To enjoy the best of Nevada’s high-country color, you’ll have to hustle. The show will be over by mid-October.
At the highest elevations in Nevada’s many mountain ranges, white-trunked quaking aspens are already changing from summer green to autumn gold. The premier color-makers at higher elevations, stands of aspens flare with swaths of fiery color among darker evergreens.
In Southern Nevada, the Spring Mountains in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest provide the closest access to early autumn color viewing. Reached by way of good highways within an hour’s drive of Las Vegas, this beautiful recreation area invites scenic drives, picnics, camping and hikes through colorful fall foliage.
Follow U.S. Highway 95 north to state Route 157, Kyle Canyon Road. Because of last year’s Carpenter 1 Fire, some popular hiking routes and campsites remain closed, and some high aspen stands damaged by the fire are just starting to recover. Hikers, picnickers and campers this year have headed to trails and facilities along Deer Creek Road, state Route 158, which connects with Lee Canyon, reached by state Route 156 from U.S. 95.
On Route 156, watch for the turn toward meadows and aspens in lovely little Mack’s Canyon, reached by an unpaved spur road through pinyon pines that often bear enough cones to attract serious pine-nut hunters in the fall.
Those with fall vacation time can chart autumn-color routes farther afield in Nevada. Follow U.S. Highway 93 north about 300 miles toward Ely for rewarding fall scenery. Although all the mountains in White Pine County have thickets of aspen, two areas stand out for fall color: Great Basin National Park about an hour’s drive from Ely and the Success Summit Loop through Cave Lake State Park just a few miles from Ely.
Great Basin National Park boasts fine roads and trails into high country on the eastern slopes of lofty Wheeler Peak, with splendid views in every direction. Aspens cloak mountainous slopes and mark the courses of several fishing streams. Visitors finding memorable fall color can also explore the subterranean beauty of Lehman Caves.
Cave Lake State Park is a few miles south of Ely just east of U.S. 93. The road through the park climbs along a stream into tall evergreens, passes flower-strewn meadows and tops out at aspen-covered Success Summit, one of the best early fall displays in the state. It then turns north in front of the rugged Schell Creek Range and descends into a lovely ranching area. Several streams tumble out of the mountains through canyons choked with trees and vegetation that are showy in autumn. The road returns to U.S. 93 north of old McGill a few miles from Ely.
The high-country color may be short-lived, but autumn in Nevada is just getting started. As the mellow season progresses, fall colors move down the mountains into the valleys, where they linger well into November and even later in southern desert areas.
Nevada’s late fall color brightens several major highways in the state. On the way to Reno on U.S. 95, look for colorful foliage on cottonwood trees along the Amargosa River near Beatty, along the Walker River north of Walker Lake and along the Carson River near Fallon. The route follows Interstate 80 along the course of the Truckee River into the Reno-Sparks area. Enjoy more Carson River scenery at Fort Churchill State Park and as you follow U.S. Highway 395 through the Carson Valley, which glows with seasonal color in the state capital and other towns near the river.
U.S. 93 lives up to its designation as a scenic highway north of Las Vegas into Lincoln County, particularly in the fall. On calm autumn days, the cottonwoods fringing the Pahranagat Lakes near Alamo double their brilliance with reflections in the still waters. Where the highway drops down into a canyon at Caliente, stands of cottonwoods color up beautifully. Explore nearby Kershaw-Ryan State Recreation Area, a well-vegetated box canyon with many little springs, then head south into scenic Rainbow Canyon, if the road is passable after recent rains.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.