Vibrant hues of autumn — gold, amber and red — are heralding the season high in the Catalina Mountains this week.

The leaves of aspen and maple trees are the stars of the color show, but other trees and shrubs add to the mountains’ palette.

“This is just one more thing to love about the Santa Catalina Mountains,” said Heidi Schewel, spokeswoman for the Coronado National Forest, which includes the Catalinas. “You can start the day enjoying the desert warmth, and in a relatively short time find yourself on a mountainside surrounded by pine trees, blazing golden aspens and bursts of red maples. For some people that’s priceless.”

The expanse of colorful fall foliage might not rival what you could see in Vermont or Colorado. But here’s the thing: Those places are far away. It’s possible to reach the Catalinas’ color in a drive of about an hour up the 25-mile Catalina Highway northeast of Tucson.

At this time of year, you’ll see a fair amount of color near the highway and at pullouts along the way. But for a closer look, consider a short walk in the woods.

COLORFUL SITES

Here are some places for an on-foot, up-close look at autumn color:

  • Bear Wallow — Drive to the 22-mile point on the Catalina Highway and watch for a right turnoff onto an unpaved road. There is no parking lot, but many leaf watchers park carefully on the side of the road after driving less than a quarter-mile. An unsigned trail leads down a slope to the bottom of the wallow. For some of the best views, follow a trail back toward the highway and walk through a large culvert under the highway to a forest with maple and aspen trees.
  • Marshall Gulch — Drive about 25 miles up the Catalina Highway to the village of Summerhaven. Drive through Summerhaven and continue south about a mile to trailheads. The Marshall Gulch Trail winds through forests that often show autumn color in October.
  • Mount Lemmon area — Take Catalina Highway past mile marker 24 and watch for a right turnoff for Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, where aspen color often lasts until late October.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@tucson.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz