Top Ten Fall Forests

A "Sky Island" Above the Desert: Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Crisp fall weather and glorious foliage aren't the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Arizona. Nonetheless, that's exactly what you'll find in north-central Arizona's Coconino National Forest. Much of Coconino is high-elevation Arizona—the peaks top out at 12,000 feet, and a lot of the land is atop the lofty Mogollon and Coconino Plateaus. Up high, the expanses of ponderosa pines are broken by stands of aspen.

Changing leaves herald fall's coming as early as mid-September. That's when forest roads and trails begin to hum with the crowds of nature lovers who come to enjoy the display. The gold rush begins on the higher slopes of the forest's volcanic highlands as the aspen leaves change to amber while summer is still in the air. From there the transformation gradually migrates to the crimson sumacs and fuchsia maples of the desert canyons as brisk nights confirm the full onset of autumn. The climax of this parade of color generally occurs around the second week of October, but remnants of reds, oranges, and golds linger in the canyons as late as mid-November.

Fall Classics: Coconino

Into the Woods: In September, hikers and backpackers might want to check out the high-elevation Kachina Peaks Wilderness; the Weatherford Trail here is an excellent place to hear the forest's elk bugling their amours. Just south of this area is the new Little Bear Trail, where Gambel oaks and Rocky Mountain maples blaze with color. There's good year-round trout fishing in Verde Valley, and swimming along Oak Creek Canyon.

On the Roads: Early in the season, scenic drives in the San Francisco Peaks provide the best foliage displays. The Wupatki/Sunset Crater volcanoes and Ruins Scenic Loop Drive is good too. Later in the season look for color in Oak Creek Canyon, along the scenic drive there.

Where to Camp: Check out GORP's Coconino National Forest Guide.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »