So long scorching summer sun. A hint of chill in the air means fall is here. While it’ll still be some time until the mountains are blanketed with The Greatest Snow on Earth®, the not-so-well-kept secret is that fall is an incredible time to explore the Utah mountains. Uncrowded trails, perfect temperatures, and of course; prime leaf peeping, which means family fun is as simple as lacing up your shoes and hiking into the woods.
The yellow, orange, and red hues of the changing leaves are caused by the presence of carotenoids and anthocyanin—the same compounds that give carrots and apples their color—showing through as chlorophyll levels fade out during the shorter days of fall. Who doesn’t love a rudimentary science lesson imbued with a metaphor about how the beauty was there all along? Here are eight of our favorite fall hikes in Utah for the whole family. Whether down in the city or high in the mountains, these routes aren’t too arduous, but they reward with incredible fall scenery. So gather up your family and get to the trailhead before those colors fade and the snow is here.
City Creek Canyon in Salt Lake City
Located within the SLC city limits, City Creek Canyon is a fall escape hidden in plain sight. The full trail is a relatively flat 6.5-mile out-and-back, but even if you turn around after a mile or two, you’ll still be rewarded with views of a picturesque creek and changing foliage just minutes from downtown.
Donut Falls in Big Cottonwood Canyon
The quick out-and-back trail to Donut Falls in Big Cottonwood Canyon starts from the Mill D parking area. There is limited parking a half-mile up the summer trail, but on weekends it’s almost certain to be full. The well-maintained trail ends with a rocky scramble up to the gorgeous falls. Give the little ones a hand because it’s well worth the extra effort.
Brighton Silver Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon
The Brighton Silver Lake Loop is a super easy hike that’s a perfect challenge for bold toddlers out there. The one-mile trail goes around the lake right near the base of Brighton and offers serious bang for your buck with an alpine lake and fall colors just steps from the car. This trial is also wheelchair accessible. Picnic tables surround the area near the parking lot, so pack a picnic for the perfect family outing.
Willow Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon
One of the best places in the Wasatch to spot a moose in the fall. Willow Lake is accessed via a two-mile, 500-vertical-foot out-and-back hike. The Willow Heights Trail starts right by the Silver Fork Lodge and Restaurant—it’s highly recommended to stop here for lunch or dinner after your hike—and winds through pine and aspen all the way to the water’s edge.
Red Cloud Trail in Deer Valley
The Red Cloud Trail climbs from the well-trafficked mid mountain trail at Deer Valley Resort just above the Montage. It’s a little steeper than some of the other climbs on this list, but the switchbacks and lack of bikes on the hike-only trail make the grade manageable. Start in dense pine before entering high meadows where the gold glow of huge aspen groves stun.
Bloods Lake in Bonanza Flats
Bloods Lake Trail is quite popular—for good reason—making it a great weekday option. The three-mile out-and-back trail has a mellow grade and consistent surface twisting through aspen before tipping up over the last .4 miles to the eponymous lake, where it’s common to spot a moose taking a dip. Start from the new parking area in Bonanza Flats.
Summit Park Peak in Park City
Point 8,618, more commonly referred to as Summit Park Peak, has incredible 360-degree views of the Uintas, the Great Salt Lake, Wasatch ridge line amid well-defined stands of aspen. Start from the trailhead in the Summit Park neighborhood. If the gang is keen for steeper terrain, take the hike-only Over Easy trail to the summit, as the multi-use Road to WOS is frequented by mountain bikes.
Cecret Lake in Little Cottonwood Canyon
Starting high in LCC at 9,000 feet near Alta Ski Area, the Cecret Lake Trail is a 1.8-mile out-and-back in the Albion Basin area under the shadow of Sugarloaf Peak. For a $10 fee, you can park up the summer road right at the base of the trailhead, or you can begin from the Albion Basin parking area and add a little distance free of charge. Either way, you’ll end up in stunning alpine terrain in no time.
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