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Utah offers a wide array of gorgeous backdrops of fall colors from the pine mountains to the red rock. With our changes in elevation and climate, we get to experience fall for longer than most places. While the trees are bare to the north come November, Thanksgiving is still a perfect time to visit southern Utah.
6. Donut Falls, Big Cottonwood
Donut Falls is one of the most popular trails in the Big Cottonwood canyons for a reason. Come fall, it’s one of the most beautiful spots to view the changing colors. In fact, be a little careful when driving up the last little bit to the trailhead. I about hit three different photographers taking family and bridal photos.
This family-friendly trail ends at an Instagram-worthy water fall. The trail gradually climbs up the Cardiff Fork with jaw-dropping scenery on all sides. Whatever you do, don’t walk up the road from the highway. If the trailhead parking lot is full (and it very often is) and you have to park at the highway lot, there’s a lovely new trail you can take and you won’t get ran over on your way up. Pro tip: go on an evening or weekday. This trail is highly trafficked on the weekend. If you’re looking for a longer, more difficult hike, head up the other side of the highway to Dog Lake.
5. Mount Nebo Loop, Payson
Mountain Nebo Loop isn’t so much a trail as a scenic drive everyone should do in the fall. Along the way are several hikes and camping spots. The drive starts in Payson at 5,000 feet and tops out at 9,000 feet with views of the top of Mount Nebo. Eventually the road drops back down and comes out above Nephi. The change in the type of trees and colors is truly awe-inspiring.
If you’re looking for a family friendly hike, check out the Grotto, an easy hike to a small waterfall the kids will love. If you’re looking for a challenge, emphasis on the world challenge, climb to Mount Nebo. This peak is the highest in the Wasatch Mountains. Not only will you see the fall colors, you also might spot a mountain goat or two. The path can tricky to find so know before you go.
Definitely make the complete loop. We thought the good stuff was behind us after we started dropping, but we were wrong. There are a few trails through the scrub oak on the Nephi side, which is where we got the better pictures of the bright red foliage.
4. Johnson Canyon Trail, Snow Canyon State Park
I haven’t included Johnson Canyon hike based on its fall colors, although I do love the sight of the changing cottonwoods with the backdrop of the sheer red rock cliffs.
The reason to hit this trail in the autumn months is because it’s closed for the spring and summer each year. Officials close it to allow endangered species such as tortoises to breed and flourish during these months. Please, stay on the trail so that we can preserve wildlife and keep the trail accessible to the public.
After Johnson Canyon, extend your hike to Scout Cave, a small cavern with amazing views of the surrounding valley. Neither trail offers an extreme change in elevation, which makes it ideal for beginner hikers and families.
3. Hidden Valley Park, Sandy
At this park are two trailheads that follow along the Bonneville trail system. Each offer beautiful autumn colors and amazing sunsets looking over the Salt Lake Valley.
The hike from Hidden Valley to the Bear Canyon suspension bridge is one of my favorite hikes and I do it yearly. It’s a great trail in the fall, not only for the colors, but because it’s too hot in the summer. The trail is a favorite for the kids with the bouncy bridge, not to mention the rock overhangs you get to crawl through on the way.
Rather than heading south to the bridge, head north to the Rocky Falls. This second option is a little steeper but much shorter and leads up a short canyon to a waterfall. (There’s an even shorter option from the Rocky Falls trailhead).
2. Hidden Canyon, Zion National Park
Hidden Valley is my most favorite hike in Zion National Park but it’s not for the faint of heart.
This jaw-dropping hike goes along the cliffs of Zion Canyon (definitely not for small children) and leads to a small slot canyon. Many people turn around at the mouth, missing the most beautiful part of the climb. While you can’t get very far up the canyon without equipment, you can get a good ways up into the trees.
Keep an eye out for two small arches along the trail that blend in to the walls. Don’t look up; one arch is right beside the path and hard to spot. The peacefulness and beauty of this remote canyon cannot be re-created. Unfortunately a rock slide has closed this canyon. Check with the park for updates.
1. Lake Solitude, Big Cottonwood Canyon
Another one of my favorite hikes that I find myself at yearly, Lake Solitude is a colorful hike only accessible in the summer and fall.
To get to this hike you have to pass the picturesque yet crowded Silver Lake. Once you leave the boardwalk, the crowds lessen considerably. When you get to Solitude Lake, be sure to go up the left side and find the little mine to crawl in. This is another family-friendly adventure.
I was lucky enough to hike this on the first official day of autumn one year when we had our first snow storm of the season. I’ve never seen such an amazing contrast of three seasons in one hike.
Comment below with your favorite fall hikes.