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Stunning Lockett Meadow in Flagstaff is leaf-peeper’s paradise

Updated: Oct. 15, 2021 at 11:28 AM MST
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FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- It’s fall, y’all! Or so they say. Those cacti don’t really change color. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find incredible fall foliage here in Arizona.

I’ve driven through the high country of Northern and Eastern Arizona many times during fall, and it’s stunning. But I’ve always wanted to go to the leaf-peeper’s paradise of Lockett Meadow, so I decided this week to finally check that one off my Arizona Bucket List.

I've always wanted to go to the leaf-peeper's paradise of Lockett Meadow.
I've always wanted to go to the leaf-peeper's paradise of Lockett Meadow.(Arizona's Family)

My photographer, Rick, our Arizona’s Family drone operator, Hector, and I headed up the backside of the San Francisco Peaks. The turnoff is just across from the turnoff off of U.S. 89 from Sunset Crater. From there, you head onto a dirt road for a couple of miles up the mountain. We were warned that this road was a rough one, and that was no lie. This very bumpy, unpaved, one-lane road is incredibly winding with no guard rails. We had planned to head up earlier in the morning but worried about black ice from the recent storm, so we decided to wait until the afternoon. I’m glad we did, but the drive still had me saying prayers under my breath. Four-wheel drive is recommended.

We made it to the parking lot and found one of the last spaces left. Parking is free, but only 100 cars are permitted. On weekends, this lot fills up very early.

You start in the pines but gradually see the aspen fill in the landscape with their golden hue...
You start in the pines but gradually see the aspen fill in the landscape with their golden hue as you get a little higher.(Arizona's Family)

The trail itself is a 3-mile loop. You can go further with other connecting trails. You start in the pines but gradually see the aspen fill in the landscape with their golden hue as you get a little higher. The trail isn’t terribly steep, but you’ll find yourself panting thanks to the elevation of 8,600-10,500 feet. Most of the trail is shaded at the start, so if you plan on heading up in the next few days, expect a couple of inches of snow to still be on the ground from the recent storm.

Eventually, the path takes you along the rim of the Inner Basin, revealing a canopy of greens, golds, and reds. The stunning fall colors against the blue sky and towering snow-capped peaks in the background had us double-checking we were still in Arizona.

Mid-October is peak season here. Dropping temperatures and shorter days turn the aspens into solid gold. This year, many of the leaves were stripped by windy weather earlier this week. There was still plenty of fall color and beauty, but I wished we’d made it up there just one week earlier.

↗ Flagstaff’s Leaf-ometer

Fall colors drives and hikes
Fall colors drives and hikes(U.S. Forest Service - Coconino National Forest via Facebook)

While it’s just a bit past the peak in the highest elevations, the National Forest Service has a few other recommendations that are at lower elevations for more color and fewer crowds.

Be sure to check the weather before you hit the road.