Top Fall Hikes and Drives in Utah

Lake Mary Big Cottonwood Canyon

It’s fall and we all want to get out to enjoy the vibrant colors of the season. No matter which area of the state you are in, you can find beautiful autumn colors to enjoy. Whether you prefer the comfort of your car or an afternoon out on the trail, this is the post for you!

If you live along the Wasatch Front you really can’t go wrong visiting any of the canyons that bisect the mountain range. To ensure best color, check out this interactive Fall Foliage Predictor Map. This post will list all areas starting at the north end of the state and then move progressively more south.

Logan Canyon (US-89)

Canyon aspens

Drive the 41 miles from Logan to Bear Lake to enjoy orange and red maples, and bright yellows of aspen clinging to the near vertical limestone cliffs. You can enjoy a picnic amid falling leaves at one of five picnic sites, Dewitt being one of my favorites. You can also stroll or bike on the river trail for a more leisurely pace. If hiking is more your speed, there are dozens to choose from. The most popular being Wind Caves (4 miles RT) and Crimson Trail (4.7 miles loop) with views of the canyon that will take your breath away, if the climb hasn’t already. Tony Grove has picnic sites nestled next to a lake ($10 day use fee) with a short one mile hike that circumnavigates the water.

Monte Cristo Highway (Highway 39)

Definitely one of the lesser known scenic highways. A drive through this 67 mile stretch you see the brilliant colors of aspens, oaks and maple. You’ll pass by Pineview reservoir nestled under the peaks of Powder Mountain and Snowbasin ski resorts, then continue the trek following the South Fork of the Ogden River. If you travel the road mid to late September make sure to take the short side trip to Causey Reservoir, probably the most scenic reservoir in the state. Hike the Skull Crack to see the kanokee salmon run.

Gambel Oak and Aspens on the Skull Crack Trail

Big Cottonwood Canyon over Guardsman Pass to Midway (Highway 190)

Views from ridge over Big Cottonwood Canyon

Ever since Guardsman Pass was paved in the fall of 2018, this drive has become an increasingly more popular trek to experience fall colors. The drive up the canyon is bursting with color. As you crest the pass, you are treated to views reaching as far as the Uinta mountain range and Wyoming on a clear day. The spectacular drive doesn’t end there, because you can continue your drive down towards Midway and Wasatch Mountain State Park. Big Cottonwood canyon is a mecca for hiking with its many trailheads. Some of the most popular trails are great choices for leaf peeping, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them. The Silver Lake trail (1 mile loop) is accessible for all abilities and has picnic sites and bathrooms. Other popular trails include Lake Blanche ( 7 miles RT – hard), Donut Falls (1.5 miles RT – easy), and Willow Lake (2.8 mile loop – moderate).

Views from Wasatch Crest Trail Big Cottonwood Canyon

Pro tip: No dogs are allowed (even in your cars) in either Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon because of watershed. Nearby Millcreek canyon is a great choice to bring along your pup.

Alpine Loop and Cascade Springs (State Road 92)

Sundance in Fall

This glacial carved canyon covering 27 miles from American Fork Canyon to Provo Canyon offers vibrant fall colors contrasting with evergreen trees nestled below the iconic Timpanogos Mountain. This is arguably the most popular scenic drive in Utah for fall colors and is definitely worth the hype. If you plan on driving through there is no fee, but if you plan to stop to picnic or hike there is a $6 fee or free with the America the Beautiful Pass. Also the road is very narrow with some tight turns, so vehicles over 30 feet are not recommended.

Alpine Loop during Fall Storm

Some great stops along the way are Timpanogos Cave National Monument (reservations recommended), Cascade springs ( 7.5 mile detour) rated for all abilities, Sundance Ski Resort for lift rides and other activities, and Bridal Veil Falls which has an all accessible paved path (in Provo Canyon). The Alpine loop is a popular hiking destination with many trails. I recommend Stewart Falls (3.4 miles RT – moderate) and Primrose Overlook (3.6 miles RT – moderate).

Mirror Lake Highway (Highway 150)

Aspens near Beaver Creek trail

This road bisects the Uinta mountain range from Kamas, UT to Evanston, WY, and is known for its many alpine lakes, many of which are accessible right off the main road. It may be chilly, but you can take a canoe or kayak out on the water to enjoy the aspens clinging to the sides of the surrounding peaks. A great scenic stop is the Provo River Falls, located about 23.5 miles from Kamas. Great easy walks include the signature Mirror Lake trail (1.5 miles around the lake) and the Crystal Lake trail (.3 miles). Looking for a little more challenge. Hike the short but steep trail to the summit of Bald Mountain (3 miles RT) for a birds-eye view of the area.

