Autumn Escapes: Utah Backpacking


Overnight Utah Backpacking Trips Near SLC

Fall foliage, fewer crowds, and crisp air are just a few reasons to love hiking and backpacking in autumn. Whether you’re new to backpacking or a seasoned overnighter, these close–to–home destinations are perfect weekend escapes. When camping in fall, come prepared for cold nights and rapidly changing conditions to ensure a good experience. For the backpacking averse, these trips make great day hikes.

red pine photo

Photo by Jenny WIllden

The Close to Home

Red Pine Lake

This trail starts off easy-ish and crosses a couple footbridges over creeks before inclining steeply through colored aspens and pines. Breaks in the trees offer dramatic down-canyon views of the Salt Lake Valley. Continue hiking to lower Red Pine Lake where ample campsites surround the glacial lake. If crowded, a less-defined trail to Upper Red Pine Lake offers a few campsites too.

Not tired yet? Hike to the summit of the Pfiefferhorn at 11,320 feet. This difficult trail features steep climbs, loose rocks, knife-edge ridges, and dramatic 360-degree views.

  • Getting There: The hike begins at White Pine Trailhead, 5.5 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon—just below Snowbird.
  • Fees: none
  • Distance: 7.3 miles RT
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Elevation Gain: 1965 feet
  • Dogs or Swimming Allowed: No

Lake Blance

The Classic

Lake Blanche

One of Salt Lake’s best hikes; the trail to Lake Blanche is steep and scenic with gorgeous aspen trees changing to brilliant shades of orange and yellow this time of year. There are plenty of camping spots near the lake, just be sure to set up your site at least 200 feet from the lake as it’s a watershed. Overnighting gives you more time to explore lakes Lillian and Florence, or even take on the extra challenge of summiting 10,320-foot Sundial Peak.

  • Getting There: Located in Big Cottonwood Canyon at the bottom of the S-curve. Trail begins at Mill B Trailhead. Follow signs for Lake Blanche Trail.
  • Fees: none
  • Distance: 6 miles RT
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 2700 feet
  • Dogs or Swimming Allowed: No

notch lake photo

Photo by Jenny Willden


Notch Lake

This mostly downhill trail passes four alpine lakes along the way: Clegg, Dean, Rieds, and Notch. It’s great for beginners as you can camp near any of the lakes along the way, making it as short or long a trip as you like. Notch Lake is the most crowded for camping, but is massive and offers great fishing, flat camping spots, and pre-built firepits. Or continue on to Bench Lake, but note that the trail steepens dramatically here so it’s not advised for beginners or those with young children.


  • Getting There: Found in the High Uintas, take Hwy 150 east for 29.1 miles from Kamas to the Bald Mountain Trailhead parking lot on the left. Follow sign to left for Notch Mountain Trail.
  • Fees: $6 cash
  • Distance: 4.6 miles RT to Notch Lake or 5.6 miles RT to Bench Lake
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation Gain: -60
  • Dogs or Swimming Allowed: Yes


mount timpanogos photo

Photo by Jenny Willden

The Long Haul

Mount Timpanogos

The Timpooneke Trail features lush vegetation, a waterfall, abundant mountain goats, and gorgeous views. Start early (4 a.m.) to beat the crowds, or begin later if not summiting the first day. Prime camping spots are scattered along the way or in the large meadow below the peak.

Reaching the top of Timp—the Wasatch Range’s second highest peak at 11,572 feet—is tough in terms of steep, long climbs, but you won’t need to scramble to summit! A dilapidated shack marks the top, and the views of the valley here are unparalleled.

  • Getting There: For the Timponeeke Trailhead, drive up American Fork Canyon, take a right at the fork in the road and drive until you see a sign for the Timpoonee Campground. Take this road to a paved parking lot at the trailhead.
  • Fees: $6 cash
  • Distance: 15 miles RT
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Elevation Gain: 4371 feet
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes
timpanogos goat photo

Photo by Jenny Willden


Must-have Backpacking Gear

Gregory Women’s Deva 60
Ideal for weekend getaways, the Deva stows your essentials but doesn’t have space for overpacking. Smart innovations like a waterproof phone pocket, removable summit daypack that doubles as a hydration bladder holder, and a built-in rain cover make it a worthwhile upgrade from your current pack. $299

Big Agnes Rattlesnake SL2 MtnGLO Tent
Leave your lantern at home; the Rattlesnake has ambient lights built into the poles. Though not quite as lightweight as expected, there’s ample space inside for two. $350

Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite
Weighing practically nothing and packing to the size of a water bottle, the NeoAir XLite offers the best-in-its-class support and warmth by using reflective technology to capture heat for backpackers looking to go light. $130-$180

MSR WhisperLite Univeral Stove
Use any fuel you have with this universal stove. Packs down tiny and comes with a windscreen, heat reflector, and bag for stowing easily lost accessories. $140

MSR Trail Lite Duo
When cooking for two, this is the only set you need. Includes ceramic nonstick pot, two double-wall insulated mugs, and two deep bowls that nest together in one super light, packable system. $70

Light My Fire Titanium Spork
So light, so sturdy! Why have I been using plastic sporks all this time? Titanium is the new king. $15

Fireside Provisions Meals
Get tasty, healthy, backpacking-friendly meals delivered to your door! Just submit your trip length and number in your group, and then choose snacks, breakfasts, and meals that arrive in time for your travels. Prices vary.

Leki Micro Vario Carbon Folding Poles
A good set of trekking poles changes your hiking life! Take some of the load of your pack off your back, prevent slipping on loose terrain, and keep your knees feeling young after a long mileage day. These offer amazing grip, pack down small, and are made of light, durable carbon. $199

iBattz Refuel InVictus
You’re likely not taking calls in the backcountry, but if you use your iPhone for photos like me, this is the best recharger I’ve tried yet. Swap from a day case to a more protective outdoor one while using the same battery pack. Plus, it provides 127% battery recharging power so you can go from dead to set more than once. $100

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About Author

Jenny Willden is the Managing Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide and a self-proclaimed gear and grammar nut. She's a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. A lover of adventure and travel, she's happiest when riding horses or snowboarding in Utah’s mountains. Follow Jenny’s exploits on Twitter @jennywillden or Instagram @jlwillden.

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