Fall in Prescott was created for hikers.
That’s probably not entirely true, but look around — the Bradshaw Mountains and the Sierra Prieta, the Granite Dells, Thumb Butte, Granite Mountain, Glassford Hill and Mingus Mountain beckon as they always do, and the temperatures are perfect for a good workout that won’t overwork your body.
There are trails to be explored everywhere here, in the forests, the grasslands, and of course, in the Granite Dells where the two collide in spectacular fashion.
Hiking is for all ages and can be done year-round. Devotees can be found trekking through the wilderness and urban landscape throughout the winter, though trudging through ice and snow should be left up to the experts.
Autumn is ideal for brisk romps and witnessing the changes of the season up close. Every area unfolds a little bit differently, but here are some of the most reliable locations for seeing great fall color.
Granite Basin Lake Trails — Found west of Prescott off Iron Springs Road, this lake in Prescott National Forest is teeming with high-color producers including fetid goosefoot and Virginia creepers (a tree-climbing vine that turns into a vibrant red).
There are 33 miles of trails along and around the lake, a web of easy to moderate paths that gives users plenty of opportunities to observe and take photos of the brilliant hues all around them. The Mint Wash and Granite Basin Lake Loop form a 3-mile circuit through dense vegetation, though only a small portion runs along the lake itself.
Many of autumn’s best and brightest are found throughout the national forest, which has plenty of evergreens but is dotted by pockets of ash, maple, oaks, cottonwoods, aspen, poplars and sycamore. Wolf Creek Loop, Goldwater and Lynx lakes and Copper Basin are some of the other excellent choices for colorful hiking.
Greenways Trail System — Old-growth cottonwoods line much of this 2.5-mile line of paths along Granite and Miller creeks on the west edge of downtown from Mile High Middle School on the south to Granite Creek Park and over to the Rodeo Grounds in the north. Crowns of red and gold from people’s back yards contribute to the palette you’ll be treated to.
These easy-rated paths are perfect for day-trippers who want to see the historic downtown and experience the crispness of fall. Nearby Courthouse Plaza is also a prime destination for leaf- and people-watching.
Constellation Trails — A cluster of paths fanning out over boulders on the eastern edge of the Granite Dells, the trailhead sits just across Highway 89 from the Phippen Museum.
This spot on the northern edge of the Dells, across Route 89 from the Phippen Museum, has something for every level of hiker, with more level ground than some of the nearby trails but plenty of rough patches to provide a challenge. The scrub oak trees around the trailhead do provide some fall color, and the relative lack of shade through the rest of the course isn’t the issue it can be during the summer.
These trails incorporate packed dirt paths and slippery rock surfaces as they thread through the boulders for a combined 3.53 miles. The elevation ranges from 5,024 feet to 5,236 feet, with more noticeable inclines and declines on the south end.
The outer loop of the trails, 2.7 miles, can be completed in about 1.5 hours. You can extend or shorten your stay by cutting across or doubling back on the loops, with names like Ham and Cheese, Hully Gully, North 40, Lost Wall and Hole in the Wall.
Watson Lake Loop — Comprised of several trails of varying difficulty, this nearly 5-mile loop is a testament both to the extensive network of multiuse recreational trails here and the untamable shore of the lake itself.
The Peavine and Lakeshore trails bracket the southern shores of the lake with readily accessible, comparatively easy paths, while the Northshore and Over the Hill trails can challenge even experienced hikers with slick granite surfaces, shoe’s-width path in spots and the overwhelming beauty of the place, with sky-high cottonwoods and aspens providing a colorful canopy in many spots.
No matter where hikers are on the loop, they are rewarded with spectacular views of the lake and the Dells that surround it. Vistas also reveal views of the city and the autumnal hues slowly taking over.
Photo of Granite Basin Lake by Blushing Cactus Photography