Where to See the Most Beautiful Fall Foliage Near Las Vegas
Get your leaf-peeping fix at these naturally beautiful spots across Nevada.
Fall is finally upon us. Sure, Las Vegas might still have near-triple-digit heat through most of September, but we’re ready for PSL season all the same. In the Silver State, northern Nevada tends to steal all the fall color thunder as areas such as the Ruby Mountains, which are also known as the Swiss Alps of Nevada, and Lake Tahoe put on the kind of spectacular displays one would expect from high-altitude climates. In the meantime, southern and central Nevada get written off as barren, seasonless deserts, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. High-altitude mountains and wilderness areas abound in these regions, as do naturally occurring springs that produce genuine desert oases full of wetlands and lush vegetation, which are all full of trees, grasses, and flowering bushes that put on quite the technicolor display from late summer through late fall. But the best part is this is all within just a few hours’ drive from Las Vegas. And while the 2023 Fall Foliage Map is an excellent tool for week-by-week and county-by-county color predictions, we’ve got some insider info for you below.
Travel time from Las Vegas: 45 minutes
Mount Charleston, a wilderness area located within the Spring Mountains about 40 miles north of Las Vegas, is known as a “sky island” because of its high elevation and relative isolation from the drastically different lowland desert surrounding it. That high elevation means that at any time of the year, it’s about 20 degrees cooler on Mount Charleston than in Las Vegas, making it a welcome escape from the scorching summers. That also means the climate is drastically different up there, so you get evergreens and aspen groves instead of cacti and palm trees.
The most popular and scenic areas of Mount Charleston are located at the end of the roads that lead up to Kyle Canyon and Lee Canyon, as well as Deer Creek Road, which links them. These areas are all high elevation at about 7,500 to 8,600 feet at the most popular trailheads, campsites, and picnic areas. But if you really want high elevation and cold, thin mountain air, the summit of Charleston Peak is just shy of 12,000 feet. There are four true seasons on Mount Charleston, meaning there’s a ski resort at the top of Lee Canyon, which got so much snow this past season that it remained open through Mother’s Day. Still, it’s fall that’s really something special to see here.
On the Kyle Canyon side, there are streaks of golden yellow and vibrant orange against the dark green of the pine-covered slopes, and the display of colors that the quaking aspens along the South Loop Trail put on is spectacular, especially now that the baby aspens have gained quite a bit of height since a 2013 wildfire burned the entire area. Hike the popular three-mile Cathedral Rock trail through the aspen groves and enjoy the view from the summit, where you’ll see more glowing groves from high above. Past the Cathedral Rock turnoff, you can keep hiking along the South Loop trail toward Griffith Peak, where the dramatic slopes are covered in tinkling aspens in a blaze of hues ranging from golden to scarlet. Also, stop and take a listen. When the leaves are dry and about to drop in the fall, the ones on these aspens move with the slightest breeze and make a tinkling sound like windchimes, hence the name quaking aspens.
Over on the Lee Canyon side, smaller aspen groves can be found around the ski resort. Park at the Upper Bristlecone Trailhead and head left; it only takes a few minutes of hiking uphill before you start to see the aspens. You can also take a scenic chair ride overlooking the trees at the Lee Canyon Ski Resort, offered seven days a week from 10 am to 6 pm.
And no matter which canyon you visit, both involve long drives up the mountain lined with puffy yellow rabbitbrush, which starts its mustard-yellow bloom in early September. But if you want to see the fall colors on Mount Charleston, you must hurry because of the high elevation; leaves start turning in late August and reach peak by late September or early October. It gets cold quickly up there, and it’s not uncommon for Mount Charleston to be covered in snow before Halloween.
The City of Las Vegas
Distance from Las Vegas: None! You’re already here!
If you play your cards right, you can enjoy fall colors in and around Las Vegas from late August all the way into December. This may come as a huge shock to some, but the City of Las Vegas actually has a sizable urban forest, much bigger than you might think. If you tour some of the older neighborhoods downtown, you’ll find an impressive canopy of mature trees, including a variety of ash trees, bottle trees, cottonwoods, magnolia, palo verde, fig, and pomegranate, in addition to the many kinds of palm trees. Some have leaves that change color noticeably in the fall, while others are slightly more subtle. The city has been making a lot of efforts to increase the tree canopy over the last several years, with plans to plant 60,000 trees over the next 30 years to combat the “heat island” effect (a phenomenon experienced in urban environments with a lot of concrete and asphalt), as well as beautification projects that have seen trees added to the streetscapes of downtown.
