There is still time to catch a glimpse of fall color in Rim Country.
For those of us who didn’t grow up in a four-season climate like Payson, watching the leaves turn every year is a thrilling experience.
One of the defining trees of fall in the high country is the aspen — offering a flash of fluorescent color amongst a sea of pines.
These trembling yellow leaves won’t last long, so get out soon before they drop for the winter. There is no way to know when a storm or a windy day will send those leaves tumbling.
Here are our top places to see fall color, but your best bet may be to just get out and drive. Just remember to bring plenty of water and warm clothing if heading out on a day trip.
1. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Located north of Payson off Highway 87, the bridge offers a two-for-one. You can check out the largest natural travertine bridge in the world and brilliant fall color from the aspen, cottonwood and elder trees that surround the park.
2. Forest Road 300
Also known as the Rim Road or General Crook Trail, there, groves of aspen are sprinkled along the dirt road. You’ll spot clusters of these trees soon after turning off State Route 260 and heading west on 300. The road traverses a 51-mile segment of the Mogollon Rim from Highway 260 to Highway 87. Although it’s mostly dirt and has a few rough spots, it’s passable by most passenger cars. The drive offers breathtaking views off the Mogollon Rim, overlooking a vast ponderosa pine forest. There are plenty of opportunities for side trips off the road to lakes and trails. The Arizona National Scenic Trail, Fred Haught and Houston Brothers trails are accessible from the Rim Road.
3. Horton Creek Trail
The spring source for Horton Creek literally gushes out of the mountainside, making a year-round burbling creek beside a gently meandering trail that wanders through fern groves, meadows and past plenty of fall foliage.
The eight-mile round trip will take you past plenty of mini waterfalls, which will leave you scrambling for your camera. Along the trail, find Arizona sycamore, box elder, sumac in the underbrush and Virginia creeper, a vine that turns red in the fall and wraps around tree trunks. From Payson, take State Route 260 east to the Tonto Creek turnoff. Go several miles north to the parking area.
4. See Canyon
Ask a local where to go and most will tell you to hike See Canyon in the fall. Lining the 1.5-mile trail are bright red maples, which create a heart-stopping flash of color against the somber greens of the ponderosa pines and the Douglas firs. Meander through the tunnel of color; floppy-leafed maples and other delicious deciduous tremblers line the trail. Their slender, gold, red, green limbs arch overhead, making one fine show of frail beauty. The trail meanders back and forth across the spring-fed stream. The short jaunt to See Canyon Spring is an easy three miles round trip, an off-shoot of the much tougher seven-mile toil up the See Canyon Trail, which climbs the Mogollon Rim. From Payson, head east on State Route 260 for 20 miles to Christopher Creek loop exit. Go one mile to Forest Road 289. Turn left and continue 1.5 miles to the trailhead.
5. East Verde River
Head north out of Payson on State Route 87 to the East Verde Estates turnoff, located on the west side of the highway. You don’t have to drive far from there to spot fall color. Trees line the river for miles, often putting on a riot of color easily visible from the highway. Continue on the dirt roadway to the end of Crackerjack Road for more fall color displays.