Mount Nebo Loop (Forest Road 015)

Scrub oak and aspens on trail

This scenic byway runs 38 miles around the Wasatch Front’s tallest peak. Witness the contrasting colors of oak with junipers and aspens along with spruce and fir. Take the time to enjoy the scenic pullouts and definitely don’t miss the Devil’s Kitchen scenic overlook, which is like a mini-Bryce Canyon. Also of note is the Gotto Falls hiking trail (.6 miles RT) and Payson Lakes.

State Highway 25 to Fish Lake

Home to the world’s largest organism, the aspen tree Pando. This colony of aspen trees originated from one seed and has over 40,000 trees with a shared root system. It makes for some amazing yellow and gold quaking leaves in autumn. Continue the drive to the lake and the overlooks to enjoy vistas of Thousand Lakes, Boulder, and the Henry Mountains.

Huntington Canyon (State Highway 31)

Beaver Pond in late Autumn

This canyon is mainly known for it’s fishing, camping and ATV trails. It’s real gem is the access to the Skyline drive, a dirt high clearance 4WD or ATV road that sits at 10,000 ft and affords 360 views for 80 miles! That’s a lot of fall colors. Best hike recommendation is the Gordon Falls trail (2.5 miles RT).

Maples on canyon trail

La Sal Mountains

Eight miles south of Moab take a left at the La Sal mountains scenic byway loop sign. You’ll travel a narrow, winding road for 60 miles (no RVs or trailers). Enjoy the yellow quaking aspens and the orange and reds of gambel oak. Take in the views on trails such as Squaw Springs trail (8.6 miles RT), Hazard County (6 miles RT), or the Warner to Oowah Lake (4 miles RT). As you descend down off the mountain make sure to stop at the desert overlook to take in the views of Canyonlands NP and Moab.

Highway 12 on Boulder Mountain

All American Road: Highway 12

Known as an all-American road and touted by many as the most scenic drive, fall colors is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this drive. You can take in stellar shows of aspens driving over Boulder mountain and the showy cottonwoods down in some of the lower elevations of the drive. Calf Creek Falls (6 miles RT) has brilliant golds and Pine Creek Box Canyon near Escalante is a riparian oasis with reds, oranges and yellows (9 mile through hike).

Pine Creek Box Canyon

Highway 14 From Cedar City to Long Valley

Drive this 41 miles of gold and yellow aspens contrasting with verdant green spruces and pines. Make sure to stop and have a picnic and with views at Navajo lake, Strawberry Point (which actually overlooks a red rocks amphitheater) or take a detour to Cedar Breaks National Monument. All afford incredible views and the changing colors of the high alpine forest.

Yellow and Gold aspens off the highway

So which scenic drives have you done and which ones would you like to try? Let me know in the comments.

Looking for more fall adventures? Check out my post about Capitol Reef National Park.

The Ultimate Orcas Island Adventure Itinerary

Overlook from the Mount Constitution trail.

In this Itinerary, you will find all you need for the ultimate travel adventure in the San Juan Islands. I will cover our 5-day Itinerary, but you can easily customize it to fit your time constraints and adventure level.

Highlights:

Day 1: AM: Ferry to Orcas Island, Eastsound village shops, and farmer’s market

PM: Hike to Twin lakes and kayak on Mountain Lake

Day 2: AM: Whale Watching Tour

PM: Hike Turtleback Mountain and visit Orcas Island Pottery.

Day 3: AM: Kayak tour of Sucia Island State Park

PM: Hike Cascade Falls trail and Obstruction Pass State Park

Day 4: Ferry to San Juan Island and explore beaches, farms, and lighthouses by Ebike

Day 5: AM: Explore Cascade Lake and lagoon by kayak

PM: Summit Mount Constitution, Sunset and Full Moon Kayak tour of Salish Sea

Now for the details:

Day 1: Ferry to Orcas, Eastsound, and Moran State Park

Enjoying the ferry ride from Anacortes to Orcas Island is an adventure in and of itself. We chose to take one of the first ferry rides of the day so we could maximize our time on the Island. This had the added benefit of the beautiful early morning light over the Puget Sound. Get your camera out and head out to the decks for optimal picture-taking opportunities. You may even see harbor seals, eagles, or Mount Baker!

