Fall Canyon Colors Report


By Jerry Boyer
author; Canyon Echoes


September 29th


Fall colors in Spearfish Canyon have hit peak at 100% saturation today.  The drive is sensation with so many brilliant and vivid colors of yellows, golds, oranges, purples, and reds.


One of the nicer displays we have had in many years.


Weekend touring on Saturday should be equally exciting, but gusty winds forecasted for Sunday may begin diminishing the scenic view.


Drive carefully around the 86 mostly blind curves to protect the critters scurrying to fill their nests, and the many hikers, bikers, and slow moving cars.


It’s been fun.  See you next year…Jerry




September 26th


Something magical has happened in Spearfish Canyon since the three days of rain.  Color saturation has slowed with colors only at 90% since Friday’s report of 85%.  While some leaves are falling, the rain has invigorated most leaves and are holding on as the many lime trees are just beginning their burst of colors.  If the winds don’t blow, peak may occur as late as Friday or this weekend.


What makes the Autumn leaves in Spearfish Canyon so unique. It’s more than just the leaves. It’s always UP-CLOSE-AND-PERSONAL as you drive the Scenic Byway through the spine of the canyon.  Unlike other canyons, the rhapsody of colors in Spearfish Canyon combine the unique convergence of 4 vegetation communities and 5 rock types within its 20-mile drive spanning nearly 2,000 feet in elevation. The canyon’s rich biodiversity contains an unusually high ensemble of over 1,260 vibrantly colorful plants. The contrasting multicolored canyon walls of green shale, red limestone, yellow sandstone, dark-gray igneous, and tan-gray Madison limestone appear and disappear beneath the canyon floor. The scenic canyon drive follows the meandering bluish-green rapids of Spearfish Creek while the entire scene is framed in a deep emerald green pine and spruce forest.


In the lower elevation near the mouth of the Canyon near Spearfish, the Northern Great Plains Grasslandscontrast the red limestone high walls with the rich gold and orange colors of the oak and cottonwoods, the yellows of the prairie grasses, and reds of the sumac.


A few more miles up the canyon near Bridal Veil Falls, the Rocky Mountain Coniferous Forest hosts the yellow sandstone high walls with the towering dark emerald-green of the ponderosa pine, purples of the dogwood, and reds of the nannyberry.


Further up near Victoria, the Eastern Deciduous Forest displays the tan-gray limestone high walls with the vivid golden and orange aspen and birch, yellows of the ferns, and reds of the ivy.


Beyond Savoy to Cheyenne Crossing, the Northern Coniferous Forest highlights the green shale and tan limestone high walls with the vibrant dark-emerald white spruce, golden willows and oranges of the hawthorn.


The yellows and golds are so vivid and the reds, oranges, and purples so brilliantly plentiful. It’s amazing that primarily only four leafy tree-types can create such awesome splendor and excitement. The Oak and Aspen leaves start with gold and end in orange; the Birch and Cottonwood start with yellow and end in gold. The colorful trees are highlighted by the sharp contrast of the plentiful dark emerald-green Pine and Spruce evergreens. Primary color pigment of the shrubs and ground cover are: yellows of the Willow, Thimbleberry, and Fern; golds of the Goldenrod; reds of the Sumac, Nannyberry, Chokecherry, wild grape, and Ivy; purple of the Dogwood; and orange of the Serviceberry.


Color chart of primary vegetation:


Primary Fall Leaf Colors in Spearfish Canyon
colortreeshrubsfloor cover






OrangeLate Oak

Late Aspen





Wild Grape

Emerald GreenPine



Please drive carefully around the 86 canyon curves (mostly blind curves) to protect the critters scurrying to fill their nests for the winter ahead, and the many bikers, and hikers walking the shoulders.

Next report Friday.





September 22nd



Canyon colors near 85% with the full rhapsody of fall colors emerging in a spectacular vivid display, especially the reds of the Sumac, Nannyberry, Wild Grape, and Ivy. Beware of the luring bright red ivy leafs near the ground…do not pick as they are poison ivy 🙁


If the winds don’t blow, peak looks good for Wednesday, September 27.


