Optimize Your Outing
For the U.S. Forest Service’s Fall Color Hotline, call 800-354-4595 or visit www.fs.fed.us/news/fallcolors. Dial 5-1-1 or visit AZ511.gov for Arizona’s latest road and weather conditions.
1. North Rim, Grand Canyon
The serene North Rim of the Grand Canyon is arguably more breathtaking than its tour bus-crammed southern counterpart, especially when it’s splashed with shimmering gold aspen. If you’re planning this remote commute, allow for an overnight stay and carpe diem – the North Rim closes mid-October.
Leave Phoenix by 7 a.m.; it’s five hours just to this scenic road’s starting point, the Bitter Springs 89A turnoff. On Highway 89A, stop at Navajo Bridge (mile marker 538), a 1929 structure that’s now a pedestrian walkway offering vertiginous photo-ops of a section of the Colorado River tamed by the 1966 Glen Canyon Dam.
Next up is lunch at Cliff Dwellers Lodge and Restaurant (mile marker 546), which serves up surprisingly fresh fare (try the veggie-stuffed quesadillas) plus juicy stories about river runners and 1800s Mormon honeymooners. (In the mood? Pop into the fly shop next door to pick up a six-pack of Wasatch’s Polygamy Porter, whose slogan is “Why have just one?”)
Back on the road by 2:30 p.m. and cruising southwest, you’ll soon trade the towering Vermilion Cliffs for Coconino National Forest’s sandstone ledges bearded with juniper and piñon pine. By mile marker 573, you’ve climbed to 7,000 feet and chilled almost one degree per mile marker since Cliff Dwellers. At the junction of 89A and Highway 67, stop at Jacob Lake Inn for a gooey, fresh-baked sweet roll. It’ll be the best buck-fifty you’ve spent in years.
Three miles into Highway 67’s majestic march to the North Rim, aspen stands punctuate the pines, ushering in bursts of autumn color and hinting at what’s to come: the soaring spruces, pines and firs that deliver you to the Grand Canyon’s postcard promised land. Around mile marker 586, swaths of charred trees pay homage to the 2006 Warm Fire, but by mile marker 595, the spruce and pine are clothed again and you’ve climbed to 8,840 feet.
Arrive at Grand Canyon Lodge around 5 p.m., and your epic efforts behind the wheel will pay off: Snag a ringside seat at the lodge’s patio – or on a bottom-friendly boulder – and watch the Grand Canyon’s reds and oranges darken to purples and golds. Late September/early October sunsets occur around 6 p.m. The Lodge Dining Room is your only seated dinner option at the North Rim; call 928-638-2611 in advance for reservations.
Travel Tunes: Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin; The Long Day Is Over, Norah Jones; Sunset Man, James Otto; When the Sun Goes Down, Kenny Chesney
Your Route: From Bitter Springs, take Highway 89A north and west to Jacob Lake. Turn south on Highway 67 to the Grand Canyon.
Distance: 99 miles from Bitter Springs to the North Rim
Elevation: 4,000 to 8,840 feet
Where to Stay: Grand Canyon Lodge (grandcanyonlodgenorth.com, $116-$187 per night), Kaibab Lodge (kaibablodge.com, $85-$180 per night), or North Rim campground (recreation.gov, $18 per night)
When to go: Late September to mid-October (North Rim closes in mid-October.)
Average October temperatures: 57 High/30 Low
Info: nps.gov/glca/historyculture/navajobridge.htm, cliffdwellerslodge.com, jacoblake.com, nps.gov/grca
2. Sonoita-Patagonia Scenic Road
A fall festival, a cluster of award-winning wineries and endless champagne-colored savannahs are great excuses to uncork this gem of a jaunt. Aim to leave Phoenix by 9 a.m. From the turnoff at I-10 south of Tucson onto Highway 83, you’ll weave into the Santa Rita Mountains as saguaro, ocotillo and palo verde trees give way to grassy ranch lands. By about 11:30 you’ll reach Sonoita, just in time for day drinking at the region’s celebrated yet unpretentious vineyards – try Callaghan, Dos Cabezas Wineworks, or Rancho Rossa Vineyards (check each vineyard for times and tasting fees).
