a bit more planning and commitment to trek over to this area of the state. But, if you plan it right, this is some of the best hiking you can find in Arizona in the fall.
Similar to Flagstaff, you can find aspens galore on the Mount Baldy trail. Even better than Flagstaff you can enjoy some riparian areas, like the West Fork of the Little Colorado River, along the trail.
The trail climbs pretty steadily, but the higher you go, the better the views get. Once you get to some lookout points you’re able to see hints of the aspens in the surrounding hillside mixed in with the pines.
After the hike, make sure to check out some of the lakes in the area as well! But, make sure you’re staying on forest service land and off reservation land, as you’ll need a permit from the White Mountain Apache Tribe to hike, fish, or recreate on their land.
To see current conditions I typically check locations on Instagram for Greer.
Mileage: 11.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,912 feet
Another super popular spot known for a great display of reds and oranges is West Fork! The parking lot here is pretty small so an early start is recommended. I highly suggest trying to visit on a weekday due to how crowded this one can get. You do cross the creek a few times, so depending on the weather it can get pretty chilly! If you bring your furry friend they will likely get wet and muddy, so just keep that in mind when planning your trip.
Best time for leaves is towards the end of October and beginning of November.
You don’t have to go all the way down in the canyon and finish the trail to see the colors, many people just hike about a mile in and can catch some stunning displays. West Fork typically peaks a few weeks after Flagstaff. You can check the hashtag #westfork on Instagram for recent photos to see current conditions!
Mileage: 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 567 feet
Madera Canyon outside of Tucson displays brilliant fall color the first two weeks of November typically.
You don't have to hike the whole way, and there's plenty of pull offs along the road and picnic areas to enjoy fall colors without doing the full trail.
Mileage: 5.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 879 feet
This trail goes right by Oak Creek in Sedona and has some beautiful yellow colors mid November near the creek from the Cottonwood, Oak, and Sycamore trees.
You can cut off some of the trail by starting at Cathedral Rock but keep in mind you'll need to use the Sedona Shuttle to get to the trailhead.
Mileage: 7.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 708 feet
These trails are by no means an exhaustive list. Some other great areas to check fall colors out are the Mt. Lemmon area, the Pinal Mountains, and Aravaipa Canyon. The Chiricahua Mountains in Southern AZ are known for having late season (November usually) displays of color. Many of these more remote areas don’t have maintained trails so be sure to do your research before heading out.
As always, leave no trace. Pack in what you pack out, and respect the land.