Leaf peeping in Arizona? The answer—which may come as a surprise—is a resounding “yes.”
Between high-elevation forests, shaded canyons, riparian zones, and sky islands—those isolated mountain ranges surrounded by desert—the state offers plenty of hikes, drives, and picnic options for those who want to surround themselves in autumnal hues.
Timing? Look for Arizona fall color as early as mid-September in mountainous elevations and lasting well into early December at high-desert spots.
Enjoy the best of what Arizona has to offer during the fall season by taking a trip to one of these uniquely Arizona locations:
Get the most out of a visit to Verde Valley by camping in Dead Horse Ranch State Park which offers RV sites.
Explore the lush canyons surrounding the rustic towns of Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona, Clarkdale, and Cornville. Almost 80 percent of the land in the valley is National Forest, which makes it a great change of pace from the desert landscape that Arizona is known for. You also won’t want to miss visiting the Verde River, Arizona’s only federally designated Wild and Scenic River
Experience Arizona’s fall colors through the Canopy Trail or Verde River Greenway or join a four-hour “Fall Colors Tour” offered by the Verde Canyon Railroad during the months of October and November.
Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks are the epicenter of fall’s brilliance—particularly the shimmery, golden-hued aspens, which drift down mountain slopes into meadows. Follow the Around the Peaks Loop. It is a 44-mile scenic drive on forest service roads around the mountains and through aspen groves.
You’ll pass Lockett Meadow, where the Inner Basin trail leads to the midst of an ancient volcanic caidera, as well as Hart Prairie. Nearby, Arizona Snowbowl ski resort offers scenic chairlift rides during peak color weeks.
Oak Creek Canyon
State Highway 89A twists north of Sedona through Oak Creek Canyon, where you’ll see maples, willows, boxelder, ash, and other trees and shrubs displaying fall glory. After the highway climbs out of the canyon, pull off at Oak Creek Vista for a great view back down the canyon.
Mount Lemmon, the highest peak of the Santa Catalina Mountains, towers over Tucson at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet. The Catalina Highway, also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway, zigzags spectacularly up its slopes, passing trailheads, picnic sites, campgrounds, and a lake, through forests dense with not only pines, but also colorful aspen, maple, and walnut trees.
Ramsey Canyon Preserve
Farther south, the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve is also a birder’s paradise, best known for the 15 species of hummingbirds that dart through the air. In fall, the small birds aren’t the only things providing local color. Maple and sycamore trees illuminate the preserve, too. Guided walks of the preserve are available through November where visitors can try to spot one of the over 170 types of birds seen within the canyon’s walls.
Please note, in consideration of canyon wildlife, pets are prohibited in the preserve. Additionally parking is limited to 27 spaces and available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no parking along the road below the preserve.
The White Mountains
The White Mountains offer one of the earliest glimpses of color in the state due to their elevation of 11,000 feet. To catch fall colors, visit the White Mountains during the first three weeks of October. For a scenic overview, take a drive from Greer to Sunrise Park Resort.
Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.