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See the Fall Leaves Near Utah's National Parks

fall foliage Arches National Park

Canyon of yellow, Courthouse Wash, Arches National Park. Photo: Neal Herbert/NPS

Sure, any of Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks are spectacular year round — covered in snow, peppered with spring wildflowers, and baked in sunshine. But find them exponentially special when the changing fall leaves are in juxtaposition to the immaculate red rock cliffs.

Enjoy Capitol Reef and Zion during the fall season (or take the La Sal Loop Drive near Moab for a different perspective on southeast Utah). Make these national parks a destination unto themselves, or wrap them into one of the aforementioned drives — either way, you can’t lose.

The Park: Capitol Reef National Park

This underrated national park has features — knobs, ridges, and slot canyons — that rival anything else in the world. While there are miles and miles of immaculate hiking trails, which are totally worth every bit of your time, much of the grandeur of Capitol Reef National Park can be taken in and accessed by vehicle.

Start with the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. This 25-mile round trip is on paved road and is accessible by all vehicles. There are a number of pull-offs to take in the towering sandstone cliffs, red rock, and fall foliage of the park. Don’t miss Panorama Point/Goosenecks view area. Get out of the car for the Grand Wash trail. Also picnicking along the Fremont River is a must; the plant life along the river makes for some of the most epic color gawking in the park.

Top Hikes:

  • Fremont River Trail
  • Grand Wash
  • Frying Pan Trail
  • Golden Throne
  • Hickman Bridge
Zion National Park fall foliage

The incredible contrast in Zion Canyon.

The Park: Zion National Park

While the hiking in Zion National Park is incredible, there are several scenic drives to take in the autumnal wonders. For starters, take a regularly-scheduled shuttle bus along the six-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which travels along the North Fork of the Virgin River through some of the park’s most outstanding scenery. It’s closed to vehicle traffic through October. To hit the road yourself, don’t miss the 54-mile (one way) Zion Park Scenic Byway. The drive travels from I-15 to US 89 to the east and gives drivers plenty opportunities to pull off the road to take photos.

Those willing and ready to hike will be rewarded with world-famous trails that travel past clear pools and natural arches, through narrow canyons, and up traverses to immaculate vistas. But to see the waterfalls and red rock play in beautiful tandem with the changing colors of maple, oak, and shrub is a thing of sheer delight, and is not to be missed.

Top Hikes:

  • Hidden Canyon
  • Lower Emerald Pools
  • The Narrows
  • Riverside Walk
fall foliage capitol reef national park

The warmth of a fall landscape in Fremont River Canyon, Capitol Reef. Photo: Chris Roundtree/NPS

Moab-Area Fall Leaves

To be fair, we had to drive a little far afield of Arches National Park to see fall leaves in this corner of Southern Utah. But boy was it worth it. The La Sal Mountain Loop Road is a 60-mile tour well beyond the bustle of Moab and Arches that takes more than two hours straight-through, and longer planning time for stops.

Some of the best views are at overlooks pointed back over the red rock formations of Castle Valley as the road winds and climbs to more than 10,000 feet. Along the way, the vegetation changes from the juniper and pinyon common on the Colorado Plateau to the larger evergreen pines and colorful aspen blend that make this season so popular.

Read these additional resources to learn how to travel thoughtfully and experience the national parks most fully.

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