The days are growing shorter and the trees have sensed the increased darkness by dropping their leaves in preparation for the frigid winter landscape ahead. Today marks the first day of Fall, the autumn equinox (meaning equal nights), where the day is equally divided between light and dark. Typically in our area, the longest day of the year is 15 hours of sunlight in June, and shortest 9 hours in January….a 6 hour difference.



Please drive carefully to protect hikers, bikers, “slow-moving vehicles”, and the little critters who are scurrying back and forth across the roadway filling their nests for the long winter ahead.


Next report Tuesday.



September 19th


Following the recent rains, canyon colors have slowed to 70%. Still looks like an early peak somewhere between September 25-27.


Today’s drive was simply beautiful with more golds and reds popping out all over. This weekend should be sensational.  If the winds don’t blow, the following weekend should be outstanding.


The canyon’s rhapsody of colorful foliage inspired Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 to call write: Spearfish Canyon is the most miraculous canyon in the West”“a South Dakota Treasure of noble inheritance”and conclude that “Had Spearfish Canyon been on the throughway to westward migration, the canyon would be as significant in public appreciation as the Grand Canyon is today.


Please drive carefully to protect hikers, bikers, “slow-moving vehicles”, and the little critters who are scurrying back and forth across the roadway filling their nests for the long winter ahead.Next report Friday.



September 15th


Recent rains have slowed the pace of canyon colors reaching 60% today.  Still may be an early peak around September 25-27.


Brilliant reds of the Sumac, Nannyberry, and Ivy and yellows of the Oak, Aspen, and Birch trees are popping out all over.  The weekend drive will be sensational and may be with us for 3 weekends of splendor if the winds don’t blow.


Please drive carefully to protect hikers, bikers, “slow-moving vehicles”, and the little critters who are scurrying back and forth across the roadway filling their nests for the long winter ahead.



September 12th


Canyon colors are at 45%, and I remain amazed at the early pace of colors this year.


The yellows, golds and reds are popping out all over from the lime and dark-emerald-green canyon forest.


Why autumn leaves? In the fall, Nature calls and three events occur: the days get darker, temperatures begin to cool, and the air becomes dry. Leafy trees head Nature’s Call and the chlorophyll in the leaves that once convert sunlight to food stops. The dark green leaves start to fade into a brilliant lime color, and eventually color pigments of yellow, red and gold show through. The trees drop their leaves to protect themselves from drying out in the winter.


Trees that drop their leaves in the autumn are called Deciduous coming from the Latin word meaning “to fall”.


Unlike leafy trees and plants, the evergreen pine and spruce trees have needles, and they’re coated with wax. They do not shed their needles since they can keep enough moisture inside during the dry-cold winter air.


According to 20-year attached chart, peak may occur around September 25-27. However, with rain forecasted for Friday, the pace may slow down. I have learned one very humbling thing in this canyon color business, you can’t fool Mother Nature 🙂


Next report Friday.



September 8th


Canyon colors are coming on quickly and early now at 25%,  Colors will certainly hit 40% lime saturation before Tuesday.  All the varied vegetation are responding to the early pace.
Though color peak in impossible to predict, you can’t fool Mother Nature, similar early colors in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2012, and 2014 peaked between September 23 and September 27.  Only new moisture may slow down the rapid pace of the changing colors.
There is sufficient scattering of yellows, limes, and reds throughout the Canyon now to make the drive very enjoyable.


September 6th


Here we go again…seems like just yesterday.



Like 2012, colors are early this year starting in late August.  This might mean an early peak around September 25.  Who knows, you can’t fool Mother Nature.


Colors are at 15% with floor vegetation and many small shrubs turning yellow.  Large leafy trees are turning lime green already and may reach total lime by early next week. Total lime is called 40% saturation.


Early colors might indicate a very dry summer season with half the typical moisture for the canyon.  No, it was not the solar eclipse


We’ll know more by Friday’s report.

Fall Colors 9/8
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Canyon Colors 9/6