Make sure to check the ferry schedule and make a reservation well in advance so you can guarantee your spot if you are bringing a car. We opted to rent a car and bring it with us. You can also walk on the ferry and then rent a car on the island.

Ferry Ride to Orcas Island
Early morning light over the Puget Sound and Cascades.

Once our Ferry arrived at Orcas Island, we headed over to Eastsound to explore the village with its quaint shops and restaurants and enjoyed the Saturday Framer’s Market. This little market is flush with farm-fresh produce, the most amazing flowers, and local goods.

Next, we headed over to what I consider the crown jewel of Orcas Island, Moran State Park. With almost 40 miles of hiking trails, 5 freshwater lakes, and 4 waterfalls, you could easily spend the entirety of your visit just at this state park. If you plan to spend more than one day visiting the park like we did, make sure to get Washington’s state parks pass called the Discovery Pass. It’s well worth every penny and is good for an entire year at any park in Washington state.

On this day, we hike around Mountain Lake to Twin Lakes. We traipsed through old-growth forest with moss, ferns, and foxglove wildflowers, then hiked up the easy grade to Twin Lakes to enjoy our lunch with a view of Mount Constitution and lily pads over the still waters.

Twin Lakes Moran State Park
Lunch Spot at Twin Lakes in Moran State Park

After we enjoyed our lunch, we headed back down to Mountain Lake and set up our pack rafts. These are lightweight inflatable kayaks that you can travel and backpack with. However, Orcas Adventures at the Mountain Lake campground and Cascade lake rents canoes and kayaks. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the coves and islands on the lake.

Kayaking on Mountain Lake
Cove on Mountain Lake

Day 2: Whale Watching Tour, Hike Turtleback Mountain and Visit Orcas Island Pottery

Day two was probably my favorite day of the whole trip. Observing Orcas in the wild has been a bucket list item for as long as I could remember, and the Orcas sightings around the San Jauns are practically guaranteed. As a matter of fact, many companies do guarantee sightings, or you can book another trip for free. As luck would have it, we observed these magnificent creatures for an hour on our tour. You can watch a short video of our adventure here. There are many companies you can book for this adventure. We used Deer Harbor Charters.

Orca swimming by Obstruction Pass State Park

After we grabbed a late lunch back at our cabin, we headed out to hike Turtleback Mountain. Some argue that the views from Turtleback Mountain are the best in all the San Juan Island as you have the best views of the island archipelago. There are two options for Turtleback Mountain. The North trailhead to Orcas Knob is a 6 mile out and back with a 1,322 ft gain. The hike from the south trailhead is a 6.6-mile loop (1,640 ft. gain)or 2.7-mile loop (859 ft. gain) if you just want to hike to Ship’s Peak. I recommend Ship’s Peak or Orcas Knob for the best views.

View from Ship’s Peak on Turtleback Mountain

After we enjoyed our hike to stretch our sea legs, we head over to Orcas Island Pottery. This pottery studio is located on West Beach, just outside the village of Eastsound. To get to the studio, just follow the signs. Even the drive there is like entering a fairyland as you drive through old-growth cedars and Douglas firs. They sell pottery from 7 local artists in their beautiful gardens surrounded by the forest and overlooking the Salish Sea. It was enchanting. Learn more here.

Day 3: Kayak Tour of Sucia Island State Park, Cascade Falls and Obstruction Pass State Park

Today we took a Sea kayaking tour with Outer Islands Excursions to explore the waters and shores around Sucia Island. We met our guide on the dock and took a boat ride over to the island where we hopped into our sea kayaks to paddle around this beautiful place. We saw harbor seals (and their pups!), sea otters, eagles and explored remote beaches. I was pleasantly surprised that the paddling felt just like being on a lake. The water was that calm. While I know that they aren’t always as glassy as they were on this day, the waters of the Salish Sea are typically calm and easy to paddle. Although the outfitters we used did a great job, I feel like if I were to do this again, I would just rent the kayaks and do the self-guided tour. This would give us the freedom to take the time at the places we wanted to and even go a little faster than the group did so we could see explore more places around the island.

We returned to Orcas Island at three which left us enough time to boogie back over to Moran State Park to hike the Cascade Falls trail. Cascade Falls is the largest waterfall in all the San Juan Islands at 40 feet tall. This short hike is only 1.5 miles with minimal elevation change where you can see four waterfalls (Cascade, Hidden, Rustic, and Cavern falls) in the ravine surrounded by ferns, moss, and old-growth forest.

