There are amazing sights and temperatures during the autumn season in the Sonoran Desert surrounding the metro areas of Phoenix and Tucson. But, the best fall camping in Arizona for viewing fall colors happens in this sunny state’s high country region.
Discover Autumn Colors While Camping In Arizona
The northeastern part of the U.S. is the location that typically comes to mind when people think about spotting fall foliage. Most people think Arizona is thousands of miles away from spectacular colors … literally and figuratively. That is just plain WRONG.
Range Of Elevations For Arizona Camping Spots
Take your time! The window is wide open. Because Arizona has a wide range of elevations and types of terrain, the window of opportunity for seeing the colors of fall are spread over longer periods of time.
In the higher elevations you can catch a glimpse of color as early as September and in the lower elevations it is not uncommon to see spectacular colors as late as Thanksgiving or even in the month of December!
Camping and RV Tip: Remember to verify your desired camping location is open for your planned trip dates. Many campgrounds and public lands in AZ are seasonal and close during the colder months.
Visit High Elevation Destinations Early
Head for the mountains if you are searching for fall colors earlier in the season. Flagstaff and the White Mountains are some of the most popular places to go but there are even more so check out this list.
Elevation: Approximately 8,000 feet MSL
As one of the seven natural wonders of the world, people tend to think of the Grand Canyon National Park as a massive canyon, formed by erosion, wind, rain and the Colorado River. There are not many pictures of trees in those visions. That’s because most people visit the South Rim which is open year-round, is easier to travel to from major towns and freeways, and sits at an elevation approximately 1,000 feet lower than the North Rim. In addition to those differences, the North Rim has a vastly different landscape from its southern counterpart.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon has evergreen trees mingled with white-barked Aspen trees. Some time between late September and early October, the Aspen’s leaves turn various shades of golden-yellow colors. The viewing window is typically short and the North Rim is usually closed by the middle of October.
The North Rim Campground is inside the national park and is open from mid May to mid October.
The Kiabab National Forest is a great destination for leaf-peepers.
- The North Kaibab District of the Kaibab National Forest borders the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
- The Tusayan District borders the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
- The Williams District is near the city of Williams.
Each district reports on current conditions and provides viewing routes for driving on their Experience Fall Colors on the Kaibab National Forest page.
You can find dispersed camping, developed campgrounds and cabin rentals in KNF so if the North Rim Campground is closed, consider the camping options within Kaibab National Forest.
Elevation: Approximately 6,900 feet MSL
The Flagstaff area is filled with pine trees but it also has tons of aspen trees and other foliage that turn different shades of reds and purples. We like the free dispersed camping options throughout the Coconino National Forest with tons of dispersed campsites available for boondockers.
When we camp in the area, we visit Arizona Snowbowl and take the scenic gondola ride which offers staggering views of Arizona from 11,500 feet. This snow ski destination sits on the western slope of Mount Humphreys, the most recognizable point on the San Francisco Peaks and the tallest point in the Grand Canyon State. There are tons of hiking trails in the area and they even have webcams to help you find the right time to go.
Rim Road along the Mogollon Rim – the most popular are Forest Roads 300 (p.s. FR 300 is my favorite forest road of all time for dispersed camping and hiking in any season but let’s keep that our little secret so it does not turn into the ‘New York City’ of National Forest dispersed camping), 321 and 95
Visit Low Elevation Destinations Later
A little later in the season, try visiting these locations for viewing fall colors.
Elevation: Approximately 4,200 feet MSL
The Chiricahua National Monument is known as the “Wonderland of Rocks” but the canyons are also filled with trees. In the lower canyon you’ll find lots of Arizona Sycamore trees that have leaves that look similar to a maple leaf. The Sycamore trees turn yellow in early autumn then turn a reddish color during the prime of the fall season.
Make sure you hike the South Fork Trail #243 and make a stop at Maple Camp (about 1.5 miles from trailhead). In the fall, typically in October, the leaves of Rocky Mountain Maples turn into vibrant shades of gold and scarlet. If you are there late enough in the season, you can watch the leaves fall from the trees into a stream as they cover the small stream bed in a blanket of yellow and red leaves.
The Bonita Canyon Campground is located in the Chiricahua National Monument. Visitors love the area’s stunning rock columns called hoodoos, hiking trails, pools of water and bird watching. Be sure to take the scenic drive but be aware that vehicles longer than 24 feet (RV or vehicle + trailer) are NOT permitted to drive beyond the campground.
- Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
- Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery
- Boyce Thompson Arboretum
- Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon
- Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Area
- Camp Verde
- Verde Valley
- Christopher Creek
Camping In Fall Colors Beyond Arizona
Leaf-peeping is a popular activity for many RV owners. If you want to travel outside of Arizona, here are our recommendations for National Parks, Forests & State Parks to experience the best camping for fall foliage RV trips.
Warm Camp Recipes For Cool Weather
There is no doubt that a warm camp meal is satisfying after hiking and exploring nature in cooler weather. I say magic can happen when cooking with a Dutch oven over a roaring campfire! Try these awesome winter camping recipes!
You might also find useful information in my recent blog post about predictive and interactive weather tools.