From Sonoita, you have two options to cruise to Patagonia. If you’re in a hurry, the 13-mile Highway 82 breezes through expansive views of rolling hills, waving grasses and mountain ranges rippling into Mexico. If you prefer the scenic slow lane, 60-mile State Route 83 winds through prairies that starred in the film Oklahoma!, a cottonwood-studded river valley, pygmy forests, an ode to Franciscan explorer Marcos de Niza, and the crumbling ghost towns of Duquesne and Washington Camp.
Once in lush Patagonia, peruse the charming shops – especially Creative Spirit Artists – or, if you’re there October 7-9, enjoy the Patagonia Fall Festival’s arts and craft booths, music and children’s carnival. End your day with pizza at Velvet Elvis (yes, there is a framed velvet Elvis), where stone-baked designer pies are topped with produce and herbs grown onsite. Try the El Mariachi Blanco, an ensemble of green chili and jalapeño cheese sauce, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes.
Travel Tunes: A Horse with No Name, America; Red, Red Wine, UB40; Crystal Frontier, Calexico; All Shook Up, Elvis Presley
Your Route: From Tucson, take I-10 east to Highway 83 south. At Highways 83 and 82 in Sonoita, either turn southwest onto Highway 82 for the short route to Patagonia, or continue about 15 miles on Highway 83 and veer right onto Canelo Pass Road (FR 799). At 24 miles, take FR 58 south (left) and follow signs to Lochiel. Past Lochiel the road becomes FR 61. After 4 miles, turn left toward Duquesne. After 2 miles, turn right onto FR 49 toward Patagonia.
Distance: 37 miles from I-10 to Patagonia via Highway 82 between Sonoita and Patagonia; 84 miles from I-10 to Patagonia via Highway 83 between Sonoita and Patagonia
Elevation: 3,478 to 4,902 feet
Where to Stay: Sonoita Inn (sonoitainn.com, $129-$149 per night), Duquesne House B&B (theduquesnehouse.com, $125 per night Thursday through Monday; $110 “Bed No Bread” special Tuesday and Wednesday)
When to go: Aim for October 7-9, when the Patagonia Fall Festival is in full swing.
Average October temperatures: 78 High/54 Low
Info: callaghanvineyards.com, doscabezaswinery.com, ranchorossa.com, azcreativespirit.com, velvetelvispizza.com, patagoniafallfestival.com
3. Prescott via Wickenburg
This backcountry route offers the flavor of the Wild West and a taste of fall color surprisingly close to home – all sweetened with the thrill of hairpin roads twisting above treacherous mountain overlooks.
Lake lovers should start by 8 a.m. and take the Castle Hot Springs turnoff from Highway 74 to bask the morning away at Lake Pleasant. By late morning, hop back on Highway 74, where saguaro, cholla and blue palo verde brush undulate along the hills of Hells Canyon Wilderness Area. Approaching Wickenburg, the Hassayampa River Riparian Area’s cottonwoods and willows carve a ribbon of fall color through the scruffy desert chaparral of creosote and sage.
Just into Wickenburg, release your inner wrangler at Smith and Western, a high-end shop on U.S. 60 that offers everything from blingy embroidered leather boots to petite pink cowgirl duds. Approaching downtown, slingshot the roundabout onto Wickenburg Way (you’ll want to backtrack to pick up U.S. 93), where the historic Gold Nugget serves up a mean prime rib, and the nearby La Cabana Saloon is still rocking PBR on tap.
For the more contemplative traveler, the Shrine of St. Joseph off of Highway 89 in Yarnell offers a meditative path along granite boulders and shady oaks. (You’ll need it after ascending Yarnell Hill, which climbs 2,500 feet in a scant four miles.) Back on Highway 89, peruse the enormous selection of crosses at the Painted Lizard, an eclectic home décor shop a half-blink from Yarnell’s town limits.
The prize of this drive is the steep, rocky ascent through Prescott National Forest, where high-desert prickly pear, piñon pine and juniper rise into to ponderosa pine forests dotted with oaks. The drive deposits you neatly onto Whiskey Row, Prescott’s main drag.
Travel Tunes: Highway to Hell, AC/DC; Higher, Creed; The Climb, Glee Cast Ensemble
Your Route: From Peoria, take Lake Pleasant Road north to Highway 74 west. At U.S. 60, turn northwest to Wickenburg. Take U.S. 93 to Highway 89 north into Prescott.