Finally, we headed over to Obstruction Pass State Park to hike the Obstruction Pass trail. This 1.4-mile loop takes you through the highland forest with intermittent balds (meadow-type areas covered with moss) to a rock-strewn beach. Here is where you can observe more wildlife and enjoy a picnic by the lapping water. Ironically, this is where we saw the Orcas just offshore during our whale watching tour just the day before.

Day 4: San Juan Island by Ebike

Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands and we feel has the most to offer in terms of outdoor adventures but on this day we planned to walk on the inter-island ferry (free!) to explore the most populous of the archipelago, San Juan, with its popular town of Friday Harbor. The ferry between Orcas and San Juan Island runs about every four hours. Make sure you consult the schedule to ensure you have as much time as you want to maximize your visit to San Juan.

After we arrived at Friday Harbor, we explored the town and shops by foot before grabbing a picnic from Spring street Deli and popping in next door at Gilligan’s Island Style Ebikes. This was definitely the way to go considering the size of the island, the hills, and the wind. We still got a great workout but were able to cover more of the island and have the energy to do some short hikes as well.

There are many different routes you can take to explore the island and Gilligan’s has maps with directions that come with your bikes so you can be confident in your exploration. I recommend either an island loop out to Lime Kiln State Park with its beautiful lighthouse and whale watching from the cliffs or the route to South Beach and Cattle Point with the beach, lighthouse, and wildlife. On both routes, you can plan on passing scenic farms (many with farm stands selling local produce and flowers), coastal views, and potential wildlife sightings.

We opted for Cattle Point which has a better shoulder and less traffic for riding. We loved enjoying the coastal views of the Olympic mountains and the waves crashing on the shore at South Beach as we enjoyed our picnic. After our picnic, we continued on to Cattle Point where we took the short hike out to the lighthouse. We saw foxes in the meadow and coastal birds soaring above the shore. On our return trip, we added on the short loop to Pear Point with its forested country roads and Jackson’s Beach.

After a full day riding, we hopped on the five o’clock ferry and got back to Eastsound in time for a lovely dinner at Kingfish overlooking West Sound watching the sunset. A positively dreamy end to our day.

Day 5: Summit Mount Constitution, Explore Cascade Lake and Lagoon by Kayak, Sunset and Full Moon Kayak Tour of Salish Sea

We had a final action packed day on the island. We began the morning by heading back to Moran State Park to kayak on Cascade Lake over to its freshwater lagoon. Cascade Lake has a small beach area, playground, picnic area, snack shop, and Orcas Adventures which has all you need to get out on the water for the day if you don’t have your own boat to paddle. Not only was Cascade lake a great place to paddle but there is a trail around the lake that many use to access the bridge between the lake and lagoon for bridge jumping. The lagoon’s still water made the perfect location for lily pads and all sorts of waterfowl to observe on the water.

After we had our fill of the lake we drove part way up Mount Constitution and began our hike at the Little Summit trailhead. This hike allows for views both at Little Summit and at the top of Mount Constitution. This hike is 5.9 miles round trip with almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s a gorgeous hike through an old-growth forest with occasional breaks in the trees for views. Mount Constitution has a tower on the summit. Don’t miss the views from this point with the interpretive signs to tell you everything on the horizon.

We ended the day with a sunset and full moon kayak tour out of Deer Harbor with Shearwater Kayak Tours. I can’t think of a more perfect way to end our time on the island watching the golden sunset over the glassy waters and the full moon rise. We got to see a ton of harbor seals and their pups on the shores of some of the tiny islands we paddled around, in addition to the sunset. Watch a short video here. This was the dreamiest, so if you are fortunate enough to time your visit with the full moon run, don’t walk, to make a reservation. I promise you won’t regret it.

Sunset over the Salish Sea

Are you ready to book your trip to Orcas Island? Hopefully, you have all you need to plan your perfect adventure. Feel free to reach out in the comments or by sending me a message. I’m always happy to help craft your perfect itinerary!

Day Hiking the Uinta Mountains

Northern Utah has so many amazing trails to hike and explore, but when the summer temperatures soar that’s when I like to escape to the Uinta Mountain Range. With only a short 90 minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City you can enjoy temperatures 20 degrees (or more) cooler than in the valley. The Uintas are the tallest mountain range in Utah and boast: high elevation hiking, over 1000 alpine lakes, wildlife including the Utah’s largest population of mountain goats, and the tallest peaks in the state. It’s the perfect place for those looking to bag a few peaks, catch some fish, or paddle to your hearts content after enjoying some time on the trails.

