Utah Bucket List: Brilliant hues blanket mountains each fall
Ask Utahns what their favorite thing about living in the Beehive State is and chances are good you will hear "the four seasons."
It's one of the state's best features, and each season's diversity makes it difficult to choose a favorite.
Autumn is no exception. Cooler weather, stunning colors and the sense that time is running out on their favorite activities drive Utahns to ride, run, hike, cast and boat.
But nothing pulls residents into the outdoors each fall like the changing of the leaves.
"How many visitors we see in the fall depends on things like how bright the colors are, how long [the color] lasts and the weather, but we definitely see an increase in day use," said Kathy Jo Pollock with the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
Leaves are not the only thing turning red in the fall and drawing crowds to the mountains. Introduced kokanee salmon head up the Strawberry and Sheep Creek rivers each autumn to spawn. The salmon runs vary on the strength of the age class, but the fish can be thick and are amazingly fun to watch. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources holds salmon viewing days on the Strawberry River where it flows into Strawberry Reservoir and on Sheep Creek where it flows into Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The Sheep Creek event is Sept. 14 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. where the creek and Highway 44 intersect.
The Strawberry Kokanee Salmon Festival is Sept. 21 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In addition to colorful salmon in the rivers, fall also happens to be one of the best times of year to fish Utah's reservoirs. Trout specifically head out of the deeper and cooler water to chase food when the shallow waters cool.
Families make quick fall afternoon escapes or weekend day trips to their favorite hikes knowing the kids likely won't be able to pull that "it's too hot" line. Fall hikes provide a natural break for students from new schedules, new teachers and homework.
Mountain bikers look to run the slopes and trails of Utah's mountains before the snow flies, enjoying the cool temperatures and colorful background or brilliant colors whizzing by on the trail.
"Utah is phenomenal for fall colors," said Michael Duncan, botanist for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. "Every forest in the state puts on an incredible show in the fall."
Duncan explained that less daylight each fall prompts trees, shrubs and other deciduous plants to pull nutrients in the leaves generated from photosynthesis into the roots in preparation for winter.
Along with the nutrients goes the pigment that gives leaves their summertime colors. The yellows and reds that signify fall in Utah result from light hitting the remaining pigments in the leaves.
The process really gets going in September and can last into November. The peak of the colors can be impacted by weather patterns leading up to September and the leaves can be gone overnight in the case of strong wind or heavy rain or snow pulling the fragile leaves from the branches.
"As a botanist, I love the summer and all the plants at their peak, but fall is my favorite," Duncan said. "You get to see nature at its finest grandeur on a broad scale. It never gets old."
Every mountain range in Utah holds exquisite colors each autumn and all you need to cross fall colors off your Utah Bucket List is a driver's license.
Duncan's favorite fall drive is Highway 89 through Logan Canyon to Bear Lake over to Woodruff on Highway 16 and then through the Monte Cristo area via Highway 99/39 to Huntsville.
"You get to see as many varying colors as we have each fall anywhere in the state on that drive," he said. "It's amazing."
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Track, then go see Utah's fall color
O U.S. Forest Service and others provide fall color-tracker website. > http://www.fs.fed.us/fallcolors
The Utah Bucket List
• View a video trailer of "The Utah Bucket List," which premiered Aug. 1 on KUED-Channel 7, at http://bit.ly/19tPLWx. The last showing is at Aug. 11 at 4 p.m..
• See a video of fall colors in Utah at http://youtu.be/ldAM-gHQin4
• Check out the list's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/UtahBucketList and tell us what you think should be on The Utah Bucket List.
Top 10 autumn drives in Utah (by Brett Prettyman)
Alpine Loop • This road through American Fork Canyon to Provo Canyon is a must with ample colors and stunning views of Mount Timpanogos. The road is paved but narrow in places and with many tight corners, so pay attention to your driving and not the incredible scenery out the window.
Logan Canyon/Woodruff/Huntsville • Logan Canyon to Bear Lake is scenic enough without fall colors, which make it all the more amazing. Turn the drive into a loop and head for Woodruff and then Huntsville through the Monte Cristo area along Highway 99/39.
Big Cottonwood/Little Cottonwood canyons • Varied undergrowth at lower elevations leads to massive stands of quaking aspen at higher elevations in both canyons. Cool weather means you are more likely to spot wildlife such as moose and deer.
Mount Nebo • On the Utah/Juab county line, this popular high-elevation drive is one many people miss when planning fall drives. Big mistake.
Boulder Mountain • Highway 12 over Boulder Mountain between Torrey and Boulder is a sea of gold each fall. While viewing the quaking aspen is great from the mountain, sometimes the views from afar, such as from Capitol Reef National Park, are even more impressive.
Mirror Lake Highway • The drive from Kamas to Evanston, Wyo., is special any time of year, but the fall colors make it even better. Don't forget your fishing rod; fall fishing is exceptional in the lakes of the Uinta Mountains.
Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area • Find huge stands of quaking aspen highlighted by pines on the fringes along Highway 44 National Scenic Byway. Look out for elk and deer, a common sight along the road each fall.
Skyline Drive • Wasatch Plateau highways come alive with colors each fall. Main entry and exit points include Fariview, Scofield State Park, Huntington.
Fish Lake • The big sleeper among the giants of fall color drives in Utah, the Fish Lake Plateau could be the most colorful of them all. Stunning quaking aspens fill the plateau and the lake provides a special background.
Cedar Canyon to Cedar Breaks and Brian Head • Highway 14 out of Cedar City leads to the Markagunt Plateau, with ample fall colors on the way. Then a must-stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument to see the hoodoos and spires, and finish the nice loop drive with Brian Head and Parowan.