If social media and pumpkin-spiced everything have not yet informed you, fall is here! While the rest of the nation starts to hunker down and prepare for winter hibernation, Arizonans are lacing up their trail boots and dusting off jackets from the back of their closets. Although this season looks different in Arizona, with the daytime temperature still hovering around 90 degrees in the valley, the mornings and evenings are finally cooler. Plus, with higher elevations within a
two-hour driving distance, you don’t have to search too hard to find your next favorite fall hike.
For moderate weather, mountain views, and changing leaves, October is the perfect month to experience the best fall hikes in Arizona. All month long, hikers can enjoy warm, autumn hues without having to drive out of state. Whether you are an avid trail blazer or just want a refreshing stroll through nature, these hikes offer something magical for everyone.
Nestled at around 7,000 feet, this college town may be small, but it has plenty of scenic views and hikes to boast about. The air up here is thinner and crisper. While the average high is mid-60s, the lows can reach freezing. Needless to say, you will want a jacket when the sun dips below the horizon. For those looking for a birds’ eye view, check out Arizona Snowbowl’s scenic gondola rides before or after your hike. You will definitely want to look down for this experience! The journey takes you to the 11,500 foot mountain summit, where you can gape at the San Francisco Peaks featuring their autumn foliage in full abandon.
Lockett Meadow Inner Basin Loop
The Lockett Meadow area receives many visitors this time of year. Thick rows of aspen trees are dressed in yellow in October, making for optimum photo ops.
If you are up for a moderate hike, take the 3.4 mile out and back trail and let the fall colors cocoon you for a while. The trail gradually inclines and follows a river, where it is possible to spot local wildlife. Keep in mind, this area is subject to seasonal road closures if early snowfall or heavy rain occur. Vehicles
with 4x4 capability are recommended to reach this recreation site.
Kachina Trail #150
Although this 12 (ish) mile trail is rated moderate, many hikers simply traverse as far as they like to enjoy the fall colors and head back out. The trail is lined by aspens, pines, and ferns, and large boulders make for great resting spots along the way. Bears are still active in this area, so enjoy your fall hike with necessary preparedness.
Aspen Nature Lollipop TrailLikely, most experienced hikers would consider this 2.7 mile loop an easy trail. But as the second half is steeper, some may break a sweat, especially considering the higher elevation. If you are looking for a family friendly hike, or need to test your altitude agility, this is a good place to start. From the loop’s vantage points, you will be rewarded with mountain peaks, aspens in their golden glory, and spacious meadows for fur babies to frolic through.
A visit to Arizona is incomplete without a stop in Sedona. There are few places in the world quite as remarkable, and vivid red. And if you didn’t think this place could get any prettier, fall has something to tell you. Starting now, Sedona’s hiking trails begin to burst in autumn’s color palette. Locations like Oak Creek Canyon are especially popular to see the leaves on display. But if you have been there done that, there are two more trails just as stunning.
Baldwin Trail #191
To be fair, most any trail in Sedona is heavily trafficked. If you are looking to avoid the crowds, show up early and go during the week, if you can.
Located near Crescent Moon Ranch and Cathedral Rock, this 2 mile loop is rated easy for all skill levels. Trees along the creek are just beginning to change their leaves. The rest of the trail gives you expansive views of Cathedral Rock while offering some shade along the way. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on this trail.
Come mid-October, this 5.7 mile trail will reward you not only with a beautiful creek but with fall colors hanging over it. Rated as moderate with a 902 foot elevation gain, the Huckaby trail is located off Schnebly Hill road and follows Oak Creek and the 89A northeast.
West Fork of Oak Creek
This not-so-secret trail in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness is arguably the best fall hike of all fall hikes in Arizona. Located near Munds Park, this 6.5 mile path is mostly flat and shaded by red rock canyon walls. However, if you are bold enough and equipped to cross ankle-deep streams, the trail does continue to climb and become more rugged as you proceed. But it is worth it! Aspen and oak trees flourish along the water, and during the fall, hikers find themselves surrounded by lush, multicolored foliage. The day use fee cost is $10 per vehicle. Good news for dog parents, fur babies can access the trail as long as they are on a leash.