This brings us to DTLV in December, where Chinese Pistache trees have been planted along Main Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, turning a beautiful ruby red in the fall. Their bold streaks of color pop against the concrete-laden urban surroundings and give us desert-dwellers a nice fall fix late into the season. Chinese Pistache is known as a late color-bloomer to begin with, and in Las Vegas, where the heat is intense all through September and “fall” gets a much later start, these trees don’t don their fall fashion until it’s very nearly winter.Over in the University District, the entire 350-acre University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus is an established arboretum recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Campus USA. With 4,300 individual trees on campus, 10 of which are considered “Champion Trees” (the largest tree of its species in the state), the University of Nevada, Las Vegas grounds provide a welcome nature respite right in the center of Sin City. The leaves on many of these desert native, drought-tolerant tree species turn shades of pale yellow and deep copper in the fall, with colors showing well into November and December.
Travel time from Las Vegas: 25 minutes
Floyd Lamb Park is located at Tule Springs, a wellspring in the desert with several small lakes and lush vegetation, teeming with waterfowl and brilliant, jewel-toned peacocks known to strut around the parking lot and throughout the park. This 680-acre city park is home to the Las Vegas State Tree Nursery, which produces more than 250,000 plants from 250 species annually, as well as Tule Springs Ranch, which is on the US National Register of Historic Places. This park features stands of oak and cottonwood trees that grow along the shores of the four lakes, which turn deep, vibrant shades of yellow and orange in the fall. Because this is Las Vegas, where the elevation is low, and the temperatures are high, these colors come late in the season, usually late October and early November.
Travel time from Las Vegas: 20–30 minutes
Red Rock Canyon, the world-famous climbing destination known for its otherworldly red sandstone formations and towering walls, is maybe not the first place you would think that would have fall colors. Still, there is indeed vegetation in Red Rock that changes color with the seasons. Ash trees and oaks turn deep shades of gold and orange, and while these aren’t dense groves of fiery foliage, the occasional blaze of gold against the rust-colored backdrop of Red Rock will still catch your breath and have you grabbing your phone to snap some pictures.
There are a few areas along the 13-mile Scenic Drive within Red Rock where you can catch some brilliant colors hidden by the imposing canyon walls, but Pine Creek and Oak Creek canyons will offer the most payoff for your hiking efforts. And there will most certainly be some effort. The approach to both canyons through the open desert is just the start. Seeing the good stuff in these canyons requires some technical scrambling and boulder-hopping of varying difficulty without an obvious trail to follow, and it can get really technical and really gnarly, really quickly if you’re not careful. just remember what goes up must come down.
The Calico Basin on the other side of the park also offers some errant splashes of fall colors amid the dramatic red Aztec sandstone. Ash Spring in the Calico Basin is a short and scenic hike that takes you past a grove of golden ash trees with a smattering of cottonwoods against the fiery red backdrop of Calico Hills. If you just want a pleasant picnic area with a nice view, you can skip the Scenic Drive entirely and head to Red Spring Picnic Area just outside the park on the back side of Calico Basin, which features a half-mile boardwalk encircling a spring-fed meadow in addition to picnic tables, shaded pavilions, and barbecue grills.
Please note that Timed reservations are required for vehicle access to the Scenic Drive from 8 am to 5 pm daily from October 1, 2023, through May 31, 2024 (even on fee-free days). If you plan to go leaf-peeping in Red Rock, you’ll have your best chances mid- to late-October, possibly into early November.
Travel time from Las Vegas: 1 hour 20 minutes
Yet another lesser-known desert oasis less than 90 minutes from the city, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge is an essential stopover for migratory birds, with lush, spring-fed wetlands that include lakes, marshes, and wet meadows, as well as tall cottonwood and poplar trees along the shorelines that glow golden and marigold in the fall. Tall marsh grasses also turn gold and amber, and if you happen to catch it in the right light, the whole place looks ablaze in a glowing red. Catch the colors in late October and early November.
Travel time from Las Vegas: 1 hour 30 minutes
Although it’s a lesser-known area located on the eastern edge of Death Valley right on the California border, Ash Meadows is an internationally recognized wetland of huge significance, with nearly 30 species of plants and animals that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. The Devils Hole is located in this part of the Amargosa Valley, home to an ancient, endangered species of pupfish, which have been isolated in this location for 10,000 to 20,000 years. The Devils Hole cavern is over 500 feet deep and remains largely a mystery as the the bottom has never been mapped. Another natural oasis in the desert, the hot springs of Ash Meadows, feed these lush wetlands but take note that this is a wildlife refuge, and these hot springs are not for bathing. Still, visitors can enjoy the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the springs and the glowing gold and orange of the ash trees for which this area was named starting in mid-October and running into early November, which is also the perfect time of year to visit Death Valley when the temperatures have cooled off significantly.
