Road Trip Planner: Best Fall Colors In Utah
Experiencing the vibrant colors of fall foliage in Utah by campervan is a life-list adventure, whether you call yourself a “Leaf Peeper” or not. Temps are generally a bit cooler, crowds are fewer, and there are still plenty of hiking, mountain biking, and adventuring opportunities in the forecast before winter comes.
To help you experience it, we’ve created a road trip planner for three of the best places to see fall colors in Utah: Salt Lake City, Southern Utah, and Western Utah plus a bonus adventure into Colorado if you’re feeling extra adventurous.
Why travel in Utah?
We created this road trip planner because of Utah’s accessibility to diverse landscapes within 30 minutes to a few hour’s drive from our Salt Lake City and Las Vegas hubs. It’s one of our favorite places to travel because in a relatively small geographical area, and the choice between slow scenic roads or fast interstates, you can be within striking distance of high alpine peaks and lakes, glaciated valleys of dense forests in the north, or towering red arches and monoliths, whimsical rock formations, sheer canyon cliffs, tight slot canyons, and some of the darkest skies in the country to the south.
And we can’t talk about why we love Utah without mentioning its “Mighty 5” National Parks (Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon & Capitol Reef) and countless state and local recreational spaces where your adventure options are limitless no matter if you love hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, river rafting, and more.
When is the best time to see fall colors in Utah?
Fall colors in Utah typically begin to appear in late September and peak in October. Although the exact timing depends on several factors like elevation, temperature, and weather conditions – you can expect to see leaves changing colors sooner in higher elevation areas. As you move toward lower elevations and southern parts of the state, the peak of fall foliage might still be in full swing during mid to late October.
It’s impossible to predict the ” peak, ” but late September into October is a great time to search for it.
What are our favorite routes for fall colors in Utah?
Here are a few places worth visiting for those interested in seeing beautiful fall colors or anyone who genuinely appreciates nature. One note: any of these routes can be a multi-day adventure or combined with the others.
Let the fall colors tour of Utah begin!
Northern Utah: Salt Lake City
Big Cottonwood Canyon – Guardsman’s Pass – Park City – Alpine Loop
Single-Day or Multi-Day Adventure
Salt Lake City sits in the valley that was once the ancient lake Bonneville and is home to the Wasatch Mountains that tower above the city. With many peaks reaching 11,000, the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest has more than 2 million acres of stunning wilderness, making it the perfect place to go in search of fall colors.
Description: If you’re looking for colorful foliage against the backdrop of the high alpine mountains, you can start by exploring this stunning mountain range.
Route: Start your drive in Salt Lake City and go up Big Cottonwood Canyon to the top of Guardsman’s Pass to see stunning groves of Aspen trees covering the mountains. You can stop anywhere along this route for a hike or a mountain bike ride. Then, meander to Park City, a great place to stop for food or bevies, before going to Heber City via Empire Pass to start the well known Alpine Loop that takes you past Sundance Resort and the Timpanogos wilderness area. You can drive this all the way back to Salt Lake. If you have anything left in the tank, do an out and back in Little Cottonwood Canyon. You won’t regret it.
Uinta Mountains: Mirror Lake Scenic Byway
Description: The Uinta Mountains, with their tall peaks and glacially carved U-shaped valleys, are home to Utah’s highest peak and are a visually stark contrast to the Wasatch Range. The Uintas are more remote (a great place to camp) and have around 2000 lakes and ponds, 400 miles of rivers, and more than 500 miles of hiking trails.
Route: Begin in Salt Lake or the Park City area and drive to the start of the route in Kamas. The Mirror Lake Scenic Byway is a 42-mile route that takes you through the Uinta Mountains, passing by Mirror Lake and several alpine lakes with stunning displays of trees. It’s a great day trip, or you can set up a base camp at one of the many camping areas to truly explore.
Southern Utah: Scenic Byway 12
Cedar City – Brian Head – Zion – Bryce – Escalante – Capitol Reef
A trip through southern Utah’s canyon country is a must-do bucket list adventure for anyone who would love to see spectacular fall colors against a backdrop of dramatic desert scenery.
