Top Drives & Hikes For Fall Foliage
See a kaleidoscope of fall colors throughout Utah
Your mouth has been agape ever since you pulled onto this scenic highway. Don’t worry — it’s a totally normal response as folks take in Utah’s abundant and colorful fall foliage. Keep driving along the scenic byway or pullover to hike deep into Utah’s wild woods, and take in some of the best fall foliage you’ll find anywhere in America.
An unlikely hot spot for great fall leaves viewing — often overlooked for places such New England or the Smoky Mountains — Utah is an ideal place to see nature’s paintbrush at play. There are a number of native trees which create brilliant hues of red, orange, yellow, and purple (sometimes all on the same tree!). A cascade of color comes from Canyon Maple, Quaking Aspen, Scrub Oak, Douglas Hawthorn, Serviceberries, evergreens, and more — each turning in succession.
Add to this the wide array of forests and national parks that are located at different elevations and receive varying amounts of rainfall. This creates a multitude of peak viewing times throughout the state, so you can come early or late in the season and still spot breathtaking colors.
When to See Utah’s Fall Leaves
It’s difficult to predict the exact dates of the leaves turning, because there are a number of factors involved. But a good gauge is to assume that the best fall foliage viewing season begins in the highest elevations in mid-September and wraps in early-October in most places.
The season beckons for long weekend drives and adventurous hiking and backpacking trips. Let us take you there — read on to find the best places for viewing fall foliage and check out the photo gallery below for a preview.
1. The Drive: Mirror Lake Highway
–Near Park City, Utah–
Reaching north from Kamas, Utah, to Evanston, Wyoming, The Mirror Lake Scenic Byway traverses through the Uinta Mountains — America’s only major mountain range on an east/west axis. The byway is 78 miles each way, much of which parallels the Provo River. Find panoramic views of the alpine landscape from the road’s high point at Bald Mountain Pass (10,715 feet above sea level) or stop at scenic overlooks and numerous lakes. Each year, some two million visitors partake in the recreational activities in the Uintas, which includes camping, hiking, fishing, or simply scenic driving. Driving the entire stretch of the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway can take more than three hours, including the return trip, but will be longer depending on side adventures. Clicked on the featured hike to see fee information.
Featured Hike: Christmas Meadows to Amethyst Lake
More Top Hikes: Wall Lake, Crystal Lake
2. The Drive: Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
–Near Provo, Utah, and Sundance Mountain Resort–
This 24-mile drive veers up American Fork Canyon, cuts through the Uinta National Forest’s towering 12,000-foot mountains, and winds down into Provo Canyon. Rugged alpine canyons are brimming with golden aspens and crimson-colored maple; these trees are sharply contrasted with a backdrop of the area’s evergreen forest. The colors give way to stunning views of Mount Timpanogos and other glacier-carved peaks.
Many locals find the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway to be the ne plus ultra of scenic fall drives. It’s easy to understand why. Lush vegetation characterizes this route, which is also marked with popular family-friendly attractions. Time permitting, stop off for a tour of Timpanogos Cave National Monument and Sundance Mountain Resort. There are also more rugged recreational opportunities along the byway, such as trails leading into the Mt. Timpanogos and Lone Peak Wilderness areas. Click on the featured hike to see fee information.
Featured Hike: Cascade Springs
More Top Hikes: Mt. Timpanogos (especially Aspen Cove), Stewart Falls (located at Sundance) and the Silver Lake Trail
Alternative Experience: Heber Valley Railroad
3. The Drive: Fishlake Scenic Byway Forest
–Central Utah, near Capitol Reef National Park–
An often-skipped-over oasis, Fishlake National Forest boasts something for every traveler – scenic drives, mountain biking, snowmobiling, hiking, camping, and OHV activities. Its three mountain ranges and desert canyons are primarily located to the east of I-15 and to the north and south of I-70.
Fishlake National Forest’s prize jewel is Fish Lake and the surrounding acres of recreational bliss. Known for its beautiful aspen forests—including Pando, the heaviest organism in the world — and eager-to-bite mackinaw and rainbow trout, make sure this spot is on your autumn bucket list.
