Pinal Mountain Foliage Peaks in October

There is no need for a road trip north to see and photograph vivid autumn foliage: the Pinal Mountains right here in Globe offer camera-ready aspens, maples, sumac and sycamore trees.
Lovely fall leaves also beckon hikers and leaf peepers to Payson and Rim Country trails; to the Sierra Anchas — Workman Creek, Reynolds Creek — and the scenic high desert town of Young. Or explore maple-lined canyon drainages where you’re unlikely to see another photographer, near Point-of-Pines Lake on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.
Pinal Mountain fall foliage usually peaks around Oct. 20-25, with the best maple trees found along the top quarter-mile of the Ice House Canyon trail. Preview the leaves in a variety of galleries posted by Arizona photographers at cals.arizona.edu/bta/pinals.
The Pinal Mountains lure leaf peepers and photographers to Globe-Miami, just a 90-minute drive from most Valley communities, making Gila County an excellent fall weekend destination. For a truly memorable overnight, book a room at a unique local bed-and-breakfast.
Dream Manor Inn offers panoramic 360-degree views of surrounding mountains (dreammanorinn.com). Noftsger Hill Inn owner Rosalie Ayala offers “birds, bed and breakfast” tour packages, and has maps to hiking trails for optimal autumn foliage. The 17,000 square foot inn was the City of Globe’s elementary school from the 1940s through the ’80s. Now six of the cavernous classrooms have been appointed with antiques and decorated with various themes (a Cowboy Room and bold primary-color-painted Mexican Room) and you can, quite literally, “sleep in class.” For more information, go to noftsgerhillinn.com.
Ice House Canyon Trail, Ferndell Spring
and Signal Peak
From the East Valley, it takes about 2.5 hours driving to reach the top of the Pinal Mountain range, or about 90-minutes if you’re driving there from the vicinity of Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior. The best color is found down the first half-mile of the Ice House Canyon hiking trail, and around Ferndell Spring and the Six-Shooter Trail. Forest Service outhouse toilets are at the Sulfide de Rey campground and also Ferndell, where picnic tables and firepits are available. Check the Tonto National Forest website to verify seasonal fire restrictions.
After hiking the Ice House Canyon Trail, drive another mile east along the Pinal ridgetop, watching for signs for Ferndell, followed by 20 private cabins, then signs for Signal Peak and the Upper Recreation Site. Drive over to Signal Peak and also drive through Ferndell before you head back down to Globe. Both are quite scenic, and the Six Shooter Trail downhill below Ferndell is less steep than Ice House Canyon.
Photographers take note: aspen groves and maples mostly occur on the cooler north-facing canyons near the top 1,000 feet of the Pinal Mountain range, so consider sunlight and back-lighting when planning your trip. October middays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. are best for photos on the Ice House Canyon trail. Arrive much later and you’ll find the sun has dipped low in the canyon and trees too backlit for colorful photography.
Maps and hiking trails of the Pinal Mountain Range can be obtained from the Tonto National Forest Service Globe Ranger District office. For details call 928-425-7189, or go to fs.fed.us/r3/tonto.
Directions to Pioneer Pass
For a different experience of the Pinals, drive the Forest Service road that ascends the northeast side of the mountains to Pioneer Pass.
General road directions are similar: take Highway 60 east to Globe, once you reach town, watch for the railroad overpass at the Broad Street signal light. Turn left on Broad Street, drive through downtown Globe, and follow signs to the Besh Ba Gowah archaeological park (or just set GPS for Besh Ba Gowah). After the Besh turnoff (at right), turn right onto Kellner Canyon Road. Proceed a few miles to the Ice House Canyon Road intersection, then bear left (its actually straight), where Kellner makes a sharp right turn. Ice House Canyon Road takes you all the way up through Pioneer Pass.
Paved road turns to graded dirt after a few miles, near the DC Cattle ranch and Ice House campground. Continue on Pioneer Pass, a winding dirt road that ascends up and over the east side of the Pinals, complete with Forest Service outhouse toilets, campsites and fire rings.
Suggested hike:
Six-Shooter Canyon trail is about two miles past the Ice House CCC campground. The trail climbs alongside a sycamore-lined creek drainage, the trail crossing through the creek bed four times within 1.5 miles.
The trailhead is above the Iron Bridge. There is no sign announcing this bridge by that name, but you’ll know it when you see it. Park just below the iron bridge, then continue walking uphill on the road another 100 yards, watching on the right for the trailhead, which makes a hairpin turn uphill and back up the drainage.
Six Shooter Canyon Trail is a favorite. Hikers appreciate the canyon funneling cooler air from the mountaintop and during late October, the vivid red leaves of maples can be seen in the creek within 10-minute walk uphill of the Iron Bridge (a surprisingly low elevation to find maples). Browses galleries of Pinal Fall Foliage photos at cals.arizona.edu/bta/pinals.