I have a confession: until last month, I had never heard the term “leaf peeping.” Maybe it’s because I’m a long-time Las Vegas resident. During the fall, while other parts of the United States are ablaze with the colors of changing leaves, in Las Vegas we are simply happy that the temperature has dropped below 100°F.
Las Vegas may not have the visual splendor of more heavily forested areas, but a drive out of town can take you into country rich with fall color.
The Spring Mountain National Recreation Area, part of the Humbolt-Toiyable National Forest, is about an hour’s drive from the Las Vegas Strip. The locals refer to the area collectively as “Mt. Charleston,” and during mid-September to mid-October, a drive through Kyle and Lee Canyons will reward you with a show of color among the pines. You can also stop at either the Mt. Charleston Hotel or the Mt. Charleston Lodge for a drink next to the fireplace.
Zion National Park is about two hours from Las Vegas, and in fall visitors can enjoy the visual spectacle of the colorful cliffs towering above the reds and golds of the changing leaves. Colors begin changing in mid-September. Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is close to the more well-known Brianhead ski area, is less heavily visited than Zion, and its alpine-level elevation makes it cooler. The drive to get to the Monument takes you on a winding road up Cedar Canyon. Pockets of color in the pines will make you want to find a place to pull off for a closer look and some pictures. While this area is beautiful, I’ve always thought the rather narrow two-lane Highway 148 could use a few more guard rails.
Beginning September 1, the Tourism Bureau for Cedar City and Brian Head posts a “Fall Color” link to keep visitors posted on the best places to see the changing leaves.
A drive from Las Vegas into Northern Arizona will take you longer than driving to Utah—it’s over four hours to Flagstaff—but once you’re there, you may decide you don’t want to leave. This is mountainy country, full of opportunities for leaf-peeping.The leaves are colorful in these areas from late September through late October. The U.S. Forest Service posts a Fall Colors link on its Coconino National Forest site. The different elevations throughout the area make peak viewing times vary.
Oak Creek Canyon, which sits just below Flagstaff on Highway 89A, winds through some of the region’s most colorful displays of fall color. At the end of the road, you’ll be in Sedona. Visitors flock to the area during fall, so if you’d like to stay overnight, be sure to plan ahead.
For additional information about fall color throughout the United States, after September 6 you can call the U.S. Forest Service’s Fall Color Hotline at 1-800-354-4595.