Arizona Ablaze With Color
October 1, 2018
Arizona Is Ablaze With Color - As a native Arizonan, I tend to believe that Arizona is the most beautiful and amazing place on the planet – and autumn in Arizona confirms that belief. John and I and the granddaughters are out and about pretty much all year, and we especially love to see fall colors – yellow, orange, and even red light up the hillsides and the banks of our streams. Ir can be magical to stroll along with color above and below from leaves that have already fallen and those that are still on the trees. Here are some of our favorite places to see fall colors.
Of course, Flagstaff is going to be one of our favorites. Since they were toddlers, we've taken our girls up there to hike and hunt, and they love it so much that they both chose to go to Northern Arizona University. In fact, the campus is actually a great place to see lots of fall colors.
Starting in September, trees on campus start sporting red and orange leaves in spots all over the grounds. The girls love to send me pictures of the trees and leaves.
Undoubtedly, Lockett Meadow is an iconic Arizona fall color spot. There is a campground and picnic tables here, but no drinking water. Be forewarned: the road is very narrow with twists and turns, and there are usually people who get terrified and tend to hold up traffic.
During the fall, Lockett Meadow can be really crowded. We went there last year with Trinity to see the colors and it was so crowded that hiking the trail was like trying to walk in a crowded mall. Seriously, that crowded. The colors are indeed amazing, and there is a nice little pond, and if you don't mind crowds, it's a great place to see some fall color.
We went on a Friday - maybe earlier in the week would have fewer people. No mountain bikes are allowed, and pets must be on a leash. To get there, go north from Flagstaff on Highway 89 for 12.5 miles to Forest Road 552. Follow 552 for about a mile, and turn right at the Lockett Meadow sign.
The road is dirt and RVs and trailers are not recommended - it's pretty much a single-lane road, and very steep and narrow. It can also be really rough, and it's closed in early spring and late fall due to snow.
Around The Peaks Loop
This beautiful drive includes a lot of dirt roads where you will see plenty of fall color. One of our favorite spots is Hart Prairie. Take Highway 180 northwest from Flagstaff for about ten miles, and turn right on Forest Road 151. Going north on this road will take you past Hart Prairie.
We went there last October with Trinity and it was absolutely amazing. There were tons of gorgeous yellow aspens, lots of great hiking trails, and plenty of places to park. We had wanted to visit the Hart Prairie Preserve, a Nature Conservancy Site, but they were having a volunteer event that weekend. However, you can take a variety of hikes all along this road, and we did several.
If you'd rather drive than walk, you'll still see a lot of gorgeous color along 151. To continue the loop around the peaks, take 151 until you come to FR 418. Head east on 418 (turn right). You'll drive around on the north side of the peaks and then curve southwest. At FR 552 you can turn left and you'll come to highway 89 very quickly, or you can go south on FR 420, Schultz Pass Road.
This road will take you back to Flagstaff and you'll end up back on Highway 180. It's a fun ride for bikes or high-clearance vehicles. I'd say a passenger car could do it, but you never know with dirt roads, especially after all the rain they've had up there this summer.
San Francisco Peaks
If you get there early in the season, the trails up near the Snowbowl are gorgeous places to see fall color. Aspen Loop Nature trail is right up by the Snowbowl parking lot, but on the opposite side of the road. The trailhead is for both the Loop and the Humphrey's Peak trail.
The Aspen Loop trail is an awesome hike even for kids - not too much elevation change. It actually goes out for quite a way, then makes a loop and you come back on the same trail you went out on. Amazing trees and gorgeous views make this one of our favorite trails any time of year.
Alfa Fia Tank
On the way up to the Snowbowl you'll see a curve with a small sign that says "Aspen Corner". We have never been up there early enough to see the color there. But, right across the street, you'll see a split-rail fence with some parking area and a trail. The trail isn't marked, but it goes out to Alfa Fia Tank, then past that down the hill.
We love to hike out to the tank, and last October there was gorgeous color. You get fantastic views from there, and the bonus of color reflected in the tank for super photos. This hike is easy, even for kids and older folks - it's a pretty gentle downhill to the tank, then the same gentle slope back, but of course you're climbing. We love this trail any time of year.
Last year when we were scouting for Coues, John and I came across a lot of small spots that would just blow you away with how beautiful they are. These little spots are always around streambeds or springs, and the surprise is that often they are smack in the middle of high desert.
These little gems are hidden all over the state, so when you are out on your ROV, be sure to stop often and take little side roads to streams. Sometimes you can spot them from a distance, and other times we haven't actually seen them until we've almost walked up to them. I absolutely love finding these pretty spots.
Going east on State Route 260 is a fantastic way to see the colors in the White Mountains. Stay off the reservation roads unless you have a permit, but if you keep to the highway or the National Forest, you'll be fine. There are lots of great hiking trails around here - go to the Apache-Sitgreaves website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/asnf to find out all about the roads, trails, campgrounds, etc.
For incredible sights, take 260 east past the Sunrise Ski Area road to FR 117 and turn left on 117. Stay on this road until it splits, and keep to the right. There are all kinds of great places and views along this road, and it's all in the National Forest.
Timing is the key to all these places - the color change is a result of both the change in the length of the days and temperature, so it's hard to pinpoint just when the best time to go is. Color changes can happen all over the calendar in the Flagstaff area because of all the changes in altitude and temperatures.
Also, if you plan to take a Forest Service road, make sure you check the Forest Service Website to make sure the roads are open. Snow, fires, and flooding can all cause road closures. October is usually prime time for fall color, so get out there and get some photos!
Note: Visiting Hart Prairie Preserve: Access to the Preserve is by appointment only from May through September. Guided hikes are offered every Sunday from June 3 through September 23. Plan now if you'd like to go next summer. You can visit their website at nature.org.