Many people in the Valley of the Sun rate autumn as their favorite season as we look forward to cooler weather as summer ends! Yet, the valley desert mostly lacks the fall foliage that marks the change of seasons elsewhere. To enjoy vibrant fall colors, you’ll need to plan a road trip. Here are a few of our favorite places to see Arizona’s vibrant fall:
Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood
Dead Horse Ranch in the heart of Cottonwood is a state park sitting on the banks of the Verde River where the cottonwoods, willows and alders turn to yellow and orange along the river. The thin woodlands are also filled with colorful vines, shrubs, leggy grasses, and wildflowers before winter comes.
Dead Horse Ranch has something for everyone. Bring your fishing poles because the lagoons and river are stocked with rainbow trout from fall through spring. Dead Horse Ranch admission is $7 per vehicle.
West Fork Trail in Sedona may be the closet place in Arizona to experiencing a New England fall foliage display. West Fork is typically packed on weekends and there can be a wait for a parking space, but it is worth the wait! Parking is $11 per vehicle, cash or check only.
You can enjoy a little more solitude at other Sedona trails. The Huckaby Trail emerges along an elevated ridge, overlooking the multi-hued ribbon of Oak Creek before descending to the stream banks past a colorful collection of vines, shrubs and trees. Secret Canyon Trail leads through a forested ravine and some red rock narrows. Most of the vibrant leaves surround the canyon bottom that often shelter a few pools of water.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior
The Main Trail at Boyce Thompson Arboretum is a 1.5-mile loop beneath a canopy of honey locust, soapberry, canyon hackberry, black walnut and Arizona sycamore. You’ll also pass by Ayer Lake, with additional pathways exploring various desert gardens. The trail then circles Magma Ridge with gnarled and crumpled outcroppings, and curves through a grove of burgundy red Chinese pistachio trees framed by golden hedges of pomegranate.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum admission is $15 ($5 for ages 5-12).
Rim Road in Payson
Fall brings splashes of yellow and orange to the forests of the Mogollon Rim east of Payson. Take a scenic drive along Forest Road 300, also known as the Rim Road, between State Routes 260 and 87 to see vivid colors and panoramic views. Past Woods Canyon, the paved road becomes dirt, but can be safely driven in a sedan.