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Best spots for fall foliage out west

By Michele Herrmann
January 12, 2022
Sedona Balancing Act At Cathedral Credit Sedona Visitors Bureau
A guide to the best fall foliage in the western states.

New England gets all the credit. It is known for its seasonal changing of the leaves throughout Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont - and you can find a road trip guide to New England here. But this region is not the only part of the U.S. that cast off different shades during autumn. 

Here is where to see the best fall foliage in the western states. 

WEST

Arizona

Outside of Sedona, Red Rock State Park’s riparian zone of Oak Creek Canyon goes by Fremont cottonwood, sycamore, velvet ash and Arizona alder trees on various trails and the path up to the Eagle’s Nest Trail to get a top-down view. See Slide Rock State Park on the same day; trees there also provide a vibrant contrast against the Oak Creek’s red rocks.

Idaho

The Boise River Greenbelt is a tree-lined pathway throughout the city and connects walkers and cyclists to its various riverside parks. Or head out on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, as this Highway 75 rolls north past the Harriman Trail and the Galena Summit Overlook, then on through the resort towns of Hailey, Ketchum, and Sun Valley. 

Great Basin National Park. Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada

Nevada

In Eastern Nevada, the Great Basin National Park encourages you to drive around at your own pace. Its Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is a paved 12-mile route leading to an elevation exceeding 10,000 feet and views of groves of aspen trees in yellow, red and gold.

New Mexico

The Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway leads to a 13,000-foot aspen filled alpine wilderness, where the hillsides from Hyde Memorial State Park to Ski Santa Fe shine vibrantly gold. Fall colors hit nicely along U.S. 64, across the Carson National Forest between Taos and Chama and through Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla, where the view of the Brazos Cliffs is worth the stop. 

Wyoming

Along Battle Pass Scenic Byway, a 57-mile Sierra Madre Mountains of the Medicine Bow National Forest, see the famous strand of trees known as Aspen Alley. Jackson is a gateway to two of the country’s most beautiful national parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Drive along the Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway, the southern-most route across the Bighorn National Forest, for views of the Bighorn Mountains that are framed by yellow- and gold-hued aspens.

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Inspiration

Socially distanced scaring at your local haunted drive-thru

COVID-19 is impacting a Halloween tradition that relies on close contact and screaming: haunted houses. While some attractions are staying closed this October, others have altered their plans to provide socially distanced scaring. This year, you will see haunted car washes, drive through courses, and increased use of special effects. The Rainforest Car Wash in Ohio was ahead of the curve. In 2019, they hosted a haunted car wash with goblins peering in your window behind colorful foam and clowns waving next to air dryers. This is a two-in-one, providing family friendly frights and a clean car. They plan to repeat their one-of-a-kind attraction this year at their Medina location. Dragon's House of Horror, which holds the Guinness World Record for longest walk-through haunted house, in New Mexico transformed the Mile of Terror to a drive-through trail. Visitors can experience the maze with several horror genres entirely from inside their car, which eliminates the risk of virus transmission. Actors won’t touch cars and windows must be rolled up as additional safety measures. Photo provided by The Haunted Road in Florida The Haunted Road in Orlando, Florida is another contactless Halloween drive-through event that has recently emerged, aiming to provide screams with “twisted creatures and theatrical storytelling.” At this attraction, visitors drive scene to scene at night and stop. While parked and trapped inside the car, scare actors appear, visual effects take place, and sound effects are synced to a radio station. Another take on a drive-through attraction takes place at The Horrorland in Miami, Florida. Car passengers “follow Rapunzel’s journey into a world of disarray” happening in real time and sit through six themed passages for a contactless haunting experience. Los Angeles will open an immersive Stranger Things “drive-into” adventure. In partnership with Fever and Secret Cinema, the theme of the attraction is based on the Netflix’s show Season 3 horrors. It will be a multi-level experience with cars stopping at each set like the Starcourt Mall, a subterranean Russian lab, and the Upside Down. Some haunted attractions will continue to be walking experiences but with additional safety and creative measures. Andrew Curran, president of design company specializing in haunted house design Practical Imagination, said, “People like new and exciting—this is the year to create new and exciting.” Curran hinted that use of special effects such as mirrors alter the appearance of distance, plexiglass barriers can be used in hospital scenes, and sound technology tricks will be utilized. Use of props and claustrophobia tunnels will be on the decline and animated figures will be used in close proximity to visitors. For those haunts with the occasional close contact, costumes with built-in PPE gear is recommended. The Dent Schoolhouse in Greater Cincinnati said their monsters will integrate a face mask into their costumes. Reservation-based ticketing is also a tactic attractions are using to reduce capacity and spread out groups. The 13th Floor Haunted House in Denver plans on doing temperature checks, limiting capacity, keeping groups private, and enforcing social distancing with ground markings. Dr. Margee Kerris, a sociologist who studies fear, said in May that COVID-19 should not cancel the spookiness Halloween. “Haunted attractions offer what we could all use right now: opportunities to take control of our fears and to be reminded that we can be brave.”