The high-alpine lake sits at about 8,800 feet above sea level and is surrounded by Quaking Aspens, which are brilliantly yellow and amber during the fall. It makes for a picturesque drive along Fishlake Scenic Byway (Highway 25) as you head from Highway 24 to the north edge of the lake. The route in total is 30 miles and can be driven in approximately two hours, depending on side trips, and is suitable for all vehicles.
Featured Hike: Hike with Pando/Lakeshore National Recreation Trail
4. The Drive: All-American Road Scenic Byway 12 through Boulder Mountain and Aquarius Plateau
–Between Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park–
This is one epic road. Welcome to Scenic Byway 12, also known as “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.” What’s more, this stretch of pavement is also designated an All-American Road. Scenic Byway 12 begins to the west in Panguitch and ends in Torrey to the northeast, via a four-plus hour drive, depending on how many times you stop. It connects Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks with many a natural wonder along the way.
But for fall foliage gawking, the place travelers spend the most time is on the section winding through Boulder Mountain.
Traverse through the aspen and pine groves and meadowlands of Boulder Mountain. Don’t worry, there are plenty of pull-offs and scenic overlooks so you don’t have to take pictures while driving (not recommended). Boulder Mountain is approximately one half of the Aquarius Plateau in Wayne and Garfield counties. It sprawls over an expansive 50,000 acres, and is the highest timbered plateau in North America. The possibilities are endless for adventure on Boulder Mountain. There are more than 80 lakes and ponds to choose from, many can be accessed via well-maintained dirt and gravel roads or are just a mere hike from a road via rolling forest and meadowlands. Patches of yellow aspens in contrast to clear, blue skies make this one a winner in the fall.
Featured Hike: Fish Creek Reservoir via the Great Western Trail
More Top Hikes and Destinations: Pear Lake, Lower Bowns Reservoir, Round Lake, Long Lake, Chokecherry Point
5. The Drive: Ogden River Scenic Byway & Trappers Loop Scenic Backway
–Northern Utah, about 45 minutes from Salt Lake City–
Heading east from Ogden, it’s incredible how dense and varied the foliage gets along this scenic drive within minutes out from the metropolitan area. Most color-seekers will travel along the Ogden River Scenic Byway for 44 miles to the eastern boundary of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest at the Monte Cristo Campground. This jaunt passes through narrow canyon, an expansive and beautiful valley, and some fine mountain meadows and forest. It’s some of the prettiest stretches in Northern Utah.
An optional side-trip includes the 9-mile (one way) Trappers Loop Scenic Backway, which begets marvelous views of the northern Wasatch Front. Come back to the Ogden River Scenic Byway and continue eastward. You’ll drive to the lovely towns of Huntsville and Eden — both have great options for eating if you don’t plan to stop at a day-use area to picnic. In total, the drive will take about three hours, depending on how much you stop and if you take Trappers. If you still haven’t had enough fall foliage, you can continue to drive to Woodruff in the Bear River Valley.
Featured Hike: Skyline Trail/Great Ogden Divide Trail (Plus a bonus hike from Snowbasin's Needles Gondola)
More Top Hikes: Maples Campground Trail, Skull Crack Trail, Wolf Canyon Trail at Powder Mountain
6. The Drive: Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway
–Northern Utah, about 90 minutes from Salt Lake City en route to Bear Lake–
Few places rival the fall beauty of Cache Valley. The agricultural area has undeveloped terrain, old farms, and plenty of plant life to show off the painterly quality of the harvest season. The 41-mile Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway, one of the most scenic routes in Utah, runs alongside the Logan River from Logan, at an elevation of 4,525 feet, climbs to Bear lake Summit, at nearly 7,800 feet, and ends in Garden City at Bear Lake.
Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway takes about one hour to drive each way; it is paved and accessible to all passenger vehicles. Much of the trip looks on to limestone cliffs and trees along the roadways and up the mountains. Aspens, maple, and more, are ablaze in a multitude of hues witnessed next to evergreens and deep blue waters of the area’s many lakes and reservoirs.
The drive runs along the swerving Logan River and past numerous campgrounds, picnic areas, fishing areas. Many a worthy stop-offs include Old Ephraim’s Grave, Rick’s Spring, Tony Grove Lake, and Bear Lake Viewpoint. You’ll also pass numerous trailheads, so make sure to get out of the car and stretch your legs to take in more of the seasonal splendor. The scenic byway peaks at a vista overlooking the turquoise waters of Bear Lake — often nicknamed “the Caribbean of the Rockies” — then heads to Garden City. You can turn around here or continue onward to the Idaho border.
