Fall Colors in the Sonoran Desert

Fall Colors in the Sonoran Desert

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People from the east often believe that the desert is a dry place with only one season. If you know the desert however you know that the Sonoran Desert goes through a seasonal cycle just like anywhere else but it is just different. Unlike the east of the US, the Sonoran Desert has five seasons, which include winter, dry summer, monsoon summer, fall and spring. Now that the time is here, if you are looking to explore more, then you may be curious to find out what autumn in the Sonoran Desert has to offer.

What is Autumn like in the Sonoran Desert?

Autumn is generally from late September Through the end of November beginning with dry warm days averaging 84 degrees Fahrenheit and ending a bit cooler with an average temperature in the low 70’s. In autumn the desert becomes full of desert broom, which attracts pollinators like butterflies, bees and beetles. Many plants fruit, such as barrel cacti, soapberry trees, desert hackberries, and wolfberries. Birds stock up for the winter on the abundance of fruit and most snakes burrow in preparation for winter. Birds of prey such as hawks, kestrels, and prairie falcons patrol the skies. 

As the season wears into November the nights cool and the mountaintops become covered in the white caps of snow. Many of the desert’s deciduous trees drop their leaves, including sycamores, cottonwoods, ashes, and mesquite trees. Desert mistletoe forms on the branches of other trees and shrubs preparing to fruit red berries later in the winter. In the flatter lower grass lands the grasses create a golden carpet which houses birds, and small mammals. Desert mammals like fox, bobcat and coyote may reveal themselves on the hunt along with the raptors above.

To find fall colors of the east you have to climb

While the area surrounding Phoenix and Glendale can often have a quick transition from summer to fall, it only requires a quick drive to witness some of the beauty that the Sonoran Desert has to offer. Here are a few day trips that ensure you can get the most out of the desert in autumn.

White Mountains

Quite often, to find the most brilliant fall colors it is important to leave the valley and travel upwards where the gorgeous yellows and oranges of Gamble oaks and the yellows of the aspen trees are turning in the White Mountains. Located on the eastern border of the state these views will take you up to 11,000 feet in elevation for a beautiful fall display. Because of the height, these are some of the first fall displays in the state, so be sure to plan your trip for the first three weeks of October in order to see this sight. This drive will take about four to five hours so it may be wise to plan to stay overnight and take your time in the fall colors.


One of the biggest autumn shows in Arizona is in the Coconino National Forest just outside of Flagstaff. The Mogollon Rim District and Oak Creek Canyon consist of maples creating a sea of red amongst the unique red rocks of the region. This area stays colorful throughout the entire fall season.. The best part is that the drive is only about 90 minutes if you avoid rush hour, making it a beautiful option for a day trip. 

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Only an hour outside of Phoenix, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is a great place to visit if you find yourself late in the season and still craving a view of fall colors The arboretum hosts an annual Arizona’s Fall Foliage Finale during mid- to late-November displaying the autumnal hue of honey locust, pomegranate, and soapberry trees in deep coppers and golds while Arizona Sycamores and walnuts turn deep bright red.

CC Sunscreens

While the sun and heat calms down in autumn in the desert, it is still a good idea to protect yourself and your family from the sun. Experience your own piece of the fall from outside your home under the protection of CC Sunscreens. Home sunscreens create relief from the sun so you can enjoy the colors and change of the season!