Description: Traveling through this part of the world is like taking a trip back in time. It’s a place where dinosaurs once roamed, lava once flowed, and water is still slowly sculpting the dramatic landscape. This area is known for its high alpine mountains with groves of aspen trees, canyons that are thousands of feet deep, pillars that stand hundreds of feet tall, and whimsically shaped rock formations that inspire the mind to playfully daydream.
Route: Driving Scenic Byway 12 is a multi-day adventure adorned with golden aspens and other deciduous trees, creating a mesmerizing contrast with the red rocks. Starting in either our Salt Lake City or Las Vegas hubs, make your way to Cedar City, where the route starts and climbs to more than 10,000 ft above sea level at the town of Brian Head, where plenty of camping options exist.
Next, drive through Dixie National Forest’s rolling meadows, aspen groves, and ancient lava flows to Bryce Canyon National Park, or take a side trip to Zion National Park before doing so. After you visit Bryce Canyon, drive toward Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park to end the 122-mile iconic route. If you feel like seeing something extra special, take the Fishlake scenic byway to see one of the world’s largest organisms called Pando – a clonal Aspen tree colony thought to be 80,000 years old. There are more than 40,000 trees in this colony; yes, every tree you see is the same as its neighbor.
Western Utah: Moab
Moab – La Sal Loop Road
We love this region because of the diverse landscapes in a tiny area where the red desert landscape butts right up to the high alpine terrain. If you wanted to base camp and do epic day adventures instead of a long road trip, this is where we would do it, especially during this time of year when temps are more comfortable.
Description: Moab, Utah, is home to Arches and Canyonlands National Park. It’s a once sleepy town turned adventure mecca that is the heart and soul of this part of the state, where travelers flock in droves to climb iconic sandstone cliffs, hike to world-renowned geological wonders, and mountain bike some of the best trails in the country. Those interested in fall colors also flock to this area because of the Aspen-covered La Sal mountains outside town that stand more than 12,700 feet above sea level and starkly contrast the surrounding low-lying red desert. Moab has many good restaurants, cafes, and places to grab an end-of-day celebratory drink.
Route: Start in Salt Lake City or Las Vegas – Salt Lake for those with limited time or Vegas with those who have time to see some other areas like part or all of Scenic Byway 12. Moab has many dispersed camping options, but our favorite spots are near the town on the Colorado River, where you’ll catch the Cottonwood trees changing color if you time it right. Then take a day trip through Castle Valley to do the La Sal loop road (clockwise) to see miles of colorful Aspen trees. You have options to hike and mountain bike all over this area, and although this is a short route, it’s a beauty that’s easy to attain with minimal driving. If you’re keen on another drive, you could take yourself to the Abajo mountains near Monticello – your leaf-peeping appetite will be satisfied.
Bonus Route: The San Juan Skyway, Colorado
Moab – Durango – Silverton – Ouray – Telluride
If we traveled to Moab in search of fall colors, we would go the extra mile and turn it into an adventure. Moab is incredibly close to western Colorado, home of the stunning San Juan Mountain range, quaint mountain towns, and one of the most beautiful roads we’ve ever driven – The San Juan Skyway on Highway 550.
Route: Start the second leg of your trip in Moab and head to Durango, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. Then make your way back home either via Grand Junction or through Moab. If you travel here during peak times, the fall colors will blow you away.
Traveling in the fall is one of our favorite times to travel, and we hope this Road Trip Planner has helped you narrow down your options for your hunt for beautiful fall foliage!
Remember that the timing of peak foliage varies from year to year and depends on factors such as climate and elevation. You can also call tourism centers, state, and national parks to inquire about estimates for leaf peaks.
Need more information and resources?
We’ve got you covered!
If you want to make a trip above in one of our vans, check out our website, and don’t hesitate to contact us today to ask about availability. If you’d like to start planning right now, check out more of our blogs or let us email our free Insider’s Guides to you form the regions of your choosing.
Enjoy your leaf-peeping adventure, and stay tuned for more Road Trip Planners to help you find the best fall colors this season!