The shortest, most colorful season of the year is upon us. Early autumn reds and oranges are popping up on the slopes and soon the hillsides will be covered in gold. In between the rain and snow, we recommend you get out on the trail to catch the magnificent display. Here are our top picks for leaf peeping this season.
Summit Park's Over Easy Trail
Nestled up in the forest along the I-80 between Park City and Salt Lake City, the entire Summit Park trail system is a great place for leaf peeping. If you're on foot, hop onto the 2.5-mile, out-and-back Over Easy neighborhood walking trail, where you can meander through shady pine forest and alpine meadows. This hike is easy and perfect for the whole family. Dog owners take note: the north section of the trail sits in Salt Lake County where dogs aren't allowed.
McLeod Creek Trail
Want to take in a view of all the area surroundings? The all ages–friendly McLeod Creek Trail runs all the way from Park City proper to Kimball Junction. You can bike the whole paved and crushed-gravel path over bridges and along the creek (and even connect to the Millennium Trail which runs all the way to Summit Park) or just walk a smaller section. We suggest leaving your car at the Farm Trailhead and exploring the area around McPolin Barn or playing at Matt Knoop Memorial Park or Willow Creek Park (both of which offer playgrounds, restrooms, and picnic areas).
Iron Canyon Trail
For a short, moderately steep hike with a great pay-off, head up Iron Canyon Trail. The trailhead can be accessed at the top of Iron Canyon Drive, the road turns into dead end and the trail is right in the middle (exit Hwy 224 on Meadows Drive). Lush aspens and pine groves drop you in the midst of a dazzling display of yellow and deep green while the overlook at the top offers a wider view of the colorful ski slopes of Park City Mountain Resort. The hike is roughly 2.25 miles out-and-back.
Not one for the faint of heart, Fantasy Ridge is a grueling hike up to the 9,990-foot summit we all love to race to on powder days. Before even getting to Fantasy Ridge, you'll need to take the 1.6 mile Tombstone trail from the Red Pine Lodge. Once you reach Tombstone Peak, you can hop onto Fantasy Ridge where sweeping views of Park City await. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time and that you schedule this hike before summer operations at Canyons Village close for the season (September 30).
Crescent Lift Trail Loops
Once you head up Crescent Lift (open through Oct. 22) at the Park City Base Area, you have the option to create multiple loops of varying lengths. After hopping off the lift, take Crescent Ridge Road to Three Candles and take a right onto Keystone. At the end of Keystone Trail, the woods break into the open meadow of Shadow Lake. Take a loop around the lake and keep your eyes peeled for moose, but don't get too close. You can return to the Crescent lift via the Jupiter Access Road to the Apex trail, which hooks back into Keystone, Three Candles, the Crescent Ridge Road, and then, finally, the top of the Crescent lift.
Another out-and-back option off of Crescent lift is to take the Crescent Ridge Road to Three Candles to Keystone, and then take a left at Apex and follow it along the Pioneer Ridge as it turns into Dead Tree. In addition to excellent up close views of the changing leaves, your hike will also reward you with phenomenal panoramic views of the Central Wasatch, including Mount Raymond, Gobbler’s Knob (at the top of Millcreek Canyon), and Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Silver Lake Trail
You won't regret making the hike up Silver Lake Trail to the summit of Bald Mountain. Start your journey at Deer Valley's Silver Lake Lodge and alternatively traverse dense forest and open ski runs. Along the way and from the 9,346-foot summit, you'll have plenty of opportunity to bask in the glorious vistas of the Jordanelle Reservoir, framed by foliage.
Alternatively, you can take the shorter, 2-mile Sultan Out and Back Trail. The trail hugs the broad hillside, offering views, grassy meadows, and aspen groves for your enjoyment. This is a simple hike with an easy grade for all ages.
Unfortunately, summer lift operations have ended at Deer Valley, so plan to hike back on your own.
Guardsman Pass gets so decked out in fall colors (before most of a lowlands), you may be tempted just to drive all the way back down through Big Cottonwood Canyon. There are plenty of hikes in the area to choose from, but if you're looking for something relatively short with views from a summit, check out Clayton Peak. It's moderately steep, but relatively short (2.5-3 miles out and back) and has some excellent 360-degree views of the area, including Deer Creek and the Jordanelle Reservoirs, Brighton Resort, and Mt. Timpanogos. Chances are you'll even run into a bit of snow up there. You can access the trail from the same parking lot as Bloods Lake, just head up along the ridge rather than down to the lake.
Keep in mind, fall weather can be unpredictable in the mountains and you shouldn't be surprised if sunny skies are interrupted by rain or autumn snow. Make sure to dress appropriately for whatever the weather may throw your way.