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Five for fall: Top picks for enjoying Utah's autumn splendor

Published September 11, 2008 12:00 am

It's the most vibrant time of year, the colors are popping and whatever outdoors activities you fancy, there's something for you
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The noticeable change in Utah's weather on Labor Day weekend marked the start of one of the best times of year to be outdoors.

As leaves begin to change, days become shorter and late summer morphs into fall, thousands of Utahns begin planning to get outside for a drive, hike, round of golf or bike ride.

Hearing dry leaves crunch underfoot, savoring the smell of fall, or reaching a vista where autumn is on display in all its colorful glory are things many of us seek this time of year.

Here we offer some suggestions for enjoying the best of the season whether on a drive, a hike, a round of golf or a bike ride:

Fall drives

1. Guardsman Pass: This dirt road can be reached from Wasatch Mountain State Park, from Park City or via Big Cottonwood Canyon. Plan on spending 45 minutes to drive from Brighton or an hour from Park City to Wasatch Mountain State Park. Views include panoramic looks at the Heber Valley.

2. Nebo Loop: This 32-mile paved road, one of Utah's few national scenic byways, traverses the eastern side of Mount Nebo, offering scenic views of the highest mountain in the Wasatch Range. Start or end the ride by heading east from Payson or east on State Highway 132 in Salt Creek Canyon. Plan on one or two hours to enjoy the ride.

3. Alpine Loop: This narrow, 24-mile, two-lane road connects American Fork Canyon with Provo Canyon. It offers scenic views of Mount Timpanogos, good hiking trails, campgrounds and access to the Sundance ski area. Families with children may want to take a quick side trip to the Cascade Springs nature trail, which is gorgeous in the fall.

4. Red Cloud Loop: This partly paved, 45-mile scenic backway is a good choice for travelers looking to beat the crowds along the Wasatch Front. Access it from U.S. Highway 191, 14 miles east of Vernal. This area at the base of the High Uintas is noted for aspen displays, with some fishing available.

5. Beaver Canyon: The Tushar Mountains east of Beaver are a spectacular mountain range visited by only a few Utah residents. This 17-mile road from the town of Beaver to the Elk Meadows Ski Area offers nice views of changing leaves. For a longer trip, take the road over the ridge and down the east side of the range into the town of Junction and U.S. 89.

Hikes

1. Timpanogos Cave: This steep, 1.5-mile, one-way hike up the south side of American Fork Canyon not only offers the reward of a colorful cave at the end, but provides some of the prettiest views of the canyon's autumn leaf displays. Because of some reconstruction projects, the cave trail and cave will only be open on weekends between now and Oct. 19, when it closes for the season. That means making reservations by calling 801-756-5238 is a must.

2. Grandeur Peak: This is a beautiful, close-to-home hike for Salt Lake County residents to the summit of 8,299-foot Grandeur Peak, one of the most accessible peaks that can be seen from the valley. Most start the hike at the top of the Church Fork picnic area in Mill Creek Canyon. According to climb-utah.com, the hike is 2 miles one way with an elevation gain of 3,294 feet.

3. Naomi Peak: Hikers who enjoy being in a wilderness area with wonderful views of Logan Canyon below might want to try this somewhat difficult trek from a trailhead near Tony Grove Lake accessed off the Logan Canyon U.S. 89 highway. The 6.4-mile round trip has an elevation gain of 1,920 feet.

4. Alpine Pond: This is a two-mile, double loop trail inside Cedar Breaks National Monument that ends at a small pond and turns golden in the fall due to bountiful aspen trees. According to the National Park Service, the lower part of the trail leads to views of the redrock ³breaks² that give the monument its name, while the upper trail goes through meadows and a spruce-fir-aspen forest.

5. Deseret Peak: This hike in the Stansbury Mountains near Grantsville, Tooele County, has views of the Bonneville Salt Flats, Great Basin, Great Salt Lake and Wasatch Front and a trail with plenty of fall color. According to Utah.com, the six-mile hike to the 11,036-foot summit has an elevation gain of 3,606 feet. Access the trailhead at the top of South Willow Canyon near Grantsville.

Golf courses

1. Wasatch Mountain/Soldier Hollow/The Homestead: If you were to name the quintessential Utah valley to enjoy fall leaf displays, the Heber Valley would be it. This is especially true for golfers, who can choose from 36-hole Wasatch Mountain (435-654-0532), 18-hole Homestead (800-327-7220) or 36-hole Soldier Hollow (435-654-7442 ) to enjoy the views.

2. Hobble Creek: East of Springville in the canyon of the same name, this scenic course ranks as a gem among southern Utah County courses that could also include Spanish Oaks in Spanish Fork and Gladstan in Payson. Call 801-489-6297 for reservations, a good idea this time of year.

3. Mountain Dell: This 36-hole Parleys Canyon layout, a Salt Lake City public course, offers great fall leaf displays, the only distraction being noisy traffic on nearby I-80 on some holes. Still, being so close to the city, it's popular. Call 801-582-3812 for tee times.

4. The Hideout: Few Wasatch Front residents have played or even heard of Utah's highest-elevation course at 7,000 feet near the southeastern Utah town of Monticello. It's one of the most scenic 18-hole layouts in the state, cut into the foothills of the Abajo Mountains. Call 435-587-2200 for tee times, though you probably won't need one.

5. Sherwood Hills: This private little 9-hole course on U.S. 89-91 between Brigham City and Logan is nestled among scrub oak, which turns brilliant red in the fall. It's fun and relatively easy. Call 435-245-6055 for tee times.

Mountain bike rides

1. Wheeler Creek Trail: This is a fairly easy mountain-biking trail in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest with only a 600-foot elevation gain. The lower portion is 1.2 miles one way, while the upper portion is 3.6 miles one way. Part of the Great Western Trail, it can be accessed at Pineview Reservoir, on the Art Nord Trailhead on the Snowbasin Road or the Maples trailhead near the Snowbasin ski area.

2. Mid-Mountain Trail: This popular trail, sometimes called the Eight Thousand Foot Trail because of its elevation, leads from the Park City Mountain Resort to The Canyons. According to Utahmountainbiking.com, the official mileage is 11.3 miles plus four miles to descend the Canyons' lift road and at least three miles to access the trail. So figure about 18.8 miles.

3. Little Cottonwood Creek Trail: Some locals call this trail near Little Cottonwood Canyon the Quarry Trail; the parking area near its start is near a paved nature trail by the same name. According to Utahmountainbiking.com, this out-and-back trail covers seven miles with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. Look for mountain goats above the trail.

4. Pipeline Trail: This popular 5.5-mile ride in Mill Creek Canyon features little elevation gain (800 feet) and scenic views of one of the Wasatch Front's most colorful autumn canyons. According to trailbrain.com, you can access it at Elbow Fork 6.1 miles from the guard station, at Burch Hollow 4.3 miles up the canyon or at Rattlesnake Gulch near the guard station (for an uphill ride).

5. Brian Head: This ski area provides lift-served mountain biking to a number of interesting trails (listed on http://www.brianhead.com) with beautiful fall views through Sept. 28, weather permitting. Cost is $24 for an all-day lift pass, $10 for a single ride.

Do you have a favorite fall recreation spot you're willing to share? Tell us about it at features@sltrib.com.