Nevadans enjoy an extended autumn-color season starting in the high mountains before the last week of September and ending when the last leaves fall in the low desert in December. The best of the high-country color is over by mid-October, so plan fall foliage outings in Nevada’s mountains soon.
Wherever the forested mountain ranges of the Silver State have stands of quaking aspen, the color will be good. Few other trees in Nevada put on as fancy dress for fall as these stately, white-trunked natives. Their leaves take on yellow hues ranging from palest butter to bright persimmon. Their desert cousins, the poplars and cottonwoods, brighten the lower elevations in canyons, along streams and around lakes later in the season.
Close to Las Vegas, look for early fall color in the Spring Mountains west of town when stands of aspen color Kyle, Lee and Deer Creek canyons. Drive north on U.S. Highway 95, then turn toward the mountains to follow the scenic drive formed by Route 157 and Route 156, linked by Deer Creek Road. Drive to pavement’s end in Kyle and Lee canyons for splendid views. Hiking trails accessed from these roads lead to more colorful autumn scenery.
If you want to see color elsewhere in Nevada’s high country, follow U.S. Highway 93 north into White Pine and Elko counties. This scenic route reveals high-country color as it skirts several lofty mountain ranges.
At the junction of U.S. Highway 6 and U.S. Highway 50, turn right toward Great Basin National Park in the Snake Range, where 10 peaks rise above 10,000 feet. The 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive offers spectacular panoramic views from high on the slopes of 13,000-foot Wheeler Peak. Brilliant swaths of gold and orange splash across the mountains, marking stands of stately tall aspens or snow-stunted groves struggling to survive on rocky slopes. Great Basin’s scenery is not all above ground. Subterranean wonders await visitors touring Lehman Caves, where the caverns remain a cool constant temperature no matter what the weather does above ground.
Returning to U.S. 93, watch for the turnoff to Cave Lake State Park a few miles south of Ely. Follow the road through the park to climb into the Schell Creek Range over Success Summit, where aspens blaze against evergreens surrounding high meadows starred with late summer wildflowers. The road loops back to U.S. 93 north of Ely.
Still heading north, view the Ruby Mountains across marshes and ranchland as you approach Interstate 80. Turn left toward Elko, then take Route 227 to Lamoille, a picturesque ranching village. A 12-mile scenic drive climbs along a creek in Lamoille Canyon deep into the Ruby Mountains, often called Nevada’s Alps, where fall colors flare brightly for a brief season.
Follow the fall-foliage show down the mountain slopes during outings later in this mellow season. Although the kinds of oaks and maples native to Nevada do not blaze with color as in other parts of the country, they do change to subtle tones of bronze and russet. Late-summer flowers and late-maturing shrubs such as the mustard-colored rabbitbrush spread growing colors along roadsides after the high-country color is past.
Late in autumn, there is still plenty of gold in Nevada, if you know where to look. It occurs at lower elevations wherever there is enough water to foster vegetation.
Long after high-country trees drop their bright foliage, the season lingers among the cottonwoods on the shores of the Pahranagat lakes, reflected in the water near Alamo along U.S. 93. The autumn show continues in the Meadow Valley along U.S. 93 around Caliente. Enjoy the extended season along the Amargosa River drainage as you approach Beatty on U.S. 95.
If travels take you toward Reno, look for lovely color along the rivers of Western Nevada before frost. Color traces the course of the Walker River through Mason Valley to Walker Lake, visible from U.S. 95 near Schurz. Vegetation brightens along the Carson River as you parallel it on U.S. 50 from the Carson Valley through Fallon. Foliage in the Truckee River Canyon along I-80 from Reno south stays brilliant for weeks yet.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.