Utah’s Best Autumn Mountain Bike Rides

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6 Best Autumn Mountain Bike Rides in Utah

The changing of the leaves: From late September to early November, late summer’s dusty bike trails transform into a kaleidoscope carpet of colors. Riding knobby tires over this multicolored landscape, kicking up dried leaves along the way, is one of the more religious experiences a mountain biker can have. Much like spring’s “brown pow” a day after a rainstorm, autumn mountain bike riding at fall’s peak colors is not to be missed.

Trails spanning several hundred miles from north to south, with thousands of feet in varied elevation, makes timing peak colors a challenge in Utah. Generally speaking, northern Utah begins to turn color in early September, with peak color happening the last week of September. Down in Dixie—think St. George and Zion—late-October is prime time, through the month of November.

AUTUMN mountain bike ride in St. George

Riding in St. George

Last winter saw some of Utah’s deepest snow totals in several years, leading to a green, healthy spring. And thanks to plenty of moisture throughout summer, at least by our high desert standards, this autumn mountain bike ride season should pop with yellows, oranges, and reds.

Mountain bikers who want to add some color in their lives before it all turns white can make like a powder storm chaser and follow the season’s peak from north to south and extend one of Utah’s best seasons upon two fat tires. Here are a few of my favorite trails around the Beehive State for aspens, maples, and cottonwood colors galore. Road trip!

Note: Weather and precipitation can change the recommended riding times, and these can vary in future years by several weeks. The best resource map I found to gauge the peak (across the entire country).

Park City: Flying Dog Trail

When to Ride: Late September
Topping out over 7,500 feet, with about 1,400’ of elevation change, Flying Dog takes riders through several vegetation zones.Beginning in a sage-filled desert and climbing through stands of oak and under towering aspens shimmering a golden yellow or bright orange, Flying Dog explodes when timed right. Along the southern portion of the trail, views of Park City and Deer Valley Resort’s allows riders to gauge when the ski hills will reach their color pinnacle—usually a week or so behind the Flying Dog area.

Park City: Mid-mountain Trail

When to Ride: Late September–early October
Beginning at Silver Lake in Deer Valley, and tracing through Park City Mountain Resort, this 20+ mile singletrack trail does its best to stick to about 8,000 feet: prime aspen elevation. Ride as a one-way shuttle, an out-and-back, or create a loop using any of dozens of intersecting trail options, this is fall riding at its peak—pun intended. If you have the stamina, pedal up Armstrong and Pinecone or Shadow Lake to the Crest (see below) and add in some miles on Mid-Mountain on the return. Ride until your eyes have had all the sensory overload they can handle, or your legs give out, whichever happens first.

Salt Lake City/Park City: Wasatch Crest Trail

When to Ride: Late September–early October
The granddaddy of ‘em all. One of Utah’s best trails, period. At any time of year. But especially in fall. At its lung-burning top elevation of 9,000 feet, with views of Big Cottonwood Canyon and Park City, the Crest delivers sights and incredible ridge riding and singletrack. When Guardsman’s Pass is packed with binocular-toting hikers, you can pedal yourself to a first-hand view of the best the tri-canyon area has to offer. A descent into Millcreek Canyon, and potentially all the way to Salt Lake City, takes riders through over 4,000 feet of elevation change with plenty of autumn color along the way.

Utah County: Blackhawk Loop

When to Ride: Early October
Just over an hour south of downtown SLC, the Mt. Nebo Loop is one of Utah’s most scenic drives, and the Blackhawk Loop parallels the stretch just beyond Payson. Typically ridden as a loop, with several trailhead options and distance/elevation choices. Camping at the Blackhawk Campground is recommended, as the circumnavigation of Mt. Nebo is an incredible fall drive, and nearby Maple Canyon offers stunning colors, rock climbing, and hiking.

Cedar City: Navajo Lake Loop

When to Ride: Late September
The deep red rock of nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument is always a beautiful sight, but biking around Navajo Lake adds the autumn colors of aspen and oak to the visual palette. Clocking in at over 10 miles with just a couple hundred feet of elevation gain, this is a family-accessible ride, so pack a picnic and pedal to a spot with a nice view. Fall comes early here, as the trail is at 9,000 feet, with views of the lake nearly the entire way. The glimmering blue provides excellent contrast for the changing colors of aspen, along with the greens of pine and fir trees. The whole rainbow can be found on Highway 14.

Southern Utah/St George: Cove Wash Trail

When to Ride: Mid-October–November
After the higher elevations and northern areas have dropped their leaves, head south for warm days and a final blast of colored leaves post-Halloween. Zion National Park is an obvious destination, with many great hikes to find yellow, orange, or fiery red leaves set to a backdrop of sandstone cathedrals.

Aboard two wheels, however, most of the riding in the area is through red rock desert areas. The Pine Valley Mountains to the west of St. George are an island of green in the desert, topping out at over 10,000 feet, along with the adjacent Cottonwood Canyon and Forest that transitions the Colorado Plateau to the Mojave Desert. This time of year, riding in the Santa Clara River Preserve offers views of Pine Valley’s peaks 7,000 feet above the valley, along with a few of pockets of color just below your tires in the town of Santa Clara and neighboring stream lined with cottonwoods.

A bike trip to the St. George area allows Utahns the opportunity to extend autumn; one of the state’s best, yet shortest, fleeting seasons. What better way to get a few more autumn mountain bike rides in while the ski resorts fill in with the first few snowfalls of the season?

Mountain Biker on an autumn mountain bike ride

Photo Credits: Nick Como

Biking Gear Picks

Camelbak Skyline LR 10

I was amazed I could fit 100 oz of water, a camera for foliage pics, an extra layer for fall weather, plus a snack and bike tools in this 400cu pack. The reservoir sits in the lumbar region, keeping the weight low, a design that provided much more balance than my old hydration pack when riding everything from the spine on the Crest to the constant up-and-downs of Mid-mountain. Add in a magnetic tube strap and a load-bearing hipbelt, and this is the only pack I ride with, in any season. $130

BiKASE CoolKASE

This soft-sided cooler is a must have for any bike outfitted with panniers or a rack to carry a six pack of cold brews and lunch. I used my touring bike on the Navajo Lake Loop and brought along all the picnic supplies for a mid-ride lunch stop. $129

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About Author

Nick Como escaped the skyscrapers of NYC for the tall peaks of the Wasatch. Climber, skier, canyoneer, mountain biker, and lover of food. Just don’t think of offering him pizza with pineapple on it.

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