Looking for fall colors in Arizona? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all deserts and rock formations in the Grand Canyon State. And so, yes, it is possible to find beautiful fall colors in Arizona!
If you have explored this gorgeous state before, you know Northern Arizona is home to several high-altitude areas.
Arizona fall foliage in the small towns, cities, and valleys in this region is spectacular, as the rugged landscapes turn into panoramas dotted with all shades of yellow, orange, golden, and brown.
Known for its merciless, scorching summer temperatures, not many know that Fall in Arizona is the BEST time to soak in the magnificent outdoors that the state is famous for.
Not only is the weather excellent, but you can also hike, camp, and plan road trips and weekend getaways without crowds and spending much less than you would actually do!
I have been a late bloomer in accepting Fall in Arizona is a gorgeous time, after moving here around 7 years ago!
Every year, I follow this ritual of exploring fantastic fall foliage destinations in Arizona, blissfully delighting my senses with the magic that unfolds.
Whether you are looking for short and sweet hikes, road trip routes, or the most spectacular fall foliage in Arizona within cities and towns, you will find them here.
Read on to learn about the best destinations to see gorgeous fall colors in Arizona.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO SEE FALL COLORS IN ARIZONA?
Wondering what is the best to see fall foliage in Arizona?
Well, Arizona has a very long fall foliage season, and depending on which region you want to go, you can expect to see fall colors in Arizona from late September up in the mountains through the end of November in desert areas.
If you head to high-desert spots, you can see the stunning Arizona fall colors in early December.
For guaranteed stunning fall display, plan your Arizona fall trip anywhere between late September to late October.
BEST PLACES TO SEE FALL COLORS IN ARIZONA
If you are not into hikes, or looking for a quick trip to witness fall colors in Arizona, downtown Flagstaff is the place!
Thanks to its elevated location, many neighbourhoods in Flagstaff, including its parks, bask with the brilliant shades of fall foliage, painting the city vividly.
Head to Wheeler Park and other community areas besides downtown between late September to November as there are plenty of fantastic things to do in Flagstaff in the fall, with something in store for everyone.
One of the beautiful regions in Arizona known for its abundant natural beauty is the Mogollon Rim and the town of Payson.
Drive along Route 260 east from Payson to the Mogollon Rim, an hour and a half north to enjoy fantastic fall colors in Arizona.
October is the best month as the Aspen trees glow in gold and yellow coloring the panoramas along the Rim.
Until mid-November, you can see Maples and Pondoresa Pines within just a short drive from Phoenix, making it an ideal family weekend getaway during the fall in Arizona.
RECOMMENDED – 15 TOP PAYSON HIKES FOR STUNNING VIEWS AND OUTDOORS
I highly recommend visiting the many Rim Lakes for more than just the fall foliage.
Not only are the Rim Lakes less crowded, but you can also enjoy plenty of water sports amidst the stunning fall colors of the oak and tall pines.
Enjoy fishing, camping, and four-wheeling, or sit back and enjoy a picnic lunch soaking in the blissful views of the lake flanked by colorful trees.
Not to be confused with Aspen Nature Loop, Aspen Corner, is one of the best photo spots to capture the brilliant fall colors in Arizona.
Aspen Corner is about 5/6 miles up Snowbowl Road and only 10 minutes from Aspen Nature Loop.
I highly recommend combining them on your Arizona fall trip for magnificent mountains glowing in red, orange and brown and the Aspen trees basking in yellow in the foreground.
Head there between late September to mid-October to experience the glorious foliage in its prime.
DRIVE TO SNOWBOWL
One of the stunning road trip routes in Northern Arizona you can plan with your family is to Snowbowl.
On this 7-mile-long drive up Snowbowl Road, you will come across some stunning fall colors in Arizona.
It is one of the easiest ways to soak in foliage colors in the comfort of your car.
Watch the colorful ponderosa trees making way for brilliant aspens, leading you to fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.
BOYCE THOMPSON ARBORETUM
If you want to experience beautiful fall foliage in Arizona east of Phoenix, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the place to be.
Home to hundreds of cactus varieties, the rugged desert landscapes come alive with brilliant hues of fall foliage every autumn.
Boyce Thompson is the state’s oldest and largest botanical garden, so fall is the best time to hike here to witness beautiful Arizona fall colors amidst pleasant temperatures.
Since it is at a lower elevation relatively, head to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park in November to spot
the glorious reds, oranges, and yellows.