Distance: 155 miles from Peoria to Prescott
Elevation: 1,140 to 6,000 feet
Where to Stay: Apple Creek Cottages (applecreekcottages.com, $69-$175 per night) or Prescott Pines Bed & Breakfast (prescottpinesinn.com, $100-$150 per night) just inside Prescott.
When to go: Late October
Average October temperatures: Wickenburg: 87 High/49 Low; Prescott: 71 High/39 Low
Info: maricopa.gov/parks/lake_pleasant, hassayampa.org, smithandwesternonline.com, goldnuggetrestaurant.com, stjoseph-shrine.org, www.fs.fed.us/r3/prescott/
4. Prescott Historic Neighborhoods
Satisfy leaf lookers, history buffs and outdoorsy types in one fell swoop with this 12-mile tour through two historic Prescott ’hoods to a pine-fringed lake. Stock your cooler with lunch and leave Phoenix by 8 a.m. to arrive at Prescott’s Sharlot Hall Museum (415 W. Gurley St.) by 10 a.m. (Note, on Sundays the museum opens at noon.) The crown jewel of this campus-style museum’s trip through 19th-century Arizona is the 1864 Territorial Arizona Governor’s Mansion. If you’re there October 1-2, check out the 33rd-annual Folk Music Festival.
Next up: a four-mile roundtrip spin through one of Prescott’s historic districts, once known by the property value-reducing name of “tuberculosis hill.” The Yavapai/Apache loop is a narrow 1939 WPA road canopied with elms and lined with historic bungalows, some of which have an interconnected walkway system between backyards.
Circle back to Sharlot Hall Museum, your starting point for a second drive that rivals Vermont for shrubbery-per-square-foot: Elm, maple, oak, ash, willow and plum trees form a patchwork of fall color. From the museum, head west on Gurley Street to Mt. Vernon Avenue. Turn right and take it slow, or park and stroll a spell. Vintage streetlights, stately Victorian homes, tree-lined sidewalks and American flags flapping over spacious porches ease you into Norman Rockwell’s America.
You’ve had your history lesson; now it’s time for recess. Mt. Vernon Avenue eventually becomes Senator Highway. Continue for three miles to ponderosa-ringed Goldwater Lake, a peaceful idyll where you can rent a canoe, play sand volleyball, picnic (grills and tables are available; lake closes at sunset), or just sit with your sweetheart on a bench swing.
Travel Tunes: Streetlights, Bonnie Raitt; Our Town, Cars soundtrack
Your Route: From Sharlot Hall Museum, take W. Gurley Street to Park Avenue. Turn left. Take a slight right onto Coronado, then turn right at Yavapai Drive, making a loop on Apache Drive, then Cochise Street. Back on Coronado, go south to Country Club Drive. Turn left, and left again on Park Avenue to circle back to Sharlot Hall.
Mt. Vernon Drive: From Sharlot Hall, take Gurley Street east to Mt. Vernon Ave. Go south. After about a half mile, Mt. Vernon becomes Senator Highway. Proceed to Goldwater Lake.
Distance: 12 miles roundtrip from Sharlot Hall
Elevation: 5,400 to 5,710 feet
Where to Stay: Hotel Vendome (vendomehotel.com, $79-$199 per night), Hassayampa Inn (hassayampainn.com, $99-$189 per night)
When to go: Late September to mid-October. Prescott’s Fall Fest in the Park is October 8-9 (visit-prescott.com).
Average October temperatures: 71 High/39 Low
Info: sharlot.org, cityofprescott.net/services/parks
5. Tombstone/San Pedro River
The yellow cottonwoods and willows ribboning the San Pedro River create a lush riparian flyway that attracts millions of migratory birds. Bookended by Tombstone on one end and the cushy Casa de San Pedro Bed and Breakfast on the other, this drive appeals to Wild West nostalgics and avian aficionados.
Set out by 7 a.m. so you have time to witness an 11:30 a.m. shootout at the Helldorado Gunfight Theatre on Fourth and Toughnut streets in Tombstone. Have a burger at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon and duck downstairs to shop the racy corsets and lacy stockings.
