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Best Places to See Fall Color in the West

Posted by Christopher Hall on September 21, 2017
Thompson Lake in Plumas County, California, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Greg Gilman / Alamy
Photo caption
The leaves change around Thompson Lake near Bucks Lake in Plumas County, California.

To hear New England tell it, you'd think that glorious fall foliage only happens there. But we in the West respectfully disagree.

Veteran western leaf-peepers know that we can experience spectacular explosions of color, though their timing and hue depend more on tree species and elevation than latitude, as in the Northeast. Looking to do some peeping yourself? Keeping in mind that peak viewing dates can vary year to year even at the same location, here are a handful of top spots to get you started.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

At Lake Tahoe's Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park, mid-October is often prime time for a saffron-hued display of quaking aspens and black cottonwoods along the General Creek Trail. Elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada, the riot of color starts in late September along many Plumas County roads, including the Feather River Scenic Byway. For state-wide leaf reports, check the website California Fall Color.

NEVADA

In the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area—aka Mt. Charleston to the locals—about 45 minutes from downtown Las Vegas, aspens light up the canyons beginning around the third week of September. If you'd like to take a drive to see the show, which is often done by mid-October, make a loop off U.S. 95 by driving up Kyle Canyon Road, along Deer Creek Road, and back down Lee Canyon Road.

the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway winds through the mountains in Utah, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Steve Greenwood
Photo caption
The 20-mile Alpine Loop Scenic Byway takes visitors through Utah's Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, a riot of color in the fall.

UTAH

About 40 miles south of Salt Lake City via I-15, the aspens, maples, and oaks of Provo Canyon are at their showiest for two weeks between late September and late October. Enjoy the canyon's color while driving the 20-mile Alpine Loop Scenic Byway through the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest—with a stop for an easy walk to Cascade Springs—or while riding on the Heber Valley Railroad

IDAHO

During the fall, aspens and cottonwoods erupt in color all around Sun Valley and its neighboring communities. Around September, you'll enjoy a concentrated dose of them on the easy, 2.5-mile Sunnyside-Lane's Trail in the Adams Gulch area of Sawtooth National Forest. For more Idaho options, take a look at the state's tourism website or the U.S. Forest Service's online leaf updates for its Intermountain Region, which also covers Nevada, Utah, Western Wyoming, and part of California.

ARIZONA

Brilliant, golden-leafed aspens are the fall foliage stars of Flagstaff, "Arizona's capital of autumn." Starting in September, large stands shimmer in the San Francisco Peaks above the city; hike the easy, 1.8-mile Aspen Nature Loop about 20 minutes outside downtown to get an eyeful. Later, the display descends into Flagstaff itself, where it's joined by the scarlet, yellow, and bronze leaves of maples, poplars, and oaks.

If You're Going

Wildfires have aversely affected parks and forests across the West this season. Be sure to call ahead to check current closures and conditions. During your visit, heed any posted warning signs.

Check out the 2017 Fall Foliage Map to see when the leaves are expected to change all across the country.