Payson Fall Colors
During the fall months, Mother Nature ushers in cooler temperatures and breathtaking views along the majestic Mogollon Rim Country. Arizona’s mild climate and almost-guaranteed sunny days make viewing fall foliage ideal. This is a great opportunity for valley residents to grab a jacket and your hiking boots and head up the hill for stunning autumn color along with awesome sunsets. Check out the below places for optimal “fall colors”. The best time to see the colors change here in Payson is mid to late October.
Before you plan your trip, be sure to check for forest closures and restrictions from the Tonto National Forest Service.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
North of Payson on Highway 87 features the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. Visitors here will enjoy the short hike down to the bottom of the waterfalls that gently cascade over the bridge and surrounding rocks. All that water has created an ideal environment for the brilliant aspen, cottonwood and elder trees that surround the park. Click here for more.
Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery
Located 21 miles from Payson, the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery is open for visitors to view wildlife and learn about the production of fish that serves 15% of the total trout that is stocked in the state. The Hatchery is self-guided, and is surrounded by other outdoor recreational opportunities. Click here for more.
Rim Road along the Mogollon Rim
(FR’s 300, 321, 95)
This scenic road way is one of the most pristine areas you will find in Arizona. Make sure you bring your camera and spend some time enjoying the cool breezes and majestic scenery. Due to the wet summer this past year the forest is in great condition. Rim Road traverses a 51-mile segment of the Mogollon Rim from Highway 87 to Highway 260. Although it’s mostly dirt and has a few rough spots, it’s passable by carefully driven passenger cars. For more information, contact the Black Mesa Ranger District.
Average Distance from Nearby Cities
• Phoenix: 110 miles
• Flagstaff: 90 miles
• Payson: 20 miles
Elevation Range – 6,100 to 7,860 feet
• October: 73 (high), 40 (low)
• November: 60 (high), 30 (low)
• December: 52 (high), 25 (low)
Best Time for Fall Color – Mid to late October
Possible Hiking Trails with Fall Colors
Horton Creek, east of Payson
This 4-mile scramble to a gushing spring is no summer wonder. It flashes gaudy fall foliage along the perennial stream, with its cascade of mini falls.
The Horton Creek Trail follows an old wagon road paralleling the creek, with several filaments of trail leading to the water, which is guarded by cottonwood, Arizona sycamore and box elder. Bright-leaved sumac illuminates the underbrush, and Virginia creeper, a prolific woody vine that turns scarlet, wreathes tree trunks like so much Christmas garland.
The last section of the trail before the spring steepens. Beyond the frothy little geyser that triggers Horton Creek, the path continues up the Mogollon Rim. Especially enjoyable when wildflowers are blooming because – guess what? – this makes a great spring hike, too.
Where: From central Phoenix, take Loop 202 east to Arizona 87 (Beeline Highway) and go north to Payson. Go east on Arizona 260 about 16.5 miles to Tonto Creek Road (Forest Road 289). Turn left, drive 0.8 mile and park in the picnic area. Trailhead is on north side of campground.
4 miles one way.
Elevation: 6500 Feet
Details: 928-474-7900 or
Horton Creek Info provided by:
Roger Naylor – Travel Writer for the Arizona Republic
Rim Lake Vista Trail No. 622
This popular trail offers easy access to fall hiking in Rim country. Following a level, mostly-paved route situated just a few feet from the rim’s edge, this path is open to the sky and exposed to crisp, canyon breezes. Among the jumbled boulders that crowd the edge of the escarpment are clusters of low-growing oak trees that teeter precariously over the precipice, shedding a flurry of golden leaves into the canyon 1,000 feet below. In addition to unobstructed views and the colorful oaks, sun-drenched glens along the trail foster wildflowers that bloom profusely well into mid-to-late October.
3.5 miles one way
Rating: easy with paved, accessible segments
Elevation: 7,500 feet
Peak fall color: Mid – Late October
Getting there: From Payson, go east (right) on Highway 260 for 30 miles to Rim Road (Forest Road 300, which is located across from the Rim Visitor Center). The trailhead is located along FR 300 between mileposts 39 and 40.
Barbershop Trail No. 91
This undulating route penetrates the thick forests of Barbershop and Dane canyons where, in autumn, a wide variety of trees and plants paint the landscape in a riot of warm color. Along this trail, a multi-level canopy of foliage begins on the forest floor, where oaks with spiced-mustard-tinged leaves compete for space among compact blue spruce trees. Above the oaks, Bigtooth maples blush crimson against cool, blue green firs. Towering high above the confetti-like layers of airborne leaf litter, graceful white-barked aspens and Ponderosa pines seem to brush the clouds in a wind-fueled arboreal ballet. The trail, which is named in honor of a long-gone sheepherder who used his sheering blades to give haircuts to cowboys, ducks in-and-out of the forest and passes through sunny meadows of spent ferns and golden-brown grasses. Adding visual interest to the trail, two lush, soggy spring sites feed hardy daisies and yarrow flowers that bloom stubbornly until the first frosts of late autumn send them down for the winter.
4.5 miles one way
Elevation: 7,200 to 7,600 feet
Peak fall color: Mid – late October
Getting there: From Payson, go east (right) on Highway 260 for 30 miles to Rim Road (Forest Road 300, which is located across from the Rim Visitor Center). Follow FR 300 for 23 miles to Forest Road 137. Turn right on FR 137 and drive four miles to the trailhead, which is located across the road from Buck Springs Cabin.
Info: Coconino National Forest, Mogollon Rim Ranger District, 928-477-2255 or Click here for more info
Drew Trail No. 291
While the downside of wildfires is the destruction of our beloved woodlands, the upside is improved forest health and the opening up of previously obscured views. Although recent wildfires have scorched sections of Drew Trail, the result has been mostly positive. Before the fires, dense stands of trees (some unhealthy due to bark beetle infestation) had blocked views that now showcase the stunning geology and beauty of the area. The hike starts out at the See Canyon trailhead below Rim Road, then heads east on Highline Trail through a 2.25-mile checkerboard of creek-side ferns, manzanita scrub and soaring pines before it encounters the Drew Trail junction. From here, hiking becomes more difficult as the steep path climbs 820 feet in just more than a mile. As the route gains elevation, the fire damage wanes and the forest grows thicker. Finally, at trail’s end on top of the 7,600-foot escarpment, shimmering aspens, billowing oaks and a healthy crowd of unscathed pines shade the path.
7 miles roundtrip
Elevation: 6,780 to 7,600 feet
Peak fall color: mid-to-late October
Getting there: Lower trailhead: From Payson, go east (right) on Highway 260 for 21 miles to the Christopher Creek Loop exit. Continue on Christopher Creek Loop to Forest Road 284, which is located directly across the road from the Tall Pines Market. Follow FR 284 for 1.6 miles (stay on the main gravel road, ignoring the many spur roads) to the signed See Canyon trailhead, where there’s a restroom and corral. The Rim Road trailhead is located roughly six miles from the Highway 260/300 turn-off near Forest Road 9350, marked only by a generic trail post. Consult a good forest service map to make sure you’ve found the right path.
Info: Tonto National Forest, Payson Ranger Station,
928-474-7900 or click here for more info.