Hit Charleston Road, a two-lane, curvy route connecting Tombstone to Sierra Vista, by 1:30 p.m. Let your mind wander to the horse-thieving, gunfighting lawlessness of the late 1800s, when this landscape offered plenty of nooks for crooks. As you drive through rolling khaki hills dominated by the Huachuca Mountains, look for a surreal stripe of bold yellow dividing the desert floor and signaling your approach to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, a 40-mile stretch of thriving habitat fed by the river.
For an easy, little-known hike to the river, turn left on Escapule Road near mile marker 6. Park on the dirt shoulder about 100 feet past the “Do not enter when flooded sign” and enter the wash (unless flooded) on foot to the left. (Note: You’ll climb over barbed wire to enter the wash. It’s easy to pull down – carefully.) If the river is not rippling, that’s a clue that a beaver dam might be nearby.
Back on Charleston Road, head southwest and turn left at Moson Road (mile marker 5). At Highway 90, turn left to the San Pedro House, a visitors center near the river. It closes at 4:30 p.m. End your day by checking into the Casa de San Pedro, a 10-acre birding paradise and gourmet B&B on the banks of the San Pedro.
Travel Tunes: I Shot the Sheriff, Eric Clapton; Run to the Hills, Iron Maiden; Rolling Hills, Van Morrison; Take me to the River, Annie Lennox
Your Route: From Tombstone, take Toughnut Street west to Sumner Street; turn left. Sumner becomes Charleston Road. For Escapule hike, turn left at mile marker 9, Escapule Road. Back on Charleston, turn left on Moson Road; turn left onto Highway 90 to well-marked San Pedro House.
To Casa de San Pedro: Backtrack to Moson Road and proceed south to Hereford Road; turn left. Turn right onto Palominas Road and proceed 2.2 miles to Waters Road. Turn left on Waters Road and proceed to the Casa de San Pedro.
Distance: 40 miles from Tombstone to Casa de San Pedro with detours
Elevation: 3,300 to 4,540 feet
Where to Stay: Casa de San Pedro (bedandbirds.com, $169 per night)
When to go: Late October. Tombstone’s gunfight-filled Helldorado Days festival is October 21-23.
Average October temperatures: 78 High/52 Low
Info: bignosekates.info, blm.gov, sanpedroriver.org
6. Arizona Snowbowl
This smooth cruise to Arizona Snowbowl rewards with a ride in a scenic ski-lift and alpine hikes with blockbuster views. The 7-mile road meanders through jutting rocks, scattered meadows, aspens and ponderosa pines as it climbs, sometimes steeply, to the doorstep of Snowbowl. At press time, long-overdue road and shoulder work was underway, making this a one-lane road in places and creating delays. Call 5-1-1 for construction updates before heading out.
At the top, you can choose from a scenic skyride over the fall color or a trio of hikes into the fall color. Snowbowl’s Skyride transports tourists to 11,500 feet for panoramic views of San Francisco Peaks from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through October 15.
Meanwhile, hard-core hikers can tackle Humphrey’s Peak Trail, a thigh-burner that climbs 3,500 feet in 4.5 miles, reaching above the tree line at 12,000 feet for top-of-the-world views to the Grand Canyon, Utah and Colorado. Weekend warriors might opt for a slice of the 5-mile Kachina Trail, which thrills with canyon crossings, technicolor aspens and a soundtrack of bugling elks. The quadricep-challenged can amble along the Aspen Nature Loop, a 1.8-mile easy hike with views of Kendrick, Sitgreaves and Bill Williams mountains.
Head back to Flagstaff, stopping to picnic at Thorpe Park among the colorful honey locust, ash and scrub oaks. Then visit Lowell Observatory, aiming for the Autumn Star Fest October 9 or any Friday or Saturday night, when telescopes are open to view Jupiter, the moon and star clusters. (Lowell is open until 5 or 9 p.m., depending on the day.)
Travel Tunes: Shaking the Tree, Peter Gabriel; Season’s Trees, Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi; Constellations, Jack Johnson
Your Route: From Flagstaff, take Highway 180 north to FR 516, Snowbowl Road. Backtrack on Highway 180 to Flagstaff. At Wheeler Park, turn right on W. Aspen Avenue to Thorpe Park. Mars Hill Road (the road to Lowell) is on the south side of the park.
