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Jonathan Stull | 09.25.2016

While winter will hopefully be full of the fluffy stuff, it hasn’t arrived just yet—not yet a week removed from the September equinox and the official start of fall. The wintry weather notwithstanding, and downright chilly nights spent huddled in a sleeping bag, there are still beautiful days to behold the best of Utah’s wide variety of outdoor adventures.

Fall Foliage

In just the last two weeks, the aspen have begun their annual transformation that sets entire slopes afire. If you’re close to Salt Lake City, you don’t need to go far: Into the Wasatch Mountains with you! The Willow Heights Hike is just over 30 minutes from Salt Lake City, and it puts you in the middle of a basin lined with mature aspens. And the trailhead for accessing Lake Mary, Lake Martha, and Lake Catherine is just a bit farther, but the aspens in the Brighton area are amazing, and three-for-one deal is pretty hard to pass up.

Fall colors along the trail to Lake Mary, Lake Martha and Lake Catherine. Photo by Kyle Jenkins.

Highway 210 in Little Cottonwood Canyon is a great fall drive with beautiful views of the turning aspen and granite cliffs in the dramatic canyon. Consider popping off for the hike to Maybird Lakes, which has an overlook less than 2 miles in with views down the canyon toward the Salt Lake Valley.

Certainly drive through Park City, Utah. There are several options starting from Salt Lake City that will take you through plenty of dramatic fall scenery.

  • Head east on a short loop through Big Cottonwood Canyon, turning north on Highway 224 through Park City. Catch Interstate 80 to Mountain Dell Reservoir and Highway 65, and return from whence you came through Emigration Canyon.
  • For a longer loop from Salt Lake City, head east into Emigration Canyon and pick up Highway 65 to Interstate 80. Head south at Highway 224 to Park City and continue  to the Deer Creek Reservoir. Catch Highway 92—the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway—north toward Sundance and the aptly named Aspen Grove, with dramatic views of Mount Timpanogos, continuing west to I-15 and your return home.
  • Or don't return home quite yet: head to Mount Nebo for a challenging ascent of this ultra-prominent peak and enjoy the turning leaves along the way. Return via Highway 132 and the Nebo Loop Road for more spectacular fall scenery.

Mountain Biking

For a couple of outstanding fall rides, check out Dog Lake Mountain and the Wasatch Crest Trail. These moderate rides will have you grinning ear to ear as you speed through golden aspen leaves on a bluebird autumn day. Fall foliage is lacking on the slick rock in Moab, on the other hand, but the fall crowds dwindle and the temperatures drop. Although this sometimes coincides with rain in the deserted canyonlands of Utah and Arizona, mornings are clear and crisp, and the temperatures are mellow throughout the day to make for beautiful and comfortable fall rides.

The Poison Spider Mesa shared mountain biking and four-wheel drive trail with overlooks of the Colorado River and the Moab Valley, and their big cottonwoods that yellow in the fall.

The MOAB Brand Trails offer mellow rides for beginners and families, including the Bar M, Circle O, Rockin’ A, and Bar B trails.

For something a little more challenging, climb Hymasa to descend Captain Ahab. The Amasa Back Mountain has plenty of alternatives as well.

Hikes

There aren’t enough national parks in Utah, but until we’ve secured protection for more, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion—tough life. There are innumerable hikes to choose from in Utah, but these will get you to some of its most scenic places.

  • In Arches, take a stroll down Park Avenue or wander the labyrinthine Fiery Furnace. Oh, and there’s that delicately balanced arch you might find beautiful, too, especially at sunset.
  • The False Kiva in Canyonlands will satisfy your thrill for adventure, as will the ancient ruins and petroglyphs at Aztec Butte and Horseshoe Canyon.
  • Capitol Reef is the least-visited of Utah’s parks, and you may get Cassidy Arch to yourself. If not, no worries—amble through the Grand Wash instead.
  • Bryce Canyon has been said by some to be the more scenic than its counterpart in Zion. Take advantage of the dwindling crowds (and possible snows) on the Rim Trail between Sunset and Bryce points. Exploring the heart of the canyon in the Fairyland Loop should also be high on your list.
  • At Zion, hike to a double arch along Taylor Creek, or dive underground into the non-technical Lower Subway.

Fall Climbing

When the leaves start to turn, it's one of the best times of the year—it means that the best climbing conditions have returned and its time to throw up a rope. The cool temperatures in September, October, and November are ideal for rock climbing, and Utah has a coterie of climbing options. Climbing guides in Smith Rock in Oregon will tell you that cold temperatures encourage a tightening of the skin on the hands, which allows the rock to “dig in” and create better friction. Sounds about right—but whether or not this is true, cooler days certainly help to avoid the the summer slippage of sweaty palms.

Moab and the Wasatch Mountains have many of the classic trad climbs in Utah. Focus on Indian Creek and Castle Valley in Moab, and Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood canyons in the Wasatch range. For single-pitch sport climbs, look no further than American Canyon in the Wasatch Range, though keep in mind that the best climbs are intermediate or advanced, ranging from 5.10 to 5.12.

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