Opening hours – 8 AM to 5 PM
SANTA CATALINA MOUNTAINS
One of the best places to see the best fall foliage in southeastern Arizona is the Santa Catalina Mountains.
If you are in Tucson, head there by embarking on this almost 30-mile-long road trip on the Catalina Highway from Tucson up the Santa Catalina Mountains in mid-to-late October.
Soak in the vivid hues of aspen, maple, and oaks as gold, red, yellow, oranges dominate the landscapes from your car.
LOWER SALT RIVER
One of the convenient and easily-accessible places near Phoenix to enjoy fall colors in Arizona is the Lower Salt River.
Every year, between late November to early December, this tubing destination gets painted with stunning fall colors of red, orange, and yellow.
Check out Water Users Recreation Site and other riverside stops on the highway for capturing some beautiful fall foliage photos in AZ
Note that you need a Tonto Pass to park at all Lower Salt River recreation sites.
At 8,400, the Hualapai Mountains in Mohave County, the wilderness of this area beckons nature lovers for its stunning fall colors in Arizona.
Watch the beautiful blends of aspens, red maples, and Ponderosa pines from late September through mid-October every year.
BEST HIKES FOR SEEING FALL COLORS IN ARIZONA
THE INNER BASIN
One of the most popular places to see fall colors in Arizona, loved by campers, hikers, and people looking for a romantic fall getaway in AZ is the Inner Basin.
Inner Basin is one of the most heavily trafficked trails from mid-October through the month of November.
Since you can camp on the premises, you can spend an entire weekend taking in all the wondrous fall colors in Arizona in the Inner Basin.
Head over to Lockett Meadow Campground, the starting point for the fantastic Inner Basin trail.
The 3.5-miles long trail is known for the magnificent yellow and sometimes light orange Aspen carpeting the floor and coloring the sky.
This hike is considered moderate due to varying elevations ranging from 8000-10000+ feet and a steep incline, so it may not be ideal for beginners.
Make sure to dress in layers and wear sturdy shoes.
From Phoenix, it is about a three-hour drive to the Inner Basin Trail.
Since it is at a higher elevation, the Inner Basin trail and the campground is the perfect spot to escape the heat for extra cool temperatures and stunning foliage.
THE ASPEN NATURE LOOP
If you visit Flagstaff in the fall, you must add this short but stunning hike to witness gorgeous fall colors in Arizona.
As the name indicates, this 1.5-mile hike takes you through stunning ponderosa and aspen groves. It is a treat to the senses to stroll amidst golden foliage.
September, October and early November are the best months to watch the colorful panoramas.
If you are lucky, you can even spot many migrating birds.
Since it is an easy trail, it is one of the best hikes to see Az fall colors with your kids.
You can even hike the Aspen Nature Loop in winter to enjoy a gorgeous white wonderland.
THE WEST FORK TRAIL
Located in Oak Creek Canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff, the West Fork Trail is one of the best hikes to see fall colors in Arizona.
This seven-mile trail, which involves many creek crossings is a favourite among people traveling with kids.
It is one of the popular hikes famous for its bright yellow, orange, and golden red leaves of Aspen.
With pleasant temperatures and brilliant colors throughout your hike, late September and mid-October is the best time to see the radiant colors of the deciduous trees, similar to the ones in New England.
THE WEATHERFORD TRAIL
Probably one of the longest trails to see fall colors in Arizona, the Weatherford Trail is one of the best hikes catering to both beginners and seasoned hikers.
Besides vast expanses of stunning fall foliage, this is the reason why the Weatherford Trail is one of the go-to places in the fall for families, couples, nature lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts.
Spanning a whopping 20 miles, you will be treated to stunning views of the foliage at the start of the trail itself, especially if you are in October when the fall is in full fledge across the landscapes here.
You can choose from various sections depending on how long and how difficult you want the trail to be.
No matter which section you pick, be assured of admiring beautiful fall colors in Arizona on this trail.
VEIT SPRINGS TRAIL
One of the easy hikes ideal, if you are with kids to see stunning fall colors in Arizona, is Veit Springs Trail, located near Snowbowl near Flagstaff.
Although close to the popular Snowbowl, this trail is surprisingly crowd-free thanks to its secluded location.
On this woody trail, you will hike amidst the densely populated forest comprising ponderosa pines with aspen trees glowing in various hues of yellow, orange, and red.