Featured Hike: Wind Cave
More Top Hikes: Tony Grove Lake, Crimson Trail, Bogus and Dry Hollow
7. The Drive: Flaming Gorge–Uintas National Scenic Byway
–Eastern Utah, near Vernal, Dinosaur National Monument and the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area–
Nothing quite rivals the immaculate landscape of Flaming Gorge when it’s all the more ablaze with the golden and crimson hues of autumn. The Flaming Gorge-Uintas Scenic Byway is 82-miles one way and can take more than four hours to complete, depending on the number of stops. Drive from Vernal through the Ashley National Forest. You will pass Steinaker State Park and Red Fleet State Park as you climb into the Uinta Mountains before topping out around 8.400 feet in elevation. Then, carry onward to the aptly-named, water-filled Flaming Gorge.
The byway features more than a dozen interpretive pullouts and eventual accesses to the hiking, biking, and myriad other outdoor opportunities of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Enjoy varied terrain as you roll along from deserts to evergreen forests to aspen groves to red rocks. Highway 44 National Scenic Byway is known as “Drive Through the Ages” — it’s one of the richest spots in the West for both historical fossils and varied wildlife.
Featured Hike and Nearby Mountain Biking: Little Hole National Scenic Trail
More Top Hikes: Basset Springs Loop, Jones Hole Trail
8. The Drives: Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway and S.R. 14
–Southern Utah, between Cedar City and Panguitch near Cedar Breaks National Monument–
Take a pretty route from Parowan to Panguitch via state Route 143. You’ll head from just outside Brian Head through impossibly beautiful forests onward to an idyllic lake. This route is especially inspiring because you’ll have a 4,500-foot elevation change as you cross six major life zones. The side trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument — the topmost rise of the geological Grand Staircase — is a must, and accessed via state Route 148. A few minutes further along S.R. 148 connects with S.R. 14 between Cedar City and the junction with Highway 89 to the east. Look for great short hikes around Duck Creek, including the Aspen Mirror Lake about 18 miles from Cedar Breaks, featured below.
The Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway runs about 55 miles (one way) and takes more than 2 hours, depending on how many side trips and pull offs you take. You’ll rise from 6,000 feet on the western slope to an elevation at more than 10,000 feet on the plateau before descending. While the name might allude to a “patchwork” of color for fall viewing, the drive is actually so named because early pioneers saved themselves from starving by using quilts to cross the deep winter snows on the plateau. Regardless of the history behind the name, the aspens and maples of the parkway make it especially wonderful in the fall as the yellows and red are checkered with the varied landscape.
To plan your drive, monitor the changing leaves on Scenic Southern Utah's Fall Color Report.
Featured Hike: Aspen Mirror Lake
More Top Hikes and Nearby Destinations: Bristlecone Walking Trail, Strawberry Point Overlook, Cedar Breaks National Monument
9. Capital City Colors: Salt Lake City's Best Hikes for Fall Foliage
–Northern Utah, near Salt Lake City International Airport–
A bevy of beautiful hikes sit virtually in the backyard of Salt Lake City. The metropolitan area boasts quick access to more than its share of world-class skiing, of course, but there are a number of local daily hikes that are often left unspoken for. Few other cities in the United States give its residents and visitors such quick access to hiking trails chock full of fall foliage. So get out there and enjoy them and experience Salt Lake City living at its finest!
Featured Hikes: Big and Little Cottonwood
From Salt Lake City, head south through the valley to find a number of canyons fit for hiking. The Wasatch Range offers incredible seclusion, yet big payoffs in the way of rewarding vistas of the city and suburbs below if you reach one of many peaks. Other merits include the ability to bring a dog to many of these canyons, which are not part of the city’s watershed. Enjoy the delights the Wasatch Mountains have to offer.
More Top Hikes:
- Corner Canyon
- Neff’s Canyon
- Bell Canyon
- Millcreek Canyon
Bonus Drive: Nebo Loop National Scenic Byway
It’s never too early or late to start planning a trip to see the best fall foliage in Utah – don’t miss out on this spectacular season.