One of the best things about autumn? The changing leaves. Leaf peepers don’t have to wait for Oak Creek Canyon to peak at the end of October or beginning of November, either. Head north to the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff early this month and hike the Aspen Loop Trail to spot leaves in a variety of hues, all in the shadow of the highest mountain in Arizona, Humphreys Peak.
The 2.5-mile nature trail traverses the lower slopes of the peaks at an elevation of 8,800 feet. Even if you live in Sedona, you’ll find that you are out of breath much quicker at this altitude. The trail begins at the lower parking lot of Arizona Snowbowl and immediately heads west, traversing a grassy meadow with stunning views of the peaks at your back. (Humphreys Peak towers 12,633 feet above sea level while adjacent Agassiz Peak stands 12,360 feet.) It’s easy to discern Snowbowl’s ski runs from this trail, and the only thing that mars your view of the incredible scenery is the chairlifts. The trail quickly enters a forest of aspens, spruce and pine trees. In the fall, the aspen leaves turn a vibrant yellow, practically glowing against the bright blue sky. Gentle breezes stir the leaves and they float to the ground like golden snowflakes. Pure magic.
Aspen Loop continues heading northwest and downhill. The area is a bird haven, and you’ll hear the songs of flickers, jays, juncos and warblers. The trees eventually part, and you are treated to unobstructed western views of Arizona’s mountains, hills, cinder cones and flatlands. The trail eventually comes to a fork, which turns out to be its namesake loop. On our hike, we turned right and continued through a pine forest filled with dappled sunlight, tall grasses, downed trees and cool breezes. About halfway through the loop, the trail begins to climb as it heads back toward the fork and then the trailhead. The elevation change on the Aspen Loop Trail is 300 feet – not bad but remember that you’re at 9,000 feet so make sure you take breaks and drink plenty of water, even if it’s cool outside. Better yet, pack a picnic and spend some time among the aspens. You’ll be rewarded with some of the best fall foliage in our state.
SEDONA MOUNTAIN BIKING: Trail Masters