Distance: 30 miles from downtown Flagstaff to Snowbowl to Lowell Observatory
Elevation: 7,000 to 9,500 feet
Where to Stay: Hotel Weatherford (weatherfordhotel.com)
When to go: Late September to mid-October
Average October temperatures: 63 High/31 Low
Info: arizonasnowbowl.com, lowell.edu
7. Hart Prairie Road
Come fall, the San Francisco Peaks that rule over Flagstaff become crowned with golden aspen, and this route is one of the best ways to get a two- to three-hour audience with its alpine majesty.
Plan to arrive in Flagstaff at lunchtime. Drive through town and hit Highway 180, also known as Fort Valley Road. On the northern cusp of town, join locals at Late for the Train Coffee Roastery, a converted filling station where you can fuel up with an amazing cup of joe and feel the love from the bevy of bumper stickers espousing world peace. Grab a burger or sandwich next door at Jotini’s, a smaller offshoot of Jotini’s on the Green at Flagstaff’s Continental Country Club.
Resuming your northwest route on Highway 180, look for your turnoff to Hart Prairie Road between mile markers 225 and 226. This unpaved road is bumpy in spots but suitable for sedans. Piñon pines drip a scent that candlemakers try to distill, and just two miles in, shutterbugs should be ready: Look right for cows grazing in a pristine meadow in the shadow of the San Francisco Peaks. In another mile, glittering aspens envelop you in a thick tunnel of gold.
About five miles in, hikers should look for a sign marking Forest Road 627, a right-hand turn that leads one mile to a gently climbing, out-and-back hike through alpine Wilson Meadow and the (often dry) Bismarck Lake.
Back on Hart Prairie Road, you’ll notice a few fenced, young aspen stands, part of a forest service measure to prevent the trees from becoming elk and deer dinner. Follow Hart Prairie Road north to Forest Road 418, then turn left toward Highway 180. Turn left and return to Flagstaff, stopping at Josephine’s Modern Bistro for dinner, where local, seasonal and organic produce plus an extensive wine list put the fine in fine dining. Grubby from hiking? Try NAU favorite Granny’s Closet, a family restaurant and sports bar watched over by “Little” Louie, a 15-foot-tall lumberjack. Or, if you’re in town October 1, go for beer and brats at Flagstaff Oktoberfest (flagstaffoktoberfest.com).
Travel Tunes: When the Leaves Come Falling, Van Morrison; Mountain Woman, The Kinks; Mud on the Tires, Brad Paisley
Your Route: From Flagstaff, take Highway 180 north. Between mile markers 225 and 226, turn right onto Hart Prairie Road, FR 151, until it reconnects with 180. Take 180 south back to Flagstaff.
Distance: 45 miles from Late for the Train down Hart Prairie Road and back to Flagstaff
Elevation: 7,000 to 8,000 feet
Where to Stay: Aspen Inn Bed and Breakfast (flagstaffbedbreakfast.com, $129 to $169 per night), Hotel Monte Vista (hotelmontevista.com, $65-$175 per night)
When to go: Late September to mid-October
Average October temperatures: 63 High/31 Low
Info: lateforthetrain.com, josephinesrestaurant.com, grannys-closet.com
8. Mogollon Rim/General Crook Trail Loop
This Mogollon Rim multi-sport trip (kayaking, fishing, hiking and driving, if that’s how you roll) makes for a great excursion most of the year, but autumn’s arboreal splendor kicks it up another notch. Leave Phoenix around 8 a.m., and pack kayaks, fishing gear, hiking boots and lunch. (Once you get past Strawberry, services are sparse.)
The official “start” to this scenic, 54-mile loop occurs at the junction of Highway 87 and Forest Road 300, northeast of Strawberry. From here, motorists can go clockwise or counterclockwise; we recommend the former to save the best (Mogollon Rim’s vistas) for last. After heading northeast on Highway 87, turn right on Forest Road 751 and go six miles directly to the boat launch for Blue Ridge Reservoir, a serene waterway that snakes through steep, forested canyon walls. There are no onsite rentals, so kayakers and fishermen will need to come prepared with their own watercraft. This alone can become an all-day angling excursion for rainbow trout. (Note: This summer, Salt River Project performed a water level drawdown. Check the website for boat ramp safety notices.)
