Winnemucca’s Water Canyon: The Fall Foliage Show Has Begun

A foliator’s worst fear is that a snowstorm and cold weather will wipe out the fall color. That’s why after this next cold storm on Monday, Water Canyon Recreation Area near Winnemucca may put your worst fears to rest. 

Many of the aspens higher up in the canyon are still a healthy looking green. That means they won’t get blown off by the wind. And they have a greater chance of resisting the cold temperatures and snow without freezing.

Water Canyon Winnemucca, 10-7-21, Kim Wilkes

Plus, Water Canyon is at a lower elevation than other places in the state that are peaking. It’s around 6,200 feet. So the temperatures won’t get as bitterly cold as up at the 9,000 foot level. That might keep the leaves from freezing. 

There are no guarantees, though. Snow levels are supposed to drop to the valley floors of Nevada from Sunday night through Monday night. But in my opinion this is one of the places that may come out okay after the snowstorm.

What’s Water Canyon Like?

This is really a lovely canyon easily accessible from I-80 and Winnemucca. In the lower canyon, a mixture of small aspens and other trees are the main stars of the fall foliage show. 

Lower Water Canyon Fall Color, 10-5-21, Kim Wilkes

Higher up the road, statuesque aspens stand straight and tall where the main road ends and turns into an ATV track. Along this track, fall color decorates the canyon floor and mountainsides thanks to aspens, willows, and streamside shrubs with red leaves.

Upper Water Canyon Near the Last Campsite, 10-5-21, Kim Wilkes
Shrubs add splotches of red in upper Water Canyon, 10-7-21, Kim Wilkes

Smaller trees that look like they might be water birch mingle with the aspens. Interesting rock formations rise up above the foliage. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Water Canyon Campground feels more like dispersed camping but some of the campsites are near vault (pit) toilets. The camp spaces under the aspens are particularly nice.  

The stream here is a lot smaller than I expected given the name of the canyon. However, it was just enough water to serenade me as I walked up the trail/ATV track. 

How the Fall Color Looked October 5 and 7

I visited Water Canyon on my way to Elko on October 5 and then on my way back on October 7. The trees at the bottom of the canyon were at the Getting Better stage approaching Near Peak. Unlike the green aspens higher up, these bottom dwellers might not fare as well during Monday’s storm since the leaves are farther along and subject to blowing off or freezing. 

Lower Water Canyon, 10-5-21, Kim Wilkes

However, the larger cottonwoods mid-canyon are only at the mid-Getting Better stage and are a mixture of yellow and green.

Cottonwoods, Water Canyon near Winnemucca, 10-5-21, Kim Wilkes

And the aspens growing where the main road ends are not as far along. There’s still a lot of green even in the upper canyon with only Patchy yellow and orange here and there. That bodes better for their ability to keep changing colors even after the cold weather passes. 

Upper Water Canyon, 10-7-21, Kim Wilkes
Scattered orange aspens here and there in the upper Water Canyon, 10-5-21, Kim Wilkes

Up canyon from the last campsite, trees were covered in golden bronze leaves. These were much smaller than aspens and had darker bark. They were at the Fading stage, so I’m not sure they’ll survive the cold weather or wind. Not to worry, though: there are plenty of aspens in this area to make up for the other types of trees that dropped their leaves. 

Saw a few new friends as I was leaving. Pronghorn antelope, Water Canyon, 10-5-21

If You’re Going

Winnemucca is 167 miles east of Reno. You could manage this as a long day trip if you live in Reno or stay at one of the many lodging properties in Winnemucca. 

One nice thing about the drive from Reno: the cottonwoods along the Truckee River from around the USA Parkway area to Fernley should be taking on their yellow hues soon. That’s always a serene sight as you drive along bustling I-80.  

Water Canyon Fall Color Report

These percentages are from October 7. The fall color is likely farther along as I post this blog on October 10.

Lower Canyon: Getting Better (45%)

Mid-Canyon: Getting Better (35%) 

Upper Canyon: Patchy (20%)

2 thoughts on “Winnemucca’s Water Canyon: The Fall Foliage Show Has Begun”

  1. Fall colors in the cottonwood trees on the south side of Yerington along the Walker River are just barely beginning.

    1. Thanks for the update, Judy. When things start happening over there send us a photo(s) and a fall color report. We’re giving away a $50 Amazon gift card to the person who sends in the best photo of the season together with their report.

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