Fall Colors on the Coconino
By October each year, colors are usually in full splendor on the Coconino National Forest. Many of the trees in the higher elevations near Flagstaff reach their prime in early October, but the views are still beautiful throughout the season. The maples on the Mogollon Rim District are worth the visit, and the deciduous trees in Oak Creek Canyon and the Sedona area are spectacular. Watch for the latest fall color photos on our Fall Colors album on Flickr and updates at @CoconinoNF on Twitter.
This page is updated once or twice a week, in time for the weekend whenever possible. As the colors gradually change, reports come in, and weather permits us to scout for fall color across the Coconino National Forest's 1.8 million acres, we will share observations and color forecasts on Twitter, Flickr, and this page. Also follow the Leaf-o-Meter [Flagstaff CVB].
The best bets for fall color viewing opportunities over the next week is around the Snowbowl, Hart Prairie, and western slopes of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, and upper Oak Creek Canyon.
Flagstaff Ranger Distict Fall Color Update: October 16, 2016
The fall color season for the Flagstaff is in full swing around Mt. Elden and the San Francisco Peaks. There is strong color in Lockett Meadow, Hart Prarie, Schultz Pass, Snowbowl Road, and around the north side of the Peaks in the area of Bear Jaw, Reese, and Abineau canyons. Color is starting to fade in the Inner Basin. Trees are beginning to turn around the Snowbowl.
Sunday observations of Mount Elden show the color is all but gone on the eastern slopes.
Schultz Pass and the southern face of the San Francisco Peaks facing Flagstaff show fantastic fall color. Aspens near the road are at peak color or starting to drop leaves. Sunday observations of the pass show groups of aspens in the upper portions of Weatherford Canyon have dropped their leaves. Recommended Schultz Pass area trails:
Lockett Meadow, the Inner Basin and the north side of the San Francisco Peaks are past peak color. Most trees have lost or are losing leaves along the lower portions of Inner Basin Trail and Waterline Trail. Spots of color may last a few more days lower sections of the trail and Lockett Meadow. Recommended trails, routes, and areas for viewing fall color around Lockett Meadow and the north side of the San Francisco Peaks:
- Inner Basin Trail moderately strenuous hike into the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks. High clearance vehicle is recommended on Lockett Meadow Road. Trees are varied from peak color to past peak color along the trail. Aspens in the Inner Basin are dropping or have dropped their leaves.
- Lockett Meadow campground and day use area in a meadow in the interior of the San Francisco Peaks with access to Inner Basin Trail. High clearance vehicle is recommended on Lockett Meadow Road. Color is passing peak color.
- Abineau-Bear Jaw Trails Loop strenuous hike on the north side of the San Francisco Peaks. Trees are are passing peak color, especially at upper elevations of Bear Jaw Canyon and along the Waterline.
- Around the Peaks Loop scenic driving loop around the north side of the San Franciso Peaks. High clearance vehicle required to complete the loop due to the rough and rocky nature of the road. Good fall color viewing can be found on the smoother parts of the route accessible to low clearance vehicles at the eastern and western ends of FR 418.
Snowbowl Road and the Snowbowl area is awash with color. The western flanks of the San Francisco Peaks are peaking. Kachina Trail, Aspen Loop and trees along the ski runs up the mountain from the lodge are peaking. The Arizona Snowbowl Skyride will remain open through October 23. See the Arizona Snowbowl website to see current colors on the lift webcams and more details about the Skyride. Color is fantastic with large groups of aspens peaking around Hart Prairie, including Aspen Loop. The Arizona Trail between Bismarck Lake and Aspen Loop (at the Snowbowl) is a great way to experience the fantastic color and views of the San Francisco Peaks and Kendrick Mountain.
Visit Fall Color on Kaibab National Forest for details about fall color on Kendrick Mountain, throughout the Williams District, and elsewhere on our neighboring Forest.