Back on Highway 87, head northeast to the Forest Road 95 turnoff, which features a thrilling, 1,000-foot descent across East Clear Creek. Stop here to skip rocks and photograph the flaming fall colors of sumac, oak and maple, which, depending on rainfall and temperature, reach down into the canyons in mid- to late October. From East Clear Creek, you’ll climb back out of the canyon, following the dusty washboard routes of Forest Roads 95, 96 and 321.
By now (barring a lengthy fishing trip) it should be early to mid-afternoon, leaving plenty of sunlight to enjoy Forest Road 300 along the Mogollon Rim. Hikers may want to tackle a portion of the 25-mile-long General Crook Trail No. 130, which is easily accessible at many points along FR 300 and affords expansive views of Four Peaks, the Sierra Anchas and the Mazatzals.
En route back home through Pine, stop at Sidewinders Saloon at Highway 87 and Hardscrabble Road. A favorite stop for bikers (Harley-Davidson, not Schwinn), the place is always happening and friendly.
Travel Tunes: Don’t Look Down, David Bowie; Free Fallin’, Tom Petty; Gravity, John Mayer
Your Route: From Strawberry, take Highway 87 northeast to FR 751 to go to Blue Ridge Reservoir. Backtrack on FR 751 to Highway 87 and continue northeast to FR 95; follow FR 95, 96 and 321 down to FR 300, Rim Road. Proceed west to Highway 87.
Distance: 54 miles roundtrip from intersection of Highway 87 and FR 300
Elevation: 6,500 to 7,500 feet
Where to Stay: Majestic Mountain Inn, Payson (majesticmountaininn.com, $220-$368 per night)
When to go: Mid- to late October
Average October temperatures: 75 High/40 Low
Info: www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/mog_rim/rim-road-scenic.shtml, sidewinderssaloon.com
9. AZ88 – Apache Trail
Within arm’s length of the Valley, Arizona Highway 88 is a great drive to pull out of your back pocket on a whim. This hair-raising, white-knuckle route doesn’t get the love it deserves, perhaps because it is so close to home. But with impressive canyon colors, cactus-spiked desert terrain and enough narrow, hairpin turns to get the adrenaline pumping, it should be on your bucket list.
If you plan to hike in the Superstition Mountains, get an early 6 a.m. start to take advantage of cooler morning temperatures. Just past Lost Dutchman State Park, turn right onto FR 78 and continue 2.5 miles to the trailhead for Dutchman’s Trail No. 104. Plan for an out-and-back hike suited to your timeline and taste on this 18.2-mile, easy meandering trail.
Back on AZ 88, you’ll enter the Superstition Mountains and head into a stretch of narrow, harrowing turns (for the driver) and pleasing desert vistas (for passengers). Your hike should have made you hungry, so stop in the quaint Old Western town of Tortilla Flat for a Bowl-a-Killer Chili. Then again, the pavement ends a few miles after Tortilla Flat, so maybe that chili’s not such a hot idea. While bouncing and bumping with limited sight lines along this unpaved, winding dirt road, imagine Teddy Roosevelt traveling the route by car to dedicate the dam in 1911, when terrain along the narrow road was even more rugged.
Soon, you’ll reach a recreational payoff: Apache Lake or, 12 more miles up the road, Roosevelt Lake. Hourly pontoon boat rentals are available at both lakes, and ski boats can be rented at Roosevelt Lake; if you want to do a half-day rental, skip the Superstitions hike and leave Tortilla Flat by 10 a.m. to arrive at Roosevelt Lake by 11:30 a.m. Spend some time at Roosevelt Dam, which celebrated its 100th birthday this year.
Travel Tunes: Thriller, Michael Jackson; Landslide, Fleetwood Mac; I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor
Your Route: Take U.S. 60 east to Idaho Road/AZ88. Go east, following signs to Lost Dutchman State Park. Continue northeast on AZ88 to Roosevelt Lake. Return the way you came, or follow Highway 88 to Globe, circling back to the Valley on U.S. 60.
Distance: 145 miles roundtrip
Elevation: 1,717 to 3,050 feet
Where to Stay: Apache Lake Motel (apachelake.com, $85-$105 per night)
When to go: October or November
Average October temperatures: 86 High/58 Low
Info: tortillaflataz.com, apachelake.com, rlmaz.com, www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto
10. Oak Creek Canyon/89A
Hunting for a red October? The maples along this classic cruise between Flagstaff and Sedona could deliver – for a few shimmering weeks in autumn it puts all competition to shame with an orgy of oranges, reds and yellows.
