Leaf Peeping Flagstaff Style

​The answer to the question, “Are the trees turning in Flagstaff yet?” is an emphatic “Yes!”

fall leaves changing

The combination of a wet summer (the twelfth wettest dating back to 1898 according to local weather expert Lee Born,) dropping temps and shorter days makes for great fall-foliage viewing from now until late October. The colors start changing first in the high country where right now the vibrant contrast of aspen trees crowned in flaming yellows set against the dark green of spruce and Ponderosa pine keeps your finger firmly glued to the shutter of your camera or smart phone. The color show continues when foliage at lower elevations turn later on during the month.

Leaf Peepers are heading to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, where they can enjoy the dazzling transformation via a variety of modes: hiking, biking or driving. After their foliage adventure, they are relaxing and comparing field notes at a plethora of fun Flagstaff eateries or breweries. Want to join the fun? Here are a few suggestions of where and how to enjoy the autumn color show:

Hike/Ride

Hike or bike the Aspen Loop Trail from Snowbowl Ski Resort, located 14 miles from historic downtown Flagstaff. The 2.5-mile loop takes you through aspen, spruce and pine groves and delivers spectacular views of the forest and volcanic fields below. Want more? The loop trail meets the Arizona Trail 0.9 miles from the trailhead. Take the Arizona Trail north (right) about 2.5 miles to a sign indicating that Bismarck Lake is .02 mile to the west (left). Follow that spur trail to the small lake that is located in a large meadow at an elevation of 8500′. When not watching for foliage colors or the awesome views of the San Francisco Peaks, keep your eyes peeled for elk, deer or raptors.

From Flagstaff drive north on US 180 for 7 miles to Snowbowl Road. Drive 7.4 miles on this paved road to the lower parking lot (no. 9) of the Snowbowl facility. The Aspen Loop trailhead is located at the north end of the parking lot. Aspen Loop Trail link: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino/recreation/recarea/?recid=55064

family hiking in fall

© 2012 Kerrick James.

Drive

Road trippers will love scouting the colors from the windows of their vehicles. For an easy, Sunday-drive-type of experience, follow Snowbowl Road up the mountain to Aspen Corner. You’ll find parking and many local families taking photos for their holiday cards in front of backdrops of brilliant aspen trees. Afterwards, continue driving up the mountain to enjoy refreshments or a scenic chairlift ride at Arizona Snowbowl Resort, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through mid-October. http://arizonasnowbowl.com/?q=node/64

From Flagstaff drive north on US 180 for 7 miles to Snowbowl Road. Drive to sign reading “Aspen Corner” and parking area.

If you have four-wheel drive and are up for extra foliage adventure, circumnavigate the San Francisco Peaks byway of the backcountry. From Flagstaff drive north on US 180 for 9.8 miles to Forest Road 151 (Hart Prairie Road). Turn right onto the gravel road which wanders through aspen and pine stands around the west side of the San Francisco Peaks. Proceed to Forest Road 418 and go east (right). FR 418 will turn into Forest Road 420. Watch for a sign that directs you to US Highway 89. Turn south (right) onto US Highway 89 to go back to Flagstaff to complete the circle tour.

Après Leaf Peeping

After hiking, biking or driving, celebrate your autumn adventure by joining the others checking out Flagstaff’s notable restaurant and bar scene. Many of these gathering places are creating seasonal offerings.

1. Toast your leaf-tracking success with a Pumpkin Piehole Porter at Historic Brewery Company historicbrewingcompany.com, a family-owned, locals hang-out.

2. Grab a bite to eat with your Comet IPA seasonal brew at award-winning Lumberyard Brewing Company located in a historic Flagstaff building. Comet is an earthy hop variety known for its “wild American” aroma. www.lumberyardbrewingcompany.com

3. Check out the all-new, upscale Silver Pine Restaurant at Little America Hotel where the pastry chef is offering a special pumpkin dessert every week through the end of October. http://flagstaff.littleamerica.com/dining/silver-pine-restaurant

4. Savor the flavors of the forest at Coppa Café http://www.coppacafe.net where Chef Brian creates a multi-course tasting menu from edible delicacies foraged from the wooded areas you’ve been exploring.

family hiking through the aspen trees in fall

© 2012 Kerrick James.

About the Author

Stacey Wittig

Stacey Wittig

Stacey Wittig’s adventures have led her up the Inca Trail in Peru eating fried caterpillars, across the plains of Spain enjoying steamed barnacles, and through the vineyards of Cinque Terre sipping Chianti Classico. “The Grand Canyon State is a remarkable place to call home,” declares the wandering writer, who writes from her home in Flagstaff.