The higher elevations of the San Francisco Peaks trails will be much colder than Flagstaff. Be prepared for temperatures 10°F to 20°F cooler than Flagstaff, and 30°F to 40°F colder on the upper reaches of Humphreys Trail. Dress in layers and carry at least two quarts of water for a half day of hiking. Watch the National Weather Service forecast closely. The weather forecast may change unexpectedly:
Mogollon Rim Ranger District Fall Color Update: October 7, 2016
The Mogollon Rim reports maples are turning in the Dick Hart Ridge and Dane Ridge area within a few miles of the Rim Road (FR 300). This should be a beautiful weekend to go out to explore the area, as many of the trees will be approaching their peak. The maples can be spotted in the draws from the ridge roads (FR 139 and FR 321), and hikes into the draws at the southern ends of the Cabin Loop trails should be rewarding.
Aspens are turning north of the Buck Springs cabin (137), and fall color is good in McClintock Draw on the Barbershop Trail. The meadow at the bottom of FR 321C and FR 218C should also be a nice area.
There are lot of oaks changing as well as a few others out in the Potato Lake area and along the Mogollon Rim. There are very prettyy oaks on the route to way to the Tramway and Maxwell trailheads (the roads get rough close to the trailheads). Everything was changing in the East Clear Creek drainage as well, including maples, oaks, and willows. The maples are peaking or past peak and will soon have dropped all their leaves.
Note there is a an area closure for the Pinchot Fire. Houston Brothers and northern portions of Fred Haught and U-Bar trails are closed. Barbershop Trail is a good choice for finding maples and fall colors. Winds are typically from the southwest. Roads and trails north and east of the fire may be smokey at times, and smoke settles in nearby draws and canyons in the evening.
Watch the National Weather Service forecast closely. The weather forecast may change unexpectedly:
Red Rock Ranger District Fall Color Update: October 16, 2016
Oak Creek Canyon, the red rock country around Sedona, and the Verde Valley are at lower elevations and further south than Flagstaff and the Mogollon Rim. Color changes run later in the Red Rock Ranger District, generally from mid-October through early November.
Fall color is well underway in the upper reaches of Oak Creek Canyon. Oaks are turning gold brown, there are spots of red visible from Oak Creek Canyon Vista, but many trees are still green. The maples and some of the other trees in West Fork of Oak Creek are turning stunning reds, oranges, and golds. West Fork and upper Oak Creek Canyon will continue to get better over the next two to three weeks. Warning: Oak Creek Canyon and the West Fork of Oak Creek are incredibly busy in the fall season, and cars waiting an hour or more for available parking at Call of the Canyon creates serious traffic congestion on the narrow and winding SR 89A, particularly on the weekends. The best time to visit is early in the day mid-week.
Based on an early October report, Sycamore Canyon (Parsons Trail) may be starting to turn. Reports from the Sedona area are that the trees are still green.
Watch the National Weather Service forecast closely. The weather forecast may change unexpectedly:
Keep an eye on this page and @CoconinoNF on Twitter for updates through the fall season.
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General Recommendations for the Fall Color Season
Here are some of the most spectacular and popular locations for viewing fall colors on the Coconino National Forest as the season progresses.
Flagstaff Ranger District
This district surrounds Flagstaff, Arizona, and the San Francisco Peaks.
Mogollon Rim Ranger District
This district is north of Strawberry, Arizona around C.C. Cragin (Blue Ridge) Reservoir.
- Forest Road 139 along Dick Hart Ridge (Hwy 87 to FR 95 next to the Mogollon Rim Ranger Station, left on FR 139)
- Forest Road 321 along Dane Ridge (Hwy 87 to FR 95 next to the Mogollon Rim Ranger Station, left on FR 96, right on FR 321)
- Forest Road 300, also known as the Rim Road or General Crook Trail (Hwy 87 or Hwy 260 to FSR 300, 2.5 miles east of Hwy 260, 10 miles north of Strawberry)
- Cabin Loop Trail (note area closure for the Pinchot Fire)
Red Rock Ranger District
This district surrounds Sedona, Arizona, covering Oak Creek Canyon, and extending to the Verde River, Fossil Springs Wilderness, Clear Creek Wilderness, and Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness.
As the peak of the season passes on the Rim and around Flagstaff, the colors are just getting started in Oak Creek Canyon and Red Rock Country.
Colors in Oak Creek Canyon and into Sedona and the Verde Valley typically start in early October and Recommendations for enjoying fall color when it occurs in Oak Creek Canyon, Red Rock Country, and Verde Valley include:
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Changing leaves herald the coming of autumn to the Coconino National Forest 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 Coconino encompasses such a broad range of habitats that it's possible to stretch this most colorful of seasons into more than a month of celebration within its boundaries. 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 can linger in the canyons as late as mid-November.