Aim to hit the 89A turnoff near Flagstaff by 10 a.m., and break out the bubble gum: The ear-popping descent begins just a few miles in. By mile marker 390, a chasm opens up, exposing fiery foliage tucked into multicolored cliffs. Every hairpin turn reveals new hues, especially on a well-timed October drive. But don’t be a casualty of leaf-peeping while driving; instead, turn off at Oak Creek Vista to snap photos and peruse handmade jewelry at the American Indian crafts market.
Back on 89A, you’ll start skirting Oak Creek – roll down the windows and breathe in the sweet scent of sycamore, oaks, maples, cottonwoods, ash and dogwood. By mile marker 387, you’ll hit Pine Flat campground, the first of a cluster of campgrounds along the route. At mile marker 385, ease slowly along to a right-turn entrance to West Fork Trail, where you’ll pay to park. Allow two to three hours and bring a spare pair of socks for this fun, family-friendly hike, where you’ll meander through sienna sandstone canyons and hopscotch across creeks on logs and stones.
Back on 89A, your overnight options are plentiful as the canyon yields to commerce. Be sure to stop at Indian Gardens Oak Creek Market near mile marker 379 to grab a mid-afternoon meal (try The Beast, an Italian roast beef beauty). You’d never know it from the road, but there’s a shaded garden restaurant patio naturally bordered by a backdrop of stone and cliffs.
Travel Tunes: October Road, James Taylor; In a Daydream, Freddy Jones Band; Put the Top Down, Dave Koz
Your Route: From Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff, exit 89A and proceed south to Sedona.
Distance: 28 miles from I-17 to Sedona
Elevation: 7,000 to 4,500 feet
Where to Stay: Right on 89A near Sedona, try the Briar Patch Inn (briarpatchinn.com, $219 to $395 per night) or Junipine Resort (junipine.com)
When to go: Mid- to late October
11. Perkinsville Road, Williams to Jerome
What pairs well with a spaghetti-like road and Western towns? A bold, fruity red from one of Verde Valley’s award-winning wineries. This drive combines all of that, plus a dash of fall color and a dose of adrenaline.
Begin in the former rough-and-tumble wrangler town of Williams, heading south on Fourth Street, which becomes the 47-mile Perkinsville Road. You’ll weave through pine forests blazing with flare-bright aspens. As the elevation drops, pines give way to juniper, oak and mesquite, while asphalt gives way to dirt (well-maintained and suitable for all vehicles). At the bottom of the valley, golden cottonwoods dotting the Verde River signal your arrival in pastoral Perkinsville, a 1900 ranch that transported beef to Jerome’s miners along much the same route you’ll follow.
The bucolic setting turns to bone-dry badlands before the road traces the old bed of the United Verde & Pacific Railway, turning into a twisty, guardrail-free vertigo-inducer with views stretching to Sedona and Flagstaff. After approaching the mile-high former mining town of Jerome from above, soothe your nerves with a rockin’ syrah from Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan’s Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards. From here, oenophiles have several options: Swing through nearby Cottonwood, hitting the Arizona Stronghold and Pillsbury Wine tasting rooms, or venture to Cornville for the area’s best and most scenic winery, Page Springs Cellars, where you can sample wine and cheese under the fall foliage on the banks of Oak Creek.
Travel Tunes: Keep the Car Running, Arcade Fire; Where the Streets Have No Name, U2; Every Day Is a Winding Road, Sheryl Crow; Aenima, Tool
Your Route: From Williams, go south on Fourth Street, which turns into Perkinsville Road (FR 173), and drive 27 miles to FR 70 (still Perkinsville Road). Turn right and continue through Perkinsville, after which, follow the signs to Jerome along FR 72 (Perkinsville-Jerome Road, a.k.a. Orchard Draw Road).
Distance: 50 miles one way
Elevation: 6,766 to 5,080 feet
Where to Stay: Surgeon’s House B&B, Jerome (surgeonshouse.com, $145 to $320 per night)
When to go: mid-October
Average October temperatures: Williams: 65 High/36 Low; Jerome: 72 High/51 Low
Info: caduceus.org, vvwinetrail.com, azstronghold.com, pillsburywine.com/tasting_room.html, pagespringscellars.com
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