October had arrived but the desert heat leaves Phoenix in an eternal state of summer. Being from Colorado, we really missed the change of seasons while living in Phoenix, so we headed into the hills to see the fall colors in Flagstaff. There are a few places you can go to see the golden aspen trees, and we particularly enjoyed our day around Snowbowl. Here are some details on visiting this fall fairytale spot.
Getting to Snowbowl
From Flagstaff, head north on Fort Valley Road (180) until you reach the little suburb of Fort Valley. Turn right onto North Snowbowl Road. This road is paved and dead ends at Arizona Snowbowl Ski Area. There are other viewpoints and trailheads, such as Aspen Corner, that you can stop at along this road. Most trails are pretty well-marked on Google Maps.
We chose to start at the ski area and work our way back. Upon arriving at the Snowbowl parking lot, we parked at the lowest parking area near the Hart Prairie Lodge.
The area around Arizona Snowbowl is located in Coconino National Forest, so it is free to park and hike here. Access to the some trails in the area may change when the ski area is open.
If you want to ride the scenic gondola in the summer for a great view of the surrounding peaks, you can purchase tickets online. Prices range from $18-$39, depending on the time of day. Sunset rides are the most expensive.
When to Go See the Fall Colors in Flagstaff
The aspen colors in Flagstaff usually peak within the first two weeks of October. However, this may vary season to season. Check out the City of Flagstaff’s LEAF-ometer to check for ideal leaf-peeping time and for updates on fall colors in the area.
The area around Arizona Snowbowl is a pretty popular spot to check out the changing leaves, so it’s best to go on a weekday. If you are limited to the weekend, try to go early to secure a parking spot at popular trailheads and enjoy the space with fewer crowds. We drove up from Phoenix on a weekday and still encountered traffic and limited parking around Aspen Corner.
The Aspen Nature Loop Trail
Hike Type: Easy loop
Distance: 1.8-2.5 miles round trip (depends on the combination of trails you take)
Duration: 1-1.5 hours
Regulations: Pets are permitted, but must be leashed.
We started the morning at the base of Snowbowl to hike the Aspen Nature Loop Trail. It was sunny, but the cool air was a nice change from Phoenix. The start of this hike begins on the Humphrey’s Peak Trail, heading north through a field. From the start of the hike, the vibrant aspens were visible.
Just across the open space, the trail cuts left, heading down into the golden grove. We could feel the fall excitement growing as we looked up at the yellow treetops, the fallen leaves crunching beneath our feet. There were a couple people along the trail, but the forest was overall pretty quiet. We snapped some photos and continued on our way.
The trail wraps back towards the southwest and soon reaches another clearing. The view of the San Francisco Peaks was beautiful! Upon entering another little grove, a loop began. Part of this loop consists of a tiny portion of the Arizona Trail, a trail that leads from the border of Mexico all the way north to Utah! This portion of the trail leads through a more open area with some bristlecone pine before looping back into the aspens.
Once you complete this smaller loop, you can continue east up the Arizona Trail to end up back at the parking lot. We chose to go back the way we came heading back north towards the grove we first encountered so that we could spend a little more time among the colorful trees. We then took the Humphrey’s Peak Trail back to the parking lot. See the map below.
After our walk, we hopped back in the car and headed for Aspen Corner. This is a great quick stop if you just want to take a scenic drive up North Snowbowl Road to see the fall colors in Flagstaff. There is a large grove of aspens on both sides of the road and a small parking area to stop at if you want to snap some photos.
Parking spots are limited, so if you need to park along the road, make sure your vehicle is safely off to the side. This is a really popular spot for hikers, bikers, photographers, and leaf peepers who flock to the area to take the scenic drive up Snowbowl Road.
If you want to hike at Aspen Corner, there is a trail on the north side of the road that goes into the forest a ways, and then enters a more open space. This trail eventually connects with the Aspen Nature Loop Trail and Arizona Trail. While you can continue north on the trail for many miles, a lot of people choose to hike just a short ways down the trail to see the beautiful aspens before turning back to the parking lot.
What to Bring
Water: An essential for any excursion
Food: Snacks are always a good idea if you plan to hike. Plus, this is a beautiful place to enjoy a picnic with the views
Sun Protection: Some of the trail is pretty exposed, so bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and/or a hat
Layers: Humphrey’s Peak sits at over 12,000 feet, so it can get chilly, even in the summer. Bring layers that you can take off or put on as needed
Camera: The beautiful fall colors in Flagstaff make this a photographer’s paradise
Walking Shoes: These trails aren’t too strenuous and you can go as long or little as you want and still be among the beautiful aspens if you choose not to hike far. But wear good walking shoes for gravel trails that can get quite dusty or muddy when wet
Tickets: If you want to ride the lift/gondola at Arizona Snowbowl, bring your prepaid ticket.