Molly is an avid hiker and backcountry camper based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is a former Yellowstone NP employee.
Fall is one of the best times of year to visit southern Utah and explore parts of the desert that are too hot to enjoy during the summer months. But if you're not so eager to skip straight from summer to winter, and you want to enjoy all that fall has to offer in Utah, look no further than right in our own backyard of the Wasatch Mountains.
The Wasatch Mountain Range has some of the most beautifully colored fall landscapes you'll find, showcasing fields of brilliantly golden aspen trees and blood-red maples that blanket the mountains. Better than that, there are several options for viewing the fall colors without leaving the comfort of your own car or a paved road.
There are numerous places to easily access the fall colors close to Salt Lake City, Provo, and Park City. While there are many hikes you can do to see the colors up close and away from the crowds, there are also a several drives you can go on to see the leaves changing colors in the Wasatch.
Big Cottonwood Canyon to Guardsman Pass
Big Cottonwood Canyon is home to Solitude and Brighton Ski Resorts, with access to numerous popular rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking trails, and home of one of the most famous scenic drives in northern Utah: Guardsman Pass.
Guardsman Pass connects the Wasatch Front, accessed by Big Cottonwood Canyon, to the Wasatch Back, right down into Deer Valley Resort in Park City. At the top of the pass, the popular public land named Bonanza Flats is a haven for locals who enjoy backcountry skiing or boarding, mountain biking and hiking through the protected land between Salt Lake City and Park City.
This drive is one of the most popular drives during the spring through the fall until it is closed for the winter months. People who choose to make the curvy drive up the canyon and back down into Park City (or visa versa) will witness the high-alpine in all its glory through three ski resorts and hundreds of feet in elevation gain.
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You can also drive down Pine Canyon Road off of Guardsman Pass instead of heading into Park City. You can park your car anywhere along the road and pick up the trail that winds through the brightly colored fields and trees during the prime fall months.
Alpine Loop Scenic Drive
This route starts at American Fork Canyon, or Utah Hwy. 92, and winds up for twenty miles of high alpine glory, providing views of Mount Timpanogos and other big glacial peaks in the Wasatch Range. The Alpine Loop continues all the way to the Uinta National Forest on US 189, passing through Sundance Resort along the way.
What impressed me about this drive is the variation in landscapes from the beginning of the loop all the way to Sundance. You begin the drive winding up through thick pine forests on narrow roads that eventually open up into vast viewpoints of the entire canyon, crowned with snowy peaks in the distance. You'll see red maples popping out of yellow aspen patches, with dark green pines weaving throughout. This drive is more than just a drive--it's an experience!
The Alpine Loop is also closed during the winter months, closing as early as late October.
Emigration Canyon is located just east of Salt Lake City at the southern end of the University of Utah. The drive up the canyon heads east with access into Parley's Canyon on I-80, leading either east to Park City or West back to Salt Lake City.
Emigration Canyon is a popular spot for cyclists, and also provides access to hiking trails that run throughout the Wasatch Mountains. One of my favorite places to go for a run in the fall is near Little Dell Reservoir up Emigration Canyon where the shrubs turn bright yellow in the fall.
Another must-see and must-eat stop on Emigration Canyon is the historic Ruth's Diner. Ruth's opened its doors in 1930 and is still serving up some of the best breakfast food in Utah. Just as good as the food is the atmosphere, where you can sit on the expansive patio under a canopy of leaves while you enjoy your home-cooked meal.
The Wasatch Back- Park City
A simple drive down Main Street, Park City will have your tummy tickling from the brightly colored houses in Old Town to the fall leaves that surround them.
Another way to see the colors is to drive up through any of the ski resorts-- Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, or The Colony at Canyons Village. My favorite way to get a taste of all of the above is to hike along the Mid-Mountain Trail.
The Mid-Mountain Trail runs from Deer Valley Resort all the way to the far side of Canyons Village, a 22-mile trail traversing all of Park City along the middle of the mountain. This trail is hiker and biker friendly, with many access points and diverging trails throughout. The trail runs at about the 8,000 foot elevation level, with a total gain of about 3,000 feet. Overall, it is a moderate trail to hike or run that provides unparalleled views of the Wasatch Back and Park City that span for miles.
City Creek Canyon
If you're in the mood for a leisurely stroll through the fall colors, you'll enjoy the gradual, paved path up City Creek Canyon.
City Creek Canyon is 5.8 miles of paved trail that winds up alongside a wooded, unpaved trail if you're in the mood for a more off-beaten path. You can drive all the way to the entrance of the canyon and park your car anywhere along the road before the gate. City Creek Canyon is also bike-friendly, so be sure to follow the foot-traffic guidelines on your hike.
This trail is the perfect place to pack a picnic and stay awhile to enjoy the many fall colors and serene atmosphere up in the Wasatch Mountains.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.