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With the daylight hours shortening and the temperature tapering off, autumn is the perfect season in central Arizona for outdoor adventure. Hikes and recreation that can turn deadly in summer’s extreme heat once again become pleasurable
Get Ready For the Outdoors
Even with the desert heat falling off, it is important to go out prepared for the landscape. Arizona adventures almost always require sun protection and water, so be sure to have both available for any journey you set out on.
Payson is just a hop skip and a jump from Phoenix but its elevation makes for a distinct contrast in climate and wildlife. Surrounded on all sides by forest, a visit to this small historic town is the perfect autumn day trip. Hiking and fishing are part of the vibrant outdoor recreation activities available. Payson’s geology also makes it a point of interest for rock hounds. The town’s location on the Mogollon Rim makes interesting and even world-class fossil and mineral findings possible and creates a striking setting for a day in the outdoors.
We recommend spending some time in Tonto National Forest as well as taking a stroll down Payson’s historic main street.
Salt River Canyon
To experience some of the most striking vistas Arizona offers, without the tourist crush of getting to the Grand Canyon, we recommend planning a trip to the Salt River Canyon Wilderness. The wilderness area is located inside the boundaries of Tonto National Forest and is affectionately known as “The Little Grand Canyon”. With over 32,000 acres to explore, the area is home to endless hiking trails and outdoor experiences.
Most popular during its short rafting and kayak season in the spring months, the Autumn off-season is a magical time to explore the area. An extensive network of trails gives hikers inroads to the sweeping canyons and panoramic wilderness of the area. Close enough for a day trip, but also a fantastic place to camp, you can scale your adventure to your comfort level.
For a weekend away from the city, a trip to the White Mountains in the autumn can be truly refreshing. On the eastern side of Arizona, straddling Apache National Forest and Gila National Forest, the town of Greer is an excellent spot for hiking, camping, fishing and stargazing. With plenty of RV camping and cabin rentals, Greer is great for “glamping” trips as well! The surrounding forests and two rivers running through the area make Greer one of the most outstanding spots in the state to catch an autumn leaf display that could rival New England.
Greer is tucked at the end of a short rural highway, earning it the nickname “Road to Nowhere”. Visitors to Greer, however, will certainly feel that they have landed somewhere. The forest surroundings are part of the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the world and nature sightings of elk, deer and antelope are frequent. The rich riparian habitat the local rivers provide attract a wide range of avian species making Greer an excellent destination for bird watching.
For those in search of fall foliage closer to Phoenix, a day trip to Mt.Lemmon outside Tucson is sure to offer some great leaf peeping. Mt.Lemmon is part of the unique “sky island” biomes in central Arizona whose altitude supports a lush and unique forest ecology surrounded by arid desert at lower elevations. The higher altitude of the area supports an array of deciduous trees. You can tour Mt.Lemmon by car taking the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway. You can also get a more up-close experience by hiking the beautiful trails of Mt.Lemmon. We recommend taking the Sunset Trail for an intimate experience of the fall forest.
A well-established mecca for Arizona tourism, Sedona is renowned for its gorgeous red rock and lush forest. Even as many of the town’s social features are suspended, there’s still a lot to see and do in Sedona. Fall is one of the best seasons for hiking in the area, avoiding temperature extremes while basking in sunshine. The tourism industry of Sedona is also opening its doors again, with Covid-19 precautions in place for many of the local tours, restaurants and wellness experiences.