BEAR JAW(ABINEAU LOOP TRAIL)
If you are an expert hiker, one of the challenging trails worth trying is Bear Jaw, which offers fantastic views of fall colors in Arizona.
The entire loop is about 7 miles and is marked as strenuous due to its sudden rise in elevation, from 8500 to ending at over 10,000 feet.
If you are not game for the entire Abineau Loop, the 2 miles out and back Bear Jaw trail offers beautiful views of Aspens through a ponderosa forest.
For peak foliage, head there in October.
MARSHALL GULCH LOOP TRAIL
A beautiful trail in southern Arizona for hiking lovers is an hour away from Tucson.
Marshall Gulch Loop trail, a 1.3-mile trail packed with deciduous trees, offers stunning fall colors in Arizona, different from the usual and predominant Aspen, standard in the state.
Since this is a short and easy trail starting at Summerhaven, you can easily plan this hike with kids for brilliant AZ fall foliage, between October and late November.
Go further to the top of the mountain for stunning panoramas at the nearby Mount Lemmon Ski Area.
OAK CREEK CANYON AND AROUND
One of the best places to see beautiful fall colors in Arizona is Sedona, where you can enjoy plenty of things to do and fun activities in autumn, besides admiring the fall foliage.
Drive along State Route 89A from October through November, where you have plenty of places, hiking trails, viewing spots, and campgrounds along the pretty Oak Creek.
Colorful oaks, maples and pines dominate the forests along the Canyon, creating a beautiful Sedona in the fall, amidst red-rock mountains, buttes, and mesas.
There are plenty of fall hikes in Sedona you can enjoy, from the famous Cathedral Rock trail for the iconic rock formations amidst the crimsons, and oranges to Red Rock Crossing hike, where you can play in the small waterfalls.
Eastern Arizona’s White Mountains are one of the hidden gems in the state.
Known for its spectacular mountains dotted with lush forests, cute small towns, and plenty of beautiful lakes.
The White Mountains offer some spectacular landscapes with beautiful fall colors in Arizona as the oak and Aspen turns orange, yellow and red.
There are many trails near Pinetop, Greer, and Pinetop-Lakeside, and you can easily spend a weekend each in these pretty small towns or camp along the tracks – there are plenty of fantastic opportunities for a fun holiday in fall in Arizona.
The Huachuca Mountains Near Sierra Vista in the Coronado National Forest in the southeastern part of the state is one of the best places to see fall colors in Arizona.
The maple, sycamore, and oak trees carpet the landscapes in yellow, gold, and orange every fall, transforming the mountains a delight to watch
You can plan hikes and drives from late October to early November, and you can easily plan a day trip to the Huachuca Mountains from Phoenix since it is only 70 miles away.
BEST NATIONAL PARKS TO SEE FALL COLORS IN ARIZONA
The Colorado Plateau and the iconic Grand Canyon are one of the best places to visit to witness the spectacle of fall colors in Arizona.
With an average elevation of 8,000 feet, Grand Canyon’s North Rim is the most popular spot in the national park.
The peak foliage months are between late September to mid-December when the surrounding Kaibab National Forest to the north of the Grand Canyon comes alive with the best fall colors in Arizona.
You can see the red, orange, and brown canyons surrounded by stunning foliage of yellow, orange, and golden hues of Aspen, Oak and Pine, offering perfect photo opportunities.
Note that restaurants and lodging at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon close in mid-October.
If you wish to experience a completely different white wonderland, I highly recommend returning to the Grand Canyon in the winter, after December!
HASSAYAMPA RIVER PRESERVE
One of the best places to see fall colors in Arizona in Maricopa County is the Hassayampa River Preserve.
This 770-acre riparian nature reserve near Wickenburg is a vibrant desert oasis loved by hikers and campers, and every fall, the landscapes along Hassayampa River Preserve glow with shades of yellow, orange and red.
It is one of the rare sights to see the fabulous contrast of the saguaros with the foliage of oak and willows in the unique riparian landscape.
Hiking is the best way to admire the stunning views in the park. Mid-October to late November is the best time to enjoy peak fall foliage in Arizona here.
DEAD HORSE RANCH STATE PARK
The Dead Horse Ranch State Park, about ten miles from Jerome is a unique historic site continuously occupied since 8,000 BC.
It is one of the best activities in Jerome Az for outdoor lovers and families.
