10 top spots for Utah’s fall colors

From Bear Lake to the southern deserts, get ready for this year’s tapestry of red, orange and yellow.

(Erin Alberty|The Salt Lake Tribune) Fall colors catch the afternoon sun on the Doughnut Falls trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Leaves are turning, and Utah’s mountain canyons will be aglow with yellows, oranges and rosy pinks for the next few weeks.

Botanists say conditions should be good, especially at higher elevations, but farther down the mountain, the season might be brief.

“It’s been drier in lower elevations. That might go green to brown pretty quick,” said Tucker Sierzega, timber program manager for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

In Fishlake National Forest, leaves were starting to change last week, said forest spokesman John Zapell, and Tribune hiker Nate Carlisle caught some color at Spirit Lake near Flaming Gorge in Ashley National Forest.

While much is made of anticipating THE peak at any given spot, it is hard to be disappointed by any leaf excursion on a nice day in late September or early October.

But if you’re looking for some direction or just an excuse for a weekend trip, here are some of the top destinations for fall colors in Utah’s mountain ranges.

1. Sardine and Logan Canyons (U.S. Highway 89)

(Steve Griffin | Tribune File Photo) With the fall colors glowing in the evening sun travelers make their way down Sardine Canyon between Brigham City and Logan on Oct. 7, 2013.

From Brigham City to Bear Lake, U.S. Highway 89 is among the most popular areas for leaf peeping in Utah. There also are dozens of hikes to choose from in that area; Logan Canyon’s River Trail is easy to get to and easy to hike.

2. Monte Cristo Highway (State Road 39) and Trappers Loop Road (State Road 167)

(Courtesy U.S. Forest Service) Maples take on shades of crimson and orange on the Sardine Peak Trail on Sept. 23, 2012 in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest near Ogden. Photo by Doug Wewer.

These roads roll east of Ogden, into brilliant groves of aspen, oak and maple. Wheeler Canyon and Green Pond Loop are nice hikes for this area.

3. Mirror Lake Highway (State Road 150)

(Courtesy U.S. Forest Service) Aspen trees display full autumn color on a stormy day near Whitney Reservoir close to the Mirror Lake Highway in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Photo taken by E.Greenwood.

This is always a gorgeous drive, but the aspen stands really light up in fall. The Beaver Creek Trail and Provo River Falls are good stopping points.

4. Ashley National Forest

(Courtesy U.S. Forest Service) The Yellowstone River runs during fall colors in Ashley National Forest.

The Ashley National Forest offers some of Utah’s most remote wild lands and scenic fall hikes. Check out a hike at Spirit Lake for inspiration. Deer Lake, near Yellowstone Canyon, is another option. 

5. Big Cottonwood Canyon (State Road 190) to Guardsman Pass and Midway

(Erin Alberty | The Salt Lake Tribune) Patches of orange and forest green cover Big Cottonwood Canyon below Guardsman Pass.

There is no bad Salt Lake County canyon to visit in fall, but this is the classic trip for familiar hikes and massive panoramas. On your way into Midway (Wasatch County), visit the Pine Creek Nature Trail for the hot pinks and reds on the east side of the Wasatch.

6. Alpine Scenic Loop plus Cascade Spring

(Erin Alberty | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rosy hills rise above the road to Cascade Springs.

The Alpine Loop (State Road 92) from American Fork Canyon to Provo Canyon is beloved by fall visitors not only for its leaf display but for the dramatic cliffs in the immediate background. The Aspen Grove trail has some of the most convenient photo spots. The Cascade Springs Nature Trail, a 7-mile drive from S.R. 92 on Forest Service Road 114, is at its best in fall.

7. Wasatch Plateau

(Courtesy U.S. Forest Service) Aspen and spruce forests exhibit a variety of colors in October along State Road 31 near the top of the Wasatch Plateau in upper Huntington Canyon in Manti-La Sal National Forest. Photo by Richard M. Warnick.

The Manti-La Sal National Forest of central Utah is a fun destination in its own right; visitors from the Wasatch Front also can add a trip to the Nebo Loop Road on the way. Make time for a hike in the Left Fork of Huntington Canyon, or go for a motor sports adventure.

8. Fishlake National Forest

(Courtesy U.S. Forest Service) Aspen display full fall colors September 30, 2011 on the east side of Monroe Mountain, above the community of Greenwich, Utah, in the Fishlake National Forest. Photo by John Zapell.

A little farther to the south, colors already are turning and the season is looking good. There are tons of things to see in this oft-overlooked area. Monrovian Park is stunning, and you can pop by the area’s hot springs, too.

9. La Sal Mountains

(Courtesy U.S. Forest Service) The La Sal Mountains rise above fall colors in the Manti-La Sal National Forest.

The La Sals usually are seen from far away, in the distant background of a photo from Canyonlands or elsewhere around Moab. But the peaks and their skirts of forests are great for fall color viewing. Cyclists can take a spin on the Whole Enchilada trail — but go before the snow falls.

10. Greater Bryce Canyon

(Courtesy U.S. Forest Service) Fiery aspen rise from the ashes of a wildfire between Blubber and Kanab creeks in Dixie National Forest near the East Fork of the Sevier River. Photo from 2016.

For most tourists, Bryce Canyon is an out-and-back affair. But consider that the national park is surrounded by forests. Grab a gazetteer and a camera, pick your way around the woods and give some time to the trees while they're as colorful as the hoodoos.