The Uintas have trails for just about every ability and interest level. Here are 8 trails located off the Mirror Lake Highway (150) for a great day of exploration out of the heat.

Ruth Lake

2 miles RT, 285 ft. gain

Kayaks on Ruth Lake


Ruth Lake is the perfect hike for families. At only two miles roundtrip everyone can enjoy the satisfaction of reaching a destination and after only one mile of hiking. Once you reach the lake you can enjoy the day on the water fishing, floating, hanging in your hammock, and even a picnic before heading back to your car blissed out by your afternoon spent by this alpine lake.

Bald Mountain

2.9 miles RT, 1,198 ft. gain

Views from the top of Bald Mountain

I can’t think of a more perfect first timer peak to bag. It’s challenging enough that you feel like you really accomplished a hike but approachable enough that you can hike it in a few hours. And the VIEWs. This peak has major wow factor and you’ll have bragging rights with your friends and family. After all the peak of this mountain is just under 12,000 feet.

Haystack Lake

5.3 miles RT, 387 ft. gain

Haystack Lake in front of it’s namesake mountain.

This hike is really one of the easies hikes you can do for the distance because there is so little elevation change. The first mile or so you hike along the shore of lake Washington enjoying it’s beauty and the scenic view of Haystack mountain. Next, the trail begins to climb slightly to Shadow lake. The last mile you descend down to Haystack lake. Whenever we visited, we’ve had the picturesque lake practically to ourselves. Aah.

Lofty Lake Loop

4.7 mile loop, 981 ft gain

Views From Lofty Pass

Arguably one of the most popular day hikes in the area. Lofty Lakes loop is well worth the hype and not to be missed. You’ll have more elevation gain that on some others, but the views you gain as you crest Lofty Pass to peer down at Cutthroat Lake are well worth the effort. If you have the desire your can even summit Lofty Peak from the pass just follow the “trail” up the boulders to the peak. (I only recommend this part to experienced hikers.)

Fehr Lake

3.9 miles RT, 617 ft. gain

Lily pads on Maba Lake. My favorite on the Fehr Lake Loop

This another great short hike but unlike Ruth Lake you descend down to Fehr Lake on the way in. This means you’ll need to climb back out. The cliffs on the side of Fehr lake are just stunning. If time and energy allows you can continue on to Shepard (yes that is the spelling), Hoover, and Maba lakes which are quieter and scenic.

20 Lake Loop

7.3 mile loop, 780 ft gain

Front to back: Twin Lakes, Wall Lake, and Trial Lake

This is one of my favorite hikes in all the Uintas! Not only do you have the mentioned twenty lakes, views of many of the surrounding peaks, but the elevation gain is a mere 780 feet over seven miles. The hike is long enough to give you a great workout or push the littles, but the relatively little elevation gain helps the miles really sail by. It can make for a great backpacking trip and if you’er really feeling like it, you can bring something to float on the enjoy the serenity at one of the many lakes. Wall or Crystal lakes are popular choices with their proximity to the trail head but my personal favorites are Cliff and Three Divide lakes.

Clegg, Notch, and Bench Lakes

6.5 miles RT, 653 ft. gain

Bench Lake

This hike shares the same trail head as Bald Mountain and like the Fehr Lake trail you descend down to the lakes but with the incredible scenery and gentle grades as you climb back out you will hardly notice. I also really enjoy this hike because it is quieter than Lofty Lakes or the 20 Lakes Loop. Most people stop at Notch Lake but if you continue on to Bench you’ll have greater chances of having this beauty all to yourself.

Lake Country Trail

4.4 miles-8.4 miles RT , up to 1,107 ft gain.

Weir Lake
Weir Lake

This one is on the long side, but you can choose how many lakes you want to visit and how many miles you’d like to tackle. If you head all the way to Island lake you’ll be in for 9 miles roundtrip but you can choose to go only 4-6 miles by visiting either Long or Weir lakes. Weir Lake even has a few hidden waterfalls nearby you can enjoy.

Before you go:

Unlike much of the Wasatch Front, the Uintas are dog friendly so feel free to bring Fido along.

There is a $6 day use fee. Bring cash or check. If you have an America the Beautiful pass you can use this instead. They do ticket at the trailheads, so make sure to pay the fee and display your receipt to avoid a hefty fine.

Mosquitos can be prevalent in June and July so wear bug spray.

July through September is monsoon season in Utah and storms can approach quickly at higher elevations. Stay off the peaks in the afternoons to avoid lightening and hail.