Nature & Science

Enjoy Fall Colors at the Carson National Forest!

Blue tent below towering trees and yellow leaves.
Langunitas Lakes Campground in the fall. USDA Forest Service photo by Jacob Cisneros.

Spectacular Views

For spectacular views in the high country, consider hiking or packing into the Pecos, Latir, Wheeler Peak, Columbine-Hondo or Cruces Basin wilderness areas. 

Carson National Forest Fall Colors from your Car

  • Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway: Drive the 84-mile loop that goes through Taos, Questa, Red Red River, Eagle Nest, Angel Fire and back through Taos Canyon, with an option leg to the Taos Ski Valley. Learn more on Visit Taos.
  • High Road to Taos Scenic Byway: The northern stretch of this byway is on the Carson National Forest. Visit New Mexico True for more information.
  • Taos Ski Valley: Drive up Highway 150 to Taos Ski Valley or along one of the most beautiful stretches in the State - U.S. Highway 64 from Tres Piedras to Tierra Amarilla.
  • Highway 64 in the San Juan Mountains: Head to the forest's west side and enjoy colors between Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla. Stop by Hopewell Lake midway. 

Experience Fall Colors from the Train

Travel in style through sunlit aspen on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad from Chama to Antonito.

About Aspen Trees

Aspen's radiant gold is brought to you by fires that raged through this part of the world a century ago. Aspen is the mother of the forest, usually the first tree species to appear after a fire or after logging. Aspen sprouts from suckers in the ground and as it grows, it shades the ground, allowing young fir and spruce to take hold. Once they do, the aspen falls over and dies, only to reappear once again after fire or logging.

Deer and Elk Need Aspen Too

Aspen offers autumn beauty but also keeps many deer and elk alive through harsh winters in the mountains. These animals eat leaves and new shoots on young aspen and the bark of taller trees. The Forest Service helps keep the aspen part of the forest by planned burning and selective logging in areas where deer and elk spend the winter.

Why Do Leaves Change Color?

During spring and summer, leaves serve as factories, manufacturing most of the foods necessary for a tree's growth. This takes place in the leaf cells that contain chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. But leaves also contain orange and yellow pigments masked much of the year by green chlorophyll.

Autumn's shorter days and cooler nights halt the leaf's food manufacturing. Chlorophyll breaks down, exposing other pigments. Other chemical changes can happen, creating even more pigments - yellow, red, and blue - which you see in the red and purple of maples or the bronze or brown of oak and beech.

Tall trees with thick golden yellow leaves at Taos Ski Valley
Fall colors at Taos Ski Valley. USDA Forest Service photo.

Also, colors on the same tree can vary from year to year, depending upon weather conditions. When autumns are warm and rainy, leaves are less colorful.
When leaves fall to the ground and decay, they help fertilize the soil, returning some elements borrowed by the growing tree.

Past Fall Colors on the Carson National Forest

Select an image or link to go to that year's fall color Flickr Album.

2018 2017 2016
Mountains with yellow colored fall trees mixed in Mountain view of fall colors dappled within evergreens Mountain view of fall colors dappled within evergreens

Enjoy nature's recycled autumn brilliance!

Picture of Fall Colors - Carson National Forest