What Makes Leaves Turn Colors?
The leaves on deciduous trees do not really “turn” colors. They just lose their green. Leaves actually begin to prepare for autumn in the spring. At the base of each leaf is a layer of cells called the “abscission” or separation layer. All summer, small tubes pass through the abscission to carry water into the leaf. The leaf uses this water with carbon dioxide, sunlight and chlorophyll to produce food. This process is called photosynthesis.
The word photosynthesis means “putting together with light.” The food, or “sugar,” is carried back out through the tubes in the abscission into the tree.
In the fall, the cells of this abscission layer begin to swell and form a cork-like material, reducing and finally cutting off flow between the leaf (leaves) and the rest of the tree. Also, because of cool nights, the sugar still produced in the bright fall sun is not readily transported from the leaves to the stems and roots. The less sunlight (shorter days at the end of summer, beginning of autumn), the less green chlorophyll is produced, and is, in fact, broken down.
This is when you begin to see the yellow xanthophyll and orange carotene that are present in the leaf all year around but are covered by the green chlorophyll. No one is sure what purpose these other elements serve, but scientists believe they also have something to do with photosynthesis. Certain species of deciduous trees will begin, at this time of warm days and cool nights, to produce anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are the reds and purples and are produced only in autumn; they are not present in the leaves all year.
During this dormant period, the trees use the reserves they have stored up over the summer to stay alive. They need this time to take a rest from producing.
What do autumn leaves and bananas have in common?
The green color in unripe bananas comes from chlorophyll, the same pigment that gives green leaves their color. As bananas ripen, the chlorophyll breaks down and disappears, revealing the yellow color, which has been there all along. The yellows and oranges of autumn leaves are also revealed as their chlorophyll breaks down.
Why Is It That Some Years We Get Great Color And Relatively Bland Results In Other Years?
Good reds are produced when the days are warm and sunny and the nights are cool (45°F or less, but not a frost), coming one after another. In this setting, the leaves produce lots of sugar using the abundant sunlight, but the cool nights prevent the sugar from flowing through the leaf veins. At this point, anthocyanins (the reds and purples) are produced. Yellow and orange are fairly constant, because they are already in the leaf and do not require specific weather situations.
A warm, wet period in the fall will cause the changing to be not so brilliant because sunny days producing the sugar and cool nights halting it’s spread produce the best color. A severe frost will kill the leaves, ending the show immediately.
Why Is It That Some Portions Of The Mountain Or Flagstaff Get Better Color Results From The Changing Leaves?
Sunshine is the key. The more sunshine, the more sugar is produced. While there will not be enough sunshine to produce chlorophyll, some sugar and anthocyanins (the red/purple/blue colors) will be produced as a last ditch effort to bring nutrition to the leaves. In trees where anthocyanins are not produced, we will see only the yellows and oranges.
The sunnier spots of the mountain and less-shaded trees in town will become reddish/purplish, if they are predisposed to do so. In addition, a single tree may be red on one side, the side more exposed to the sun, and yellow and orange on the other.
When Do The Leaves Typically Change Color In Flagstaff? Closer To The Peaks?
Typically, trees in the highest elevations begin to change mid-September. Then, like a slow-moving wave, the color descends into town. The show usually ends in late October.
What Are The Types Of Trees In Northern Arizona That Turn Colors?
Aspen (yellow), Maple (yellow, orange, red), Oak (yellow, orange, brown), Cottonwood (yellow), Various fruit trees (red, orange, yellow), Elm (yellow), ash (yellow), poplar (yellow), willow (yellow), and even weeds and bushes like sumacs (Orange, red) and poison ivy will change colors and decorate the roadsides.
What Makes Evergreens…Well, Evergreen?
Evergreen trees (pines, spruces, cedars and firs) don’t lose their leaves in the fall. They are covered with a heavy wax coating and the fluids inside the cells contain substances that resist freezing. Evergreen leaves can last for several years before they fall and are replaced by new growth. They may, however, become brownish if the winter is particularly cold.
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