Best Fall Colors? Head To The Desert Southwest

Fall, the glorious time of year that brings cool weather, sweaters, pumpkin-spice everything… and spectacular foliage. But while most people think of New England, I head to the desert.

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Zion National Park in the fall; all photos (c) Eric Hanson

Here is my breakdown of the Zion experience as well as four additional must-visit desert foliage destinations on page 2 that you need to hit each autumn.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion is already known for its wild colors. Come fall, the park turns into a magical experience. Zion’s high country is up around 7,000 to 8,000 feet of elevation, meaning an alpine forest and leaves that change to all shades.

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As September rolls around, the pockets of quaking aspen groves shine amidst the pine forest. In the lower elevations of the main canyon, the vivid colors hold off a little bit longer.

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Fall leaves and rock climbers at Zion tackling the famous Moonlight Buttress

In October and November, the abundant cottonwoods along the Virgin River turn bright yellow. There are even pockets of maple throughout the canyon that turn fiery red.

By this time of year the crowds thin and the summertime buzz turns to serenity. It might be the best time of year to visit the National Park.

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Aspen groves of Zion’s high country

Where To Go

In early fall, escape the desert heat and take a drive up Kolob Terrace Road. Rising several thousand feet from the town of Virgin, you’ll pass many pockets of aspens on the way to several excellent trailheads, including Wildcat Canyon, Hop Valley, and the West Rim Trail.

In the main canyon, the “Big Bend” area at the bottom of Angel’s Landing provides impressive views with lots of color. Many photographers come here to try to capture a grove of maples that turn fiery red.

For hiking options, head up the trail Observation Point where you will pass through colorful scrub oak along the switchbacks.

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The Middle Fork of Taylor Creek (access via I-15) offers a leisurely stroll through incredible colors. The canyon walls are even more vibrantly orange here, and the trail passes through stands of pine, oak, and maple on the way to an impressive set of alcoves.

In the northwest corner of Zion, Taylor Creek is much less visited than the main canyon. It’s a serene place a lot of the year, and especially in autumn.

Fall In Zion National Park — If You Go

The “Big Bend” shuttle stop offers some of the best views in the main canyon and it includes a famous grove of maple trees.

As noted, a hike through the middle fork of Taylor Creek (northwest corner of Zion, access via I-15) provides a huge color pallet in the fall. More info here.

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–Page 2 includes four additional desert destinations for viewing leaves and soaking in autumn’s warm glow.

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