Travel time from Las Vegas: 2 hours 20 minutes (to Caliente)
This area of southeastern Nevada is home to the most extensive collection of Nevada State Parks, a dense cluster of state treasures all within easy driving distance of each other. Two of those parks offer unique settings to enjoy some fall colors and are located on either side of the 21-mile Rainbow Canyon Scenic Drive, which follows the mainline of the Union Pacific Railroad/ Starting in the historic city of Caliente (architecture enthusiasts, be sure to stop by the Spanish Mission-style railroad depot built in 1905 before leaving Caliente) at the northern end of Rainbow Canyon, drive south to your first stop at Kershaw-Ryan State Park. Kershaw-Ryan is a verdant oasis, thanks to the flow of water from natural springs and weeping rocks in the surrounding canyon walls that soar up to 700 feet tall. The manicured vegetation includes white oaks, willows, cottonwoods, locust trees, fruit trees, wild grapevines, and Virginia red creepers, which create a display of vibrant emerald green, cheerful pale yellow, glowing gold, glints of tawny and bronze, and streaks of deep blood red in the fall.
From Kershaw-Ryan, you’ll continue driving south, passing by colorful red rock, limestone, and towering walls of basalt, as well as dense groves of cottonwood trees that line the entire length of the Meadow Valley Wash in shades of bright yellow, orange, and gold in the fall. On the other end of the Scenic Drive is the ghost town of Elgin, home to the Elgin Schoolhouse State Historic Park. This one-room schoolhouse was where several generations of children were taught over 40 years in this former railroad town. If you’re lucky, you might also catch a spot of color here.The best time to catch fall colors in Rainbow Canyon is mid-October to mid-November.
Travel time from Las Vegas: 4 hours
This whole area of eastern Nevada, including Great Basin, has prominent aspen groves, but arguably one of the best places to see them in all their fall glory is at Cave Lake State Park, just 20 minutes outside of the small town of Ely. Cave Lake is a 32-acre reservoir surrounded by pine-covered slopes. While the lake has been drained and access is currently closed due to construction, you can still enjoy the campgrounds and the extensive network of hiking and mountain biking trails running through the park and throughout Ely, wandering through forests of glowing gold aspens. You can also still enjoy the view of the lake from the Cave Lake Overlook Loop trail and the Lakeview Campground, where you’ll catch shocks of brilliant gold from the stands of aspen along the shore, as well as amber-hued marsh grass and the puffy yellow flowers of the fall-blooming rabbitbrush. You can also take in the fall colors throughout the greater Ely area along the Schell Creek Range by driving along the 38-mile Success Loop Scenic Drive, which is full of scenic views and travels right past Cave Lake. A portion of the road is well-graded gravel, but stick it out. Along this section, aspens line the quiet road for an explosion of gold, bronze, and scarlet. Catch the colors here in late September and early October.
Travel time from Las Vegas: 4 hours 30 minutes
With sparkling blue-green alpine lakes surrounded by jagged, silvery-gray granite peaks and open fields where you’ll almost always see deer grazing in the golden hours, the Alpine Lakes Trail might sound like something straight out of a classic Disney movie. And, yeah, it is kind of magical, and it’s also equally breathtaking and haunting. This portion of Great Basin at the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive starts at an elevation just shy of 10,000 feet, and the area is full of giant gnarled, twisted bristlecone pines that live for thousands of years in the harshest of climates.
But before you get to the lakes and the deer and the twisted Snow White pines and the dramatic peaks, you’ll pass through a grove of fiery aspens. Once you pass the Upper Lehman Creek Campground, you’ll start to see the blazing colors of the aspens along the 12-mile Scenic Drive. But note that due to the high elevation, fall colors begin very early in the season, usually early- to mid-September, and the Scenic Drive closes for the season once it snows. But even if you missed the color display in the higher reaches of the park, the lower elevations have plenty to show off. At the much lower elevation along Snake Creek Road (~5,300’), you can enjoy a beautiful display of colors in relative isolation. Snake Creek is about 13 miles of unpaved road that accesses Snake Creek Canyon and multiple primitive campgrounds surrounded by poplars, aspen groves, and limestone cliffs.
Another option is the 5.5-mile Baker Creek Road, a well-maintained gravel road that provides access to the Grey Cliffs and Baker Creek Campgrounds and the trail to Johnson Lake. The hike to Johnson Lake meanders through groves of tall, reedy aspens interspersed in sunny meadows and thicker groves of wind-bent aspens along steep slopes, all ablaze with color in the fall. Because this is a much lower elevation, you can catch the colors here well into October. And be sure to try some of the nuts from the Pinyon Pines, which are also ready for picking in the fall.