Must-do Utah Fall Hikes
Looking for a trail to take in the beauty of fall in northern Utah? The Wasatch Front offers unmatched outdoor play year-round, but the enchanting, vibrant hues of fall leaves make September through November one of the best times of year to lace up your hiking boots. These Utah fall hikes get you away from the crowds clamoring for orange, red, and yellow leaves, and onto new terrain where you just might find some solitude to take it all in.
City Creek Canyon
City Creek Canyon is no secret, but there’s a gem of a trail hiding in it that’s often forgotten about. Smuggler’s Gap connects City Creek Canyon with nearby Little Black Mountain and is ideal for its accessibility to downtown and vast vantage points. During the 5-mile drive up the canyon, you’ll experience thick fall foliage in yellows and orange. From the top, you’ll see the autumnal colors of seven canyons stretching out below. To the east, the views extend out to the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island.
Visit on an even-numbered day, as on odd-numbered days, the canyon is accessible only to cyclists. Pay the $3 entrance fee, and proceed up the canyon as far as you can drive. Park your car at Rotary Park and take the trail heading east up the narrow canyon. After 10 minutes or so, you’ll see the Smuggler’s Gap Trailhead on your right. This trail isn’t long or difficult, but it does gain a lot of elevation rather quickly. There are sections where the brush is overgrown and unavoidable, so long pants are a good idea to protect your skin.
See aspen groves alight with brilliant golden leaves, juxtaposed with resolute evergreens on the Salt Lake Valley’s west side in the majestic Oquirrh Mountains. This Utah fall hike is often overlooked, possibly due to an assumption that all of the land is private property. While there is a lot of acreage that is privately owned, there remains plenty of space that is publicly accessible. Butterfield Canyon lies south of the mining operations and links the Salt Lake Valley with Tooele to the west. The peaks offer a unique view of the valley stretching out to the north, the point of the mountain in front of you, and Utah Lake to the south.
From 12600 South, take Herriman’s Main Street as it winds its way up towards the mountains. Right before the road cuts north turning into US-111, turn left on an unmarked (but paved) road that leads you up to the canyon. At the pass, find a small parking area on your left. Three obvious trails lead up the mountain to the south of the parking area, take the third trail (far right) for about 10 feet before cutting left on a path that ascends quickly. Proceed on the evident trail through groves, meadows, and exposed ridges until you see the radio towers on Butterfield Peaks.
Antelope Island is extremely popular for visitors passing through Utah to get a view of the Great Salt Lake. But many don’t take the time to explore the island’s trails and visit the highest point: Frary Peak. Because the trail is so exposed, the sun is unyielding during summer months, making it a perfect fall hiking trail. Plus, you’ll avoid the worst of the insects that can plague the lake during warmer weather. The buttery flax-colored grasses and vegetation offer a different kind of scene to experience harvest hues than the popular forests of the east-bench canyons.
The trail gains over 2,000 feet in elevation over the 3.2 miles to the peak, so be prepared for the climb and direct sun. After enjoying the otherworldly views from the top, make your way back down the same trail. If possible, plan to make it to your vehicle in time to catch the sunset from the west side of the island. With the reflection of the sun on the water and the nearly unobstructed view of the westerly sky, it’s a spectacular place to catch a colorful sunset.
The island is a state park, so you’ll pay a $10 fee as you enter via the access road from I-15 in Layton. Bike or walk in and pay just $3. State park status also means the trails are well maintained and mapped, making this one of the least remote hikes on our list. Follow the road south on the east coast of the island, and watch for signage for the Frary Peak Trailhead. Your journey will take you on a moderate trail, high above the lake that surrounds you.
Little Cottonwood Canyon
Little Cottonwood Canyon is one of the busiest in the state, with a plethora of beautiful—and crowded—fall hiking trails. But for incredible views of the surrounding granite peaks and colorful fall foliage, there’s no need to drive all the way up the canyon. Alpenboch Loop is known to many climbers, as it leads to climbing routes like ‘Bong Eater’, ‘Crescent Crack’, and ‘The Egg’, but a trail was recently developed for hikers of all levels.
The easy path offers great reward with little effort. Sunrise is an ideal time for this hike, as the light rising from the east casts magical rays down the canyon walls, illuminating the valley floor below.
Park in the lower canyon parking lot on the north side of the canyon road (opposite the popular Temple Quarry Trailhead), and find the trailhead ascending from the far west end of the lot. From there, enjoy an easy one-mile loop that goes up to the rock faces and around back to the parking lot.
What are your favorite Utah fall hikes? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we may include it in a future story.