Short Drives to Find Fall Colors

PHOTOS BY DR. DICK BUSCHER

As the sun’s arc across the sky sinks and the days shorten and cool, fall colors paint the high country in a blaze of yellow, orange and red. The best time to visit is typically now through late October. The show has already begun on Arizona’s tallest mountains, and it will creep day-by-day down to lower elevations. Here are four perennially promising destinations all within about two hours of home.

Flagstaff

At 7,000 feet with nearby mountains soaring beyond 12,000, Flag offers abundant fall colors in a show that’s underway. Quaking aspen, visible from the highway or along numerous hiking trails, turn endless acres golden yellow. You can also enjoy it all in more leisurely fashion at the Flagstaff Arboretum or, weather permitting, take the chairlift at the Snowbowl for a birds-eye view. 

Drive time: 2 hours
Average October High/Low: 63°/32°
Leaf-ometer www.flagstaffarizona.org/plan-your-trip/leafometer
Snowbowl https://www.snowbowl.ski
Info www.flagstaff.com


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Prescott

The national forest and the many small lakes that surround this mile-high city make it among the quickest and best fall-color road trips. Two great options: Hike around Lynx Lake or rent kayaks at Watson Lake.

Drive time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Average October High/Low: 71°/39°
Info www.prescott.com

Sedona

Find picture-perfect views among Sedona’s red rocks. Try the West Fork Trail, Huckaby Trail, Secret Canyon Trail or the Allens Bend Trail. A Red Rock Day Pass ($5/day) is required for some trails. Red Rock State Park, a beautiful place to visit and hike, is just southwest of Sedona. State Route 89A, through Oak Creek Canyon toward Flagstaff, offers great drive-by views. 

Drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Average October High/Low: 80°/51°
Info www.fs.usda.gov/activity/coconino/recreation/hiking

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Fall may be the best time to visit these 392 acres with 3,900 plant species, including many trees that turn colors, all along 3 miles of trails. East of Phoenix on U.S. 60.
Drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Average October High/Low: 82°/62°
Info www.btarboretum.org

What Changes

Like all plants, trees produce chlorophyll, which drives photosynthesis, turning sunlight into energy, to make leaves green. As days shorten and cool, chlorophyll production winds down. The green fades, revealing other colors in the leaves. Three chemicals are responsible for those colors. Drought or an early frost can cause leaves to fall before they’ve had time to change colors, so it’s difficult to predict each fall’s colorful prospects or timing.

  • Chlorophyll (greens)
  • Xanthophylls (yellows)
  • Carotenoids (oranges)
  • Anthocyanins (reds)

SOURCE: NOAA

Linda and Dr. Dick Buscher
Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher are retired Arizona public school educators who brought their wealth of Arizona knowledge to the In&Out Publications team in 2007. Together they have been teaching and writing about the state since the 1970s. The Buschers co-authored an Arizona history program titled “Ali-Shonak: The Story of Arizona,” which is still used in many of the 4th grade classrooms in Anthem and around the state. The Arizona history portion of this program is available in the iTunes bookstore under the title “Arizona: The Grand Adventure.” The Buschers are also authors of “Historic Photos of Arizona,” available at local bookstores.
Linda and Dr. Dick Buscher on Email

Linda and Dr. Dick Buscher

Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher are retired Arizona public school educators who brought their wealth of Arizona knowledge to the In&Out Publications team in 2007. Together they have been teaching and writing about the state since the 1970s. The Buschers co-authored an Arizona history program titled “Ali-Shonak: The Story of Arizona,” which is still used in many of the 4th grade classrooms in Anthem and around the state. The Arizona history portion of this program is available in the iTunes bookstore under the title “Arizona: The Grand Adventure.” The Buschers are also authors of “Historic Photos of Arizona,” available at local bookstores.

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