The lonely quaking aspen glowed like a yellow flame against the dark-green backdrop of the evergreen forest.

You couldn’t miss the tree while driving Idaho 21 along the South Fork of the Payette River, east of Lowman, in the Boise National Forest.

Fall colors are busting out all over from Ketchum to Council and beyond, and the coming weekends are ripe for a fall-colors drive or ride.

“The colors are amazing,” said Ed Cannaday, wilderness coordinator with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

“All the way from Stanley to Ketchum, the aspens are in fine form,” he said.

Idaho isn’t Vermont where you’ll find vast carpets of reds and oranges across hills. But, you’ll still find some beautiful color among evergreen forests and gray sagebrush side hills.

Idaho’s fall colors pop out at you, especially the yellow and red underbrush along rivers, the cottonwoods along rivers in low-elevation valleys and the aspens in the high country.

On a recent drive from Boise to Stanley on Idaho 21, fall colors were immediately spotted along lower Mores Creek.

The colors are bright and vivid, but you may also find they’re short-lived because of the extreme dry conditions of the summer that caused some leaves to dry out before the color change.

Some trees also may have lost their leaves in the recent frosts. You might see yellow aspen leaves with a fringe of black.

At any rate, it’s still worth a drive to see splotches of color in the forest.

Here are a few drives to take (you can also park the car and ride your bike to slow down the pace and really take in the colors):


  • The drive around Payette Lake is highlighted by cottonwoods and aspens and underbrush. Head out the Warren Wagon Road and return on Eastside Drive.
  • The best drive in the fall is up over Lick Creek toward the Secesh River, said Gina Bonaminio, spokeswoman for the Payette National Forest in McCall. “Lick Creek Road can be very washboarded this time of year, but it is amazing with the aspen and tamaracks changing,” she said.
  • You can make it a loop route going over to the South Fork of the Salmon River to Warm Lake and out to Cascade.
  • Check out the drive along Farm to Market Road from Roseberry to McCall. These are full-day trips from the Treasure Valley.


  • The loop drive around Lake Cascade offers fall colors against the backdrop of the reservoir and West Mountain.It’s an easy day drive from the Treasure Valley. Start in Donnelly and head west to Tamarack Resort and follow the road around the reservoir back to Idaho 55, where you can return to Cascade or head back to the Treasure Valley. You’ll be driving on Forest Road 422 and on West Mountain Road. You’ll find lots of yellows and golds from aspen and cottonwood, and also a variety of colors from willows and underbrush.


  • The Council-Cuprum Road starting at Council is an ideal fall drive, according to the U.S. Forest Service. You’ll see a variety of trees and brush in the river bottoms and up on the side hills. This is a slightly long day trip from the Treasure Valley. Expect about 2 to 2/12 hours driving time to Council.


 The drive along Idaho 21 yields colors immediately in the basalt canyon of the lower Mores Creek. You’ll see yellow underbrush along the stream spiced with reds and dark purples, including the orange and reds of poison ivy. From there over Mores Creek Summit to Lowman and toward Stanley, you’ll find plenty of color. Plan a picnic along the South Fork of the Payette River. This is an easy day trip from the Treasure Valley.


  • The drive from Ketchum to Stanley on Idaho 75 is probably one of the premier drives in Idaho when it comes to seeing glowing aspens. The U.S. Forest Service reports now is the time. Don’t miss it. This is a long day trip from the Treasure Valley. It would make a more relaxed overnighter to really take in the area.


  • You don’t have to go far to enjoy fall colors and you don’t have to drive. Take a bike ride or hike along the Boise Greenbelt and you’ll see a variety of colors. Kathryn Albertson Park is always a hit, and you’ll find a variety of colors in the park. This is an easy afternoon outing, but for the best photos, try evening.


  • This is a sure bet for late October and an easy afternoon drive. Drive around the south end of the lake where the trees are thick. You’ll spot yellows, reds and a variety of other colors. Don’t be surprised to see the yellows of full-grown asparagus plants.
  • Take Riverside Drive across the dam and turn on Lake Shore Drive. You can even take a few hikes down the trails at the access points. Gotts Point Trail is also a good one for hikers and horseback riders.


  • Wait until later in the month for the golden glow of tamaracks (larch) near Cougar Mountain Lodge at Smiths Ferry. Drive Idaho 55 about 60 miles north of Boise. It’s an easy day trip from the Treasure Valley.
  • If you have a vehicle capable of washboarded dirt and gravel roads, go west and then south on Forest Service Road 644 to Ola and continue through Sweet to Idaho 52, which will take you back to Idaho 55 at Horseshoe Bend.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

Image courtesy Pete Zimowsky

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