You hear it mentioned in hushed tones by people throughout ski towns. “Shoulder season is coming,” they whisper. The confusion is plain to see in their clothing, a discordant amalgam of winter beanies and puffy jackets paired with flip flops or Chacos. It’s hard to blame them for their consternation as the weather vacillates between the dog days’ dry heat and the season’s first snowfalls, which are oppressively cold to our still thin summer blood. This perplexing mountain season is called fall. It just so happens Utah is home to incredible fall getaways.
Between high alpine terrain, lush mountain meadows and arid desert landscapes, fall adventures abound in Utah regardless of whether there’s a hot snap, a cold spell or those perfect crisp temps. Here are five of our favorite fall getaways in Utah along with some activities you can enjoy along the way.
Capitol Reef is by far the least visited of Utah’s “Mighty 5” National parks, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less spectacular. You can find ample camping within the park, but I recommend getting a little further away from people and enjoying some solitude in the BLM land where dispersed camping is permitted on the east side of the park. Just drive through the park on S.R. 24, take a right upon exiting the park, and choose an appropriate campsite.
During the day you can explore the unique sandstone domes, arches and walls via easily accessible and well-marked trails S.R. 24 or by navigating more remote slot canyons further south. When you need to cool off, take a break in the orchards of the historic town of Fruita in the heart of the park. At night, turn your eyes skyward for a little star gazing. Capitol Reef is a designated dark sky area, and it one of the best places in the state to view celestial bodies and pretend you know which constellations are which.
The mountain biking atop Gooseberry Mesa needs no introduction with its intricately built trails and innumerable technical challenges. Sometimes the hardest part is keeping your eyes on what’s coming instead of the incredible views of the mesas and gorges in the shadow of Zion National Park. Here’s your chance to enjoy all that while skipping the part of the trip where you drive around forever looking for the perfect camp spot.
The Gooseberry Mesa Yurts are the only lodging option available on the mesa, and they can be reserved by using the request form on their website. The three yurts all sit at the edge of the mesa over immense desert panoramas. You can ride to the trails from right outside the yurt door, so there’s no need to drag your ailing Civic up a rough road each time you want to go for a ride.
The Boulder Mountain Lodge is surrounded by the expansive Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and is within easy striking distance of Bryce Canyon National Park. The lodge sits right on highway 12 along the backcountry Burr Trail and is the perfect base camp for a quick hike to the stunning desert oasis of Calf Creek Falls as well as a visit to the Anasazi State Park Museum.
The Lodge itself is a quaint roadside hotel attached to the world-famous Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm, which has been a James Beard Foundation award nominee each of the past four years. The restaurant features entirely organic, locally produced and seasonally appropriate cuisine with much of the produce coming directly from the property’s six-acre farm and meat sourced from local ranchers.
Not every getaway requires traveling far from Salt Lake City. Fall weather is often perfect right in the heart of the Wasatch, so take a little staycation up Big Cottonwood Canyon at Silver Fork Lodge and Restaurant. Silver Fork is famous for its restaurant, which serves incredible grub that’s a lot fancier than what you might expect from a log building tucked in the mountains, but it also has rustic rooms with views of Honeycomb Canyon for rent at the threshold of wonderful opportunities for recreation.
Head just a few miles down canyon and park at the s-turns to hike up to Lake Blanche or drive a few minutes up canyon for some mountain biking on Solitude’s flowy trails. Whatever activity you choose, you’ll appreciate eschewing the drive and taking in the sunset over the Great Salt Lake from high up Big Cottonwood.
The aptly-named Fish Lake is a high alpine lake sitting at nearly 8,900 feet in the Fishlake National Forest. The lake is well-known for delivering huge fish, especially Mackinaw lake trout, which can push 30 pounds. You can also angle for brown trout, tiger muskie and kokanee salmon or go fly fishing for some Bonneville cutthroat trout in nearby Clear Creek or Freemont River if that’s more your style.
The Fish Lake Lodge sits right on the edge of the lake with gorgeous views of the water and surrounding aspen forest as they turn brilliant yellows and reds in the fall. You can rent cabins and boats or go hiking in the surrounding trail systems.