Inspiration

Ghosts of Grand Canyon: the mysterious disappearance of Glen and Bessie Hyde

On October 20, 1928, newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde launched down the Colorado River in a homemade 20-foot scow, embarking on a journey that would take over a month and celebrate Bessie as the first woman to boat the river in its entirety. On November 18, one month into their trip and mere weeks from making history, they were seen for the last time. Glen Hyde, an Idahoan farmer and avid outdoorsman, met his wife, Bessie Haley, an artist from West Virginia, on a passenger ship to Los Angeles. The two fell in love and married in Idaho on April 12, 1928. For their honeymoon, they decided, they would embark on a boating adventure down the Colorado River. Were they to succeed in their endeavor, they would not only make Bessie the first woman to complete the trip, but also set a record for the fastest excursion down the river. The Colorado River, which runs through Grand Canyon, Arizona, is known for its brutal and difficult whitewater. Glen was experienced in river rafting. Bessie was new to this type of adventure. About halfway through their long journey, the couple stopped at the Bright Angel Trail, one of the most popular trails that run through Grand Canyon National Park. At the time, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb owned a photography business at the trailhead. The two brothers met the Hydes, who came to the rim to restock their supplies before completing the rest of their trip. The Kolbs said that Bessie seemed apprehensive. “I wonder if I’ll ever wear pretty shoes again,” she said wistfully, admiring a well-dressed young girl before venturing the 10 miles back down the dusty trail to the scow. She never wore pretty shoes again. The couple had intended on returning to Idaho by early December of 1928. When they didn’t arrive, Glen’s father helped launch a search that discovered their scow abandoned near river mile 237, just 40 miles from the end of their journey. The scow was upright, held in place by its tow line caught underwater, still toting their coats and boots, a gun and Bessie’s diary, with its final entry on November 30. The shore near the boat was undisturbed. Glen and Bessie were nowhere to be found. Ninety-two years later, the mystery of the couple’s disappearance remains unsolved and lends itself to spooky riverside tales and a wealth of elaborate conspiracy theories. In the early 1970s, an elderly woman on a river trip down the Colorado River announced that she was Bessie Hyde. She was about the age Bessie would have been, claiming to have killed Glen in disagreement and hiked out of the canyon. She later recanted the story, which was proven untrue. Another conspiracy theory emerged suspecting Georgie Clark, a respected river guide, of being Bessie Hyde. Following the death of Clark, whose real name was Bessie DeRoss, in May of 1992, Hyde’s marriage license and a pistol were found in Clark’s home. However, this theory was also debunked. In 1976, the skeletal remains of a young male were found on the Kolb brothers’ property. The skull still had a bullet in it, and there was suspicion that Emery Kolb was somehow responsible for Glen Hyde’s death. However, a forensic investigation later deduced that the remains belonged to a man much younger than Glen who had likely committed suicide no earlier than 1972. Legal investigations into the disappearance have ended and the couple was pronounced dead by drowning, but the mystery remains unsolved. While Glen and Bessie didn’t achieve fame in the way they had hoped, their names live on in books and eerie campfire ghost stories.

Inspiration

It's Fat Bear Week in Katmai National Park

September 30 - October 6 is annual Fat Bear Week in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Each summer, bears work to become as fat as possible to survive hibernation in the long winter. Survival in the winter depends on each bear accumulating ample fat reserves to keep them warm and nourished. Bears spend the summer gluttonously eating salmon and other foods, which are ample in Katmai. Each year, Katmai National Park lets the public vote on Fat Bear Week - each day you can vote for the chonkiest bear - until there is only one winner of Fat Bear Week! Click here to vote.

Inspiration

Best spots for fall foliage in the mid-west

MID-WEST Kansas In Northeast Kansas, the Glacial Hills Scenic Byways runs through a distinct landscape named for the rolling hills and the rock-strewn valleys. Its name reflects the receding ice, which left highly fertile farmland. Illinois In Southern Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest is a hiker’s paradise, seated between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and with paths meandering through canyons under forest canopies. Its crown jewel, Garden of the Gods, overlooks views of towering sandstone outcroppings formed millions of years ago. In the central part of the state, the Grandview Drive is considered to be one of Illinois’ most scenic routes. Indiana An hour from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park resembles the Great Smoky Mountains but Indiana’s largest park is fall color hot spot, with nearly 20 miles of tree-lined roads and many scenic vistas overlooking miles of uninterrupted forestland. The 2,300-acre O’Bannon Woods State Park is surrounded by beauty located within the foothills of Southern Indiana and bordering the Ohio and Blue rivers. Credit: Northeast Iowa RC and D Iowa Yellow River State Forest in Harpers Ferry makes for a good fall jaunt. Its Backpack Trail was named Iowa’s best hiking trail by Outdoor magazine in 1996, while Paint Creek Unit is quite the recreational hiking loop. Or catch some fall color via kayaking or canoeing on The Upper Iowa River in Northeast Iowa that can be accessed at Kendallville, Bluffton and Decorah. Minnesota The North Shore “All-American” Scenic Drive stretches 154 miles along the shore of Lake Superior is aligned with yellow aspen, birch trees and scarlet maples. And the Minnesota Great River Road follows the Mississippi River and passes through Chippewa National Forest, Itasca State Park and Frontenac and Great River Bluffs state parks. North Dakota The Rendezvous Region in northeast North Dakota is home to the wooded Pembina Gorge and Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area; hike on marked trails or rent a kayak to paddle along the Pembina River. Next, head west on the Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway and stop at Coghlan Castle and Lake Metigoshe State Park in the Turtle Mountains along the U.S/Canadian border. Credit: North Dakota Tourism Oklahoma The Talimena National Scenic Byway is a 50-mile drive partly through southeastern Oklahoma and touches upon Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest. Also in this region, Beavers Bend State Park is adorned with forests of pine and hardwood plus rugged terrain and waterways for seeing on foot. South Dakota Custer State Park is not only known for its free-roaming resident bison -- it also produces vibrant fall foliage at every turn. The Needles Highway has views of the Cathedral Spires, among birch, aspen and ponderosa pines while the Wildlife Loop leads towards Mt. Coolidge, where burr oak tree leaves burst in orange. On the northern edge of the Black Hills, Spearfish Canyon offers waterfall views from a spruce, pine, aspen, birch and oak tree forest.