A scenic two hour drive northeast from Phoenix will have you walking among pines and breathing in the fresh fall air here. Since it is right at 5,000 feet, temperatures are generally 20 degrees cooler than Phoenix. That being said, weather can change quickly, and it isn’t uncommon for snow flurries to fall during shoulder seasons. Bring layers and keep essentials in your vehicle, just in case. Aside from the popular Tonto Natural Bridge and Water Wheel Falls, there are two hiking trails outside town that epitomize Arizona in the fall!
Where there is water, there is abundant plant life, even in the high desert!
The Horton Creek trail is heavily wooded, following the creek along several small falls about 6 miles until it reaches a small waterfall. If you are only in it for the nature immersion, we suggest turning around after reaching the springs. The remaining two miles are steep and take you to the rim road to view the valley below. Located across the highway from the popular Kohl’s Ranch, this hiking trail in the Tonto National Forest is rated moderate, with a gradual elevation gain of 2,437 feet. While evergreen trees are in majority, you can expect to see maple, oak, and aspen trees changing color up there this month. Due to poor reception, hikers should download the trail map before they reach the parking area.
See Canyon Trail #184
Although this trail is buried a bit deeper and might take a vehicle with good clearance to reach the trailhead, this difficult 7 mile out and back hike is worth every bead of sweat and sore legs. Maple trees are plentiful in this dense forest. Meaning, if you head up anytime between now and November, you will marvel at their fiery red display set against the deep green pines. There are some springs a little off trail but remember to stay on the path even if the area is overgrown in some spots.
As the second largest city in Arizona, Tucson still stays a bit cooler and receives more rainfall than Phoenix year round. With the Santa Catalina Mountains reaching over 9,000 feet, you can expect heavy foliage and forest
growth along their hiking trails. Mt. Lemmon and Sabino Canyon are popular recreation areas in Tucson, although the nature preserves are recovering from last year’s devastating fire.
Aspen and Marshall Gulch Loop
Although hikers may mourn the burn scars in this area, this 4 mile loop is flourishing again and sure to bring fall colors in just a few weeks! The trail is called the Aspen trail for a reason, after all. Located near Mt. Lemmon, this fall hike is a moderate workout but worth the views as it travels along the river and offers glimpses of the surrounding mountain peaks. Dog owners are invited to bring their leashed pets on this mountain climb. Also, due to recent monsoon weather, you may have to cross through some flooded areas. Bring waterproof shoes and hiking poles to stay steady.
No, there aren’t many seasonally changing trees to be found in the greater Phoenix area. The city is rather short on waterfalls and streams, too.
But if you fancy rugged rock formations and elevated views that stretch for miles, there are over 200 hiking trails in this vast metropolis to choose from.
These hikes are best enjoyed now until May and rate from moderate to difficult. Dogs are allowed on all except for Camelback Mountain, due to the boulders in some spots.
- Deem Hills Ridgeline or East Trail – Moderate, 3.6 mile loop, Phoenix
- Piestewa Peak Summit Trail – Difficult, 2.1 miles out and back, Phoenix Mountain Preserve
- Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Trail – Very Difficult, 2.5 miles out and back, Scottsdale
- Wave Cave Trail – Moderate, 3 miles out and back, Superstition Wilderness
Arizona Hiking Reminders
Whether you hike deep into the Arizona forest or out in the open desert, please pack out whatever you pack in. This includes food debris like apple cores and banana peels. Be kind to nature; respect it. Resist the urge to carve your initials on a tree or etch your own quote into a rock. Arizona is scarce on trees as it is! Take only pictures, memories, and good vibes. Leave no trace. No matter the season, always carry water and stay hydrated. The Arizona sun is intense even on the coldest day.
Oh, and happy fall y’all! Please enjoy the best fall hikes in Arizona responsibly!
Meet The Author:
Anissa Kennedy is a local Phoenician usually dreaming and scheming of traveling just about anywhere. In her spare time, she blogs, works on DIY house projects, and enjoys adventures near and far with her husband and their fur baby.You can reach her on Insta at @missaniss._ or read more of her words at missanissblogs.com