Fall Color in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert near Roosevelt Lake

November 2015 – The climb up lofty Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona had given us some beautiful autumn colors, and we were treated to even more as we drove our RV into central Arizona.

Autumn leaves Sonoran Desert riparian area Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Autumn splendor in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

Fall color Sonoran Desert Riparian area Arizona

Colorful trees stood alongside the rivers, streams and washes.

We scooted along Route 88 to Roosevelt Lake and did some exploring along the shores of this beautiful body of water, the largest lake in the middle of the state. We had arrived at the peak of the Sonoran Desert’s fall foliage season.

Autumn colors Roosevelt Lake Arizona

One of many gorgeous views across Roosevelt Lake

It may not seem possible that a desert would have a fall foliage season, but the Sonoran Desert’s wetland areas along streams and washes (called “riparian” habitats) are loaded with wonderful sycamores and cottonwoods that turn vivid yellow and orange come fall.

Roosevelt Lake was created in 1911 by damming up the Salt River, and the water level rises and falls. Right now it was very low — the lake was just 40% full — and yellow trees filled an area that at times has been filled with water.

Autumn color Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Golden trees fill the void while the lake is down.

We found lots of rounded, smooth rocks along one part of the lake.

Roosevelt Lake Arizona pebble beach

A rocky shore

Even where the colors were muted, little bits of autumn flame peeked through, and the colors in late afternoon were just gorgeous.

Fall leaves sycamore trees Arizona desert

Fall colors reflected in the water.

Four Peaks Arizona Roosevelt Lake

A view of Four Peaks across the lake and desert

Roosevelt Lake autumn color Arizona

Compare this to the previous pic – Lighting is everything!

In one spot, Mark discovered a lone yellow wildflower looking up and opening its petals to the sun.

Wildflower Arizona desert

A tiny wildflower looks up from the ground.

Roosevelt Lake is an enormous lake whose southern shore runs for some 50 miles. In many places the saguaros were all standing around in groups. They seemed to be conversing in the morning sun. I wonder if they were sharing memories of a time when this lake was just an unpredictable river.

Sonoran Desert saguaro cactus Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Saguaro cactus commune in the morning sun by the lake.

On the far shore of the lake there were rolling hills of red sand. What a beautiful sight!

Roosevelt Lake Arizona Saguaro Cactus

Colors of the desert.

Saguaros are the sentinels of the desert, and they seemed to be keeping an eye on things at the lake.

Saguaro cactus Roosevelt Lake Arizona


Meanwhile, down by the water’s edge, campers had set up their RVs right on the beach.

Lakeside RV boondocking Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Lakeside camping.

What a fantastic place to camp! Unfortunately, several of the boondocking areas along Roosevelt Lake were closed. We were told the closure was temporary, from mid-November to mid-February, and it was to protect the Canada geese.

Apparently the powers that be have never been to the green grassy areas in nearby Scottsdale where the Canada geese are thriving! Needless to say, there wasn’t a goose to be found.

RV boondocking Popup tent trailer Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Room with a view.

But there were two spots open, and RVers were enjoying beautiful waterfront campsites with views to die for.

RV boondocking Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Not a bad place to be!

And of course the sunsets were spectacular…

Roosevelt Lake sunset Arizona

An Arizona sunset at the lake.

For RV travelers who want to experience the Sonoran Desert in the peak of autumn glory, the season is the last two weeks of November, and the colors can be found anywhere there’s water.

RV Arizona sunset fifth wheel trailer

What a place!

Roosevelt Lake has hundreds of dry camping campsites in several different formal campgrounds as well as boondocking available along the lake. You need to get a Tonto Pass ($6 per night ($3 for seniors)), and they are sold at the convenience stores in the communities that lie at the eastern and western ends of the lake. Beginning in January, 2016, the rates will increase to $8 per night ($4 for seniors). There are flush toilets and hot showers at the Windy Hill and Choilla campgrounds.

Never miss a post — it’s free!

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the top MENU above.

A few more of our blog posts from our RV travels in central Arizona:

More about Roosevelt Lake:

<-Previous || Next->

4 thoughts on “Fall Color in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert near Roosevelt Lake

      • Thanks!!! We have 18 mo 23 days and 23 hours, but hey, who’s counting?? LOL My husband is retired Army working a second career and we are finishing up loose ends while we save the cash for truck and trailer. (loose ends=three kids, two just graduated college and the third has one semester left!!). All coming together. 🙂


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *