Editor’s Note: This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to viewing fall foliage in Wyoming. It’s just a start. With your help, we can build a more comprehensive map for the best drives in the state during fall. Let us know of your favorite fall drives.
By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Planning an autumn road trip to see the changing leaves? Don’t “leave” Wyoming! We’ve got the most beautiful fall foliage right here in the Cowboy State, from the Bighorn Mountains in northeast Wyoming to Aspen Alley in the south.
From now until mid-October, Wyoming shines with vibrant reds, yellows and oranges from riversides to mountaintops. The Farmer’s Almanac suggests waiting until October 5-14, when tree and shrub colors should peak.
Check out our road trip suggestions!
The Bighorn Mountains
On Highway 16, there’s a spot about a half hour west of Buffalo where the aspen trees turn gold when the frost bites in the fall. As Highway 16 winds around the foothills of the Bighorns, look to the south to see some incredible stands of color.
“Camp Creek on the Chief Joseph Highway is one of the best stands of red aspens that I know of,” said Bobbie Holder, horticulturist and certified arborist in Cody. “And if you keep driving up there and drive up on the Beartooth Highway behind the lookout, all along there are huge aspen groves that will probably start to turn next week if they haven’t started already,” she said.
Perhaps the most photographed area in Grand Teton National Park, the fall colors at Oxbow Bend are breathtaking. Just east of Jackson Lake Junction on Highway 89, there’s a pull off area where professional and amateur photographers can make the most of the light and color.
Snake River Overlook
While you’re nearby, check out the Snake River Overlook in Grand Teton National Park. The colors there contrast with the deep greens of the pine trees, making for a breathtaking view!
A beautiful area spotted with groves of aspen trees, Little Mountain is located about 40 miles south of Rock Springs, near Flaming Gorge. Keep an eye out for elk and mule deer while you’re there. A must-do on your Wyoming autumn road trip!
“One of the best places in Wyoming is Aspen Alley,” said Holder, referring to a nearly 20-mile stretch of aspen trees in the Sierra Madre Mountains west of Encampment, in the southern part of the state. “That is just an incredible trip.”
Cowboy State Daily’s own Bill Sniffin, in his column on September 7 of this year, described the area as “a narrow road cut through a mighty grove of aspens that shimmers like gold in the fall.”
Shane Smith, horticulturist and founder of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, said the area is in transition, with older trees and younger trees mingling – but there are beautiful stands of aspen in the area.
“When I was there, and this was about four years ago, it looked like younger aspens were coming up amongst the dead and almost dead aspens,” he said. “And so I think it has a bright future, it’s just not here yet.”
North Platte River
Later in the season, riverbeds are the place to go to find vibrant colors, said Smith. Places like the North Platte River, with multiple access points near Casper, are prime property for foliage viewing in the later weeks.
“They tend to be the last areas to turn color,” Smith said. “They’re lower altitude, so it’s warmer.”
He pointed out that the major rivers in Wyoming have more deciduous trees (which lose their leaves every year, unlike evergreens), but not necessarily aspen. However, the other species of trees will also reward fall foliage junkies with lovely autumn colors.
“There are a lot of river valleys that are filled with native cottonwoods and willows and willow-like shrubs and dogwoods that in and of themselves have some beautiful color,” Smith said.
The higher elevations are the key, Smith said.
“If you want to really get immersed in yellow and gold,” he said, “if you get to a little bit higher altitude, it’s going to be more rewarding.”
One such high-altitude location is at the top of Casper Mountain, where adventurers can find Beartrap Meadow. The area is a popular camping destination where flaming orange aspen trees can be found glowing in the autumn light.
As stunning as the landmark is in summer, in autumn, Devils Tower and its surrounding hills shine with color. And it’s not just the aspen trees that catch your eye – the red rocks at the base of the mountain give a splash of color to the landscape.
Precipitation Drives Color Change
Smith said colors change at different times due to how dry the conditions are.
“The less irrigated the trees are, the earlier they’re going to turn,” he said. “Kind of a natural survival kit.”
Smith referred to Cowboy State Daily’s weather forecaster, Don Day, who has predicted some upcoming freezing temperatures – which may actually put a halt to the color changes.
“He’s hinting that we could have some early cold flashes,” said Smith. “If we get an early flash freeze while the leaves are still green, there are a number of tree species and shrubs that do not let go of their state, they hang on to their leaves well into winter, which is kind of ugly.”
There is an interactive map that shows where and when the peak times for foliage viewing are in all parts of the U.S. Save this link, which was created by the Smoky Mountains, for your road trip planning!
Where are YOUR favorite places in Wyoming to view the autumn leaves? Let us know!