Nevada Fall Colors: Finding Gold—and Orange and Red—in the Silver State

People who don’t live in Nevada often think of it as a dry, desert state filled with sagebrush, cactus, and barren hills. But Nevada has the most named mountain ranges of any state in the country. Many of its 300 mountain ranges reach above 10,000 feet. And in those mountains are large groves of aspens and other greenery that provide a spectacular fall display. Willows bedecked out in their yellow fall colors also grow in riparian zones next to streams, lakes, and springs. Meanwhile cottonwoods and other trees grow in valleys and canyons.

If you love fall color, Nevada has plenty of it. The display usually lasts for a while, starting at the higher elevations and working its way down into the valleys. Here are some trees that are the main players in Nevada’s fall color show. (For directions and more information about places in this article, we recommend buying our Nevada Fall Color map).

Cottonwood (Populus fremontii)

These tall, majestic trees spread out their limbs over many of Nevada’s scenic valleys. They can grow to heights of 70 to 90 feet usually around streams, lakes, and springs. Their spade-shaped leaves have serrated edges. The main type of cottonwood found in Nevada is the Fremont Cottonwood, which turns gold or golden-orange in fall.

Some places to find them:

            • Lahontan Reservoir

            • Dayton State Park

            • Carson Valley

            • Smith and Mason Valleys

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Aspens showing fall colors at Kingston Canyon, Nevada

Known for their heart-shaped leaves that shiver in the wind, quaking aspens offer a river of color flowing down the slopes of Nevada’s mountains. In the fall, they paint the mountains with golds, oranges, and reds. One interesting aspen fact: aspens perform photosynthesis in their bark in addition to their leaves. So when other trees are dormant in the winter, aspens go on producing sugar for energy even in the cold months.

Some places in Nevada to find them:

            • Spooner Summit

            • Mount Rose

            • Toiyabe Mountains

            • Mount Jefferson/Pine Creek area

            • Lamoille Canyon

            • Great Basin National Park

            • Kyle and Lee Canyons (Spring Mountains)

Willows

willow trees

A number of different types of willows grow throughout the state. Sierra willow (Salix orestera)—also called gray-leafed Sierra willow—is native to Western Nevada. Find these shrubs along streams, lakes, and seeps. Their long, lance-shaped leaves turn golden yellow in the fall.

Some places to find them:

• Tahoe Meadows

• Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge

• Cave Lake State Park

• Peavine Creek

Ash

There are at least a couple of different types of ash trees growing in the state. For example, at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area you’ll find single-leaf ash (Fraxinus anomala) and velvet ash (Fraxinus velutina). Reaching almost 40 feet up towards the sky, Velvet ash is the tallest of these two types of ash trees. Single-leaf ash trees are much wider and shorter, growing only 25 feet tall. For a photo of ash trees, visit the Red Rock Canyon website.  

Some places to find them:

• Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

• Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Alder

Mountain alder (Alnus tenufolia) is native to Nevada. Growing up to 20 feet, this tree is found along streams and wet areas. During fall, their ridged leaves change to yellow. See this photo on the Truckee Meadows Water Authority website.  

A good place to find them:

• Bird Creek Recreation Area

Water Birch (Betula occidentalis)

As the name implies, this tree grows alongside creeks and streams. Recognize them by their dark, brown to maroon-colored bark and oval-shaped leaves. You’ll find them from 5,000 to 10,000 feet, where they turn yellow and gold in the fall. To see a photo of the barks and leaves, go to Wikipedia.

Some places to find them:

• Big Creek area near Austin

• Washington Creek/Cottonwood Creek near Austin

Oaks

These are more common in gardens throughout the state than they are in wild landscapes. However, white oaks grow in Kershaw-Ryan State Park. They dress up in bronze or red throughout the fall.

Some places to find them:

• Kershaw-Ryan State Park

• Carson City

• Reno

Maples

maple trees

These mostly grow in gardens throughout Nevada. Driving past Nevada’s ranch houses you’ll often see them lining driveways or the fence lines. The result? Rows of red color.

Some places to find them:

• Carson Valley

• Carson City

• Reno

Cover of Nevada Fall Color Map

Questions about the areas mentioned in this article? We recommend downloading our Nevada Fall Color map.

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