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Monday, September 19, 2016


Autumn is just weeks away and the first tiny blotches of fall foliage color have already begun to tease of what's to come on Flagstaff's San Francisco Mountain. Many hiking trails on the slopes of Arizona's highest peaks make for ideal fall foliage viewing. The quaking aspen color spectacle begins in the high elevations in late September then trickles down into the foothills lasting through October. Here are six top leaf peeping picks.
Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop, Sept. 28, 2013
This rigorous 7.2-mile loop on the north face of the San Francisco Peaks takes you up to a scenic saddle through moss-draped, spruce-fir woodlands of Abineau Canyon and back down the aspen-cluttered gorge of Bear Jaw Canyon via a 2-mile connecting walk along Waterline Road. Elevation range is 8,530 to 10,320 feet.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go north on US180 (Fort Valley Rd.) to milepost 235.2 and turn right onto Forest Road 151 (Hart Prairie Road, north access). Continue 1.6 miles on FR 151 and connect to Forest Road 418. Drive 3.1 miles on FR418 to Forest Road 9123J (signed for Abineau-Bear Jaw), turn right and go 0.6 mile to the trailhead. Dirt/cinder roads are rutted but passable by carefully driven sedans.
Inner Basin Trail, Sept. 28, 2012
Plan ahead and be prepared for crowds if you want to stroll among tight knit aspen groves high on the mountain's eastern face. Getting to this immensely popular trail involves a white knuckle drive on a curvy dirt road, but for those who dare to brave the congestion and hairpin turns, the hike is one to savor. The moderately difficult trail begins at 8,630 feet in Lockett Meadow with a mild but constant uphill walk through an enchanting white trunk forest capped in gold. Mid way through, the route enters a gaping basin, fringed in color and populated with tiny pump houses that manage the watershed that supplies the City of Flagstaff. The hike culminates with a final, steep slog up to 9,410 feet where it connects with Weatherford Trail. 
Getting there:
From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to the Interstate 40 junction in Flagstaff. Head east on I40 and connect with US89 north. Continue 17 miles north on US89 to Forest Road 420 at milepost 431.2 (across from the turnoff for Sunset Crater). Turn left here and veer left onto FR 552, following the signs 4.5 miles to Lockett Meadow. The good gravel roads are narrow and winding with steep drop offs and no guardrails. Sedans okay, drive slowly and watch those curves. Trailhead parking is just past the campground. Trailhead has restrooms and fee-based camping. The access road is subject to traffic management to control the mobs during peak color weeks. Expect delays.
Kachina Trail, Oct. 8, 2011
One of the best places in Arizona to see aspens, this 5.2-mile (10.4 roundtrip) moderate trek wanders on the mountain's moist, southern edge between 8,790 and 9,290 feet in elevation. Abundant, year round precipitation feeds an understory of neck-high ferns that grow among volcanic boulders and some of the densest populations of aspens anywhere in the state.
Complementing the color frenzy are shallow lava caves, alpine meadows and scenic landings overlooking Flagstaff.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go 7.3 miles north on US 180 to Snow Bowl Road (Forest Road 516). Drive 6.6 miles up FR 516 to the signed turnoff for the large parking lot and trailhead on the right.
Arizona Trail, Oct. 7, 2013
If you've ever pulled over at Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road to gawk at golden leaf canopies, you might want to stay a little longer and take an easy walk on the Arizona Trail. From the parking area, follow the trail four miles (one way) to Bismarck Lake for a wind-addled trek dominated by mountain breezes that rustle up golden, aspen leaf blizzards. Elevation range is 8,780 to 9,000 feet.
Getting there:
From Phoenix, travel north on Interstate 17 to Flagstaff. Connect with US180 and drive 7 miles north to Snowbowl Road and head 5.2 miles uphill to Aspen Corner. There's a parking apron on the left near a split rail fence.
Aspen Nature Loop, Oct. 15, 2010
An easy walk with breathtaking views, Aspen Nature Trail makes a 2-mile trip through breezy forests at the base of Humphreys Peak. Situated between 9,270 and 8,990 feet, the trail has all the benefits of hiking in high elevation autumn alpine paradise without strenuous climbing.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go 7.5 miles north on US180 to milepost 223, turn right onto Snowbowl Road and continue 6.2 miles to the Humphreys trailhead on the left. Hike begins on the northwest side of the parking lot. Roads are paved up to the parking lot.
Lamar Haines, Oct. 11, 2013

This short and easy kiddie favorite is jam packed with enough points of interest to keep even the most antsy young ones entertained. Stashed along the margins of this woodsy, 1.6-mile loop trail are springs, petroglyphs and ruins of a homestead tucked into foothills that roll between 8,600 and 8,450 feet.
Getting there:
From Flagstaff, go 7.5 miles north on US180 to milepost 223, turn right onto Snowbowl Road and drive 4.2 miles to the Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area trailhead on the right.

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