The ranch is home to plenty of deciduous trees, including Cottonwood, Willow, and Oak, making it a great spot for a quick fall trip to see the foliage colors in Arizona from mid-October to mid-November.
Kids can enjoy horseback riding, and wildlife watching, while you can enjoy fishing, biking and hiking around the Verde River lagoons.
Spot grey fox, coyote, javelina and many beautiful birds.
You can also stay overnight in one of the riverside log cabins in Dead Horse Ranch.
You can also view the trees while kayaking down the Verde River, or better, spend overnight in one of the campsites or cute cabins.
ORGAN PIPE CACTUS NATIONAL MONUMENT
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is one of the top Arizona National Monuments located in the extreme southern part of the state, sharing a border with the Mexican state of Sonora.
It is one of the best places to see fall colors in Arizona, surrounded by rugged desert landscapes.
Organ Pipe Cactus is known for its magnificent Organ Pipe cacti, native to Mexico, covering over 516 square miles of untouched wilderness, with other dominant cacti being Saguaro.
It is the only place in the US where the senita and organ pipe cacti grow wild. Organ Pipe Cactus are fascinating plants and can live over 150 years old.
They produce their first flower when they are 35 years old.
It is also classified as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, home to unique desert wildlife and a popular bird-watching spot.
The monument encompasses diverse landscapes, from arid plain lands to surprisingly high mountains, with Mount Ajo topping out at 4,800 high.
Despite its rich and abundant terrain, it is one of the underrated national monuments in Arizona, receiving fewer tourists.
This varied landscape makes for excellent hiking opportunities, where you can also explore the remains of abandoned mines and their ancient cultures.
One of the best trails is the Bull Pasture hike, a three-mile round trip covering a part of Mount Ajo, offering spectacular birdviews.
Driving around is the best way to wander in this monument, with the most popular drives being the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive and Puerto Blanco Drive which takes you through incredible and unique landscapes only found in Arizona.
One of the popular activities in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is camping in the desert. You can also enjoy backcountry camping.
Twin Peaks campground is popular, where you can set up your tent or RV among the giant cacti.
Nighttime is fascinating for watching the star-lit skies, surrounded by unique desert vegetation and mountains.
And hiking those trails, among columnar cacti and other desert plants, is a joy as temperatures drop in the fall.
An International Biosphere Reserve, the park showcases a unique community of plants and animals.
Hiking and camping in the park are a pleasure in the fall, as you can experience a thriving, green desert.
SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK
One of the popular weekend trips from Phoenix for outdoor lovers and adventure seekers is Saguaro National Park.
One of the beautiful Arizona National Parks, this park is located 2-hours from Phoenix and is a fantastic place to enjoy fall colors in Arizona.
It is also a popular weekend getaway from Tucson, much closer.
Saguaro National Park is home to huge forests of saguaro cacti, including America’s tallest and most iconic cactus species.
On the west side, in the Tucson Mountain District, which is smaller and more accessible, you’ll find the densest stands of saguaro and sweeping views from the Valley View Overlook Trail.
Many short hiking trails are ideal for beginners to explore the national park, including the unpaved Bajada Loop Drive driveway.
The Rincon Mountain District, on the east side, is more remote and includes a large mountainous region with summits over 8,000 feet.
Rincon Mountain also features the park’s famous Cactus Forest Loop drive and offers stunning sunset and sunrise views.
There are lots of trails in the park of different difficulty levels for hiking and biking, which will take you across its dazzling and dramatic landscapes.
Hike the Hope Camp and Ridgeview Trails in spring for colourful wildflower displays and beautiful views.
The national park is home to roadrunners, coyotes, Gila monsters, and many types of snakes, which you should watch out for while hiking.
One of the underrated gems in Arizona is Aravaipa Canyon.
Located in southeast Arizona, between Tucson and Phoenix, and managed by BLM, this stretch of rugged landscapes is known for abundant forests dotted with cottonwood, ash, willow trees, and more
These paint the rugged terrains of the Canyon in crimson, orange, yellow and golden every fall, offering beautiful fall colors in Arizona for visitors.
Explore Aravaipa Canyon between late November to early December to witness this grand spectacle.
Check out the bubbling Aravaipa Creek with golden autumn leaves, saguaro cacti, and desert bighorn sheep in the background, creating a magical fall atmosphere on your serene holiday.
You need a permit to explore Aravaipa, and since fall is the most popular time to visit, it is best to get your permits early as they are limited.