Often overlooked for New England or the Smoky Mountains, Utah’s wide array of forests and state and national parks—each located at different elevations and receiving varying amounts of rainfall—make for a diverse foliage spectacle.
Utah’s geography creates a multitude of peak viewing times throughout the state, so you can come early or late in the season and still spot breathtaking colors courtesy of the canyon maples, quaking aspens, scrub oaks, Douglas hawthorns, serviceberries, and more—each turning in succession.
Sure, any of Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks are spectacular year round—covered in snow, peppered with spring wildflowers, and baked in sunshine. But find them special when the changing fall leaves are in close proximity to the immaculate red rock cliffs.
Enjoy Capitol Reef and Zion during the fall season— or drive the La Sal Mountain Loop Road near Moab for a different perspective on southeast Utah. Make these national parks a destination unto themselves, or wrap them into one of the state’s numerous scenic byways—either way, you can’t lose.
This underrated national park has features—knobs, ridges, and slot canyons—that rival anything else in America. While there are miles and miles of hiking trails, which are totally worth your time, much of the grandeur of Capitol Reef National Park can be taken in and accessed by your toad/tow vehicle.
Start with the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. This 25-mile round trip is on paved road and is accessible by all vehicles. There are a number of pull-offs to take in the towering sandstone cliffs, red rock, and fall foliage of the park. Don’t miss Panorama Point/Goosenecks view area. Get out of the car for the Grand Wash trail. Also picnicking along the Fremont River is a must; the plant life along the river makes for some of the most epic color gawking in the park.
Top hikes include Fremont River Trail, Grand Wash, Frying Pan Trail, Golden Throne, and Hickman Bridge.
While the hiking in Zion National Park is incredible, there are several scenic drives to take in the autumnal wonders.
For starters, take a regularly-scheduled shuttle bus along the six-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which travels along the North Fork of the Virgin River through some of the park’s most outstanding scenery. It’s closed to vehicle traffic through October.
To hit the road yourself, don’t miss the 54-mile (one way) Zion Park Scenic Byway. The drive travels from I-15 to US 89 to the east and gives drivers plenty opportunities to pull off the road to take photos.
Those able and willing to hike will be rewarded with world-famous trails that travel past clear pools and natural arches, through narrow canyons, and up, up, up to immaculate vistas. To see the red rock play in tandem with the changing colors of maple, oak, and shrub is a thing of sheer delight.
Top hikes include Hidden Canyon, Lower Emerald Pools, The Narrows, and Riverside Walk.
Moab-Area Fall Leaves
The La Sal Mountain Loop Road is a 60-mile tour well beyond the bustle of Moab and Arches. Some of the best views are at overlooks pointed back over the red rock formations of Castle Valley as the road winds and climbs to more than 10,000 feet. Celebrate the beauty of the area at the 16th annual Castle Valley Gourd Festival, October 21, 2017. Who knew there were so many things you could do with gourds?
Along the way, the vegetation changes from the juniper and pinyon common on the Colorado Plateau to the larger evergreen pines and colorful aspen blend that make this season so popular.
Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.