There are several places in Utah to enjoy the fall colors before the snow starts to fall. These drives and places are some of my family's favorite places to visit to enjoy Mother Nature's fall palette.
Hwy 92 to Hwy 189
This loop drive is the definitive place for northern Utah residents to enjoy the fall foliage. The road is twisty and narrow in spots so be prepared if your kiddos get car sick (unfortunately I know from experience). Consider taking a short hike along the way, or at least stopping at one of the many turn-offs for a fabulous fall color family photo.
reviewed on: September 27 2011
An autumn tradition for many Utah families is a drive around the Alpine Loop to enjoy all of Mother Nature's colors. This loop is along American Fork Canyon on the north and Provo Canyon on the south with plenty of outdoor recreation to enjoy along the way. Note that American Fork Canyon does charge a small fee to enter but it is free for anyone with a National Parks Pass.
"Autumn Family Tradition"
The drive does get narrow and twisty along the way. In other words, be prepared for car sickness if your kiddos do get motion sick. I know from experience as a Mother with a car sick wary daughter, be sure to take it slow and take plenty of breaks enjoying the viewpoints along the way. If you need restrooms, be sure to stop along one of the picnic areas along the lower elevation before the road starts to climb along its switchbacks. Although narrow and steep in places, the road does have some good turn-offs, perfect for a family picture or a chance to relieve motion sickness. There are some good family friendly hikes to consider while driving this loop road. Some of my family's favorite hikes are Timpanogos Cave National Monument (see my review), Stewart Falls (see my review), Cascade Springs (see my review), Bridal Veil Falls, and Silver Lake (see my review). My family also likes to stop at Sundance Ski Resort along the way where we let the kiddos pick out their own homemade old fashioned lollipop at the store.
I deducted a star from my review just because this road does get crowded during fall weekends. Like I mentioned, it is a Utah tradition to drive this road in the fall. Regardless, the drive is worth it; a chance to enjoy fall color before the last leaf drops and the snow starts falling.
HC-70, Box 15
This is the place to enjoy a National Park, autumn harvest, and fall foliage in one. What else can you ask for? No need to pack fruit as this is the time to harvest the park's orchards. Eat what you want while your harvest for free, or purchase your bounty for a small fee.
reviewed on: January 10 2011
If you find that your family is alone on a beautiful national park trail, you might be in Capitol Reef National Park. The only reason that there are lackluster crowds in this park is it is more isolated than Utah’s more famous Utah National Parks and does not get all of the tour buses travelling through. Do not let the isolation and lack of crowds deter you from this unique area. This is one place where families can definitely play, unite and enjoy away from it all.
"Avoid the Crowds at this Park"
Along highway 24 your family will see amazing red rock formations, Fremont Indian petroglyphs, a pioneer schoolhouse and cabin, and the unique still-active pioneer fruit orchards. If you travel during harvest season be sure to pick and consume as much fruit (cherries, apricots, peaches, pears and apples) from the orchards as you want while you stay in the orchards. What a great treat for the kids! Fruit removed from the orchards is charged a fee.
Be sure to visit the new Capitol Reef visitor’s center right off of highway 24. There are some great educational and informative displays for the kids. I still love looking at those relief maps and discovering the surrounding mountains, valleys and rivers. Sign your kids up for the junior ranger program for some educational fun and add to their collection of badges. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to hit the restrooms since the trailheads along this isolated park are usually just stocked with those awful pit toilets.
If you happen to visit during Easter, as my lucky family has, let your kid’s enjoy the park’s Gifford Farm House’s Easter egg hunt complete with old-fashioned Easter games. I just loved seeing my son roll Easter eggs, just like I did when I was a child. The Gifford Farm House also sells unique souvenirs. Be sure to try on those handmade pioneer bonnets on the little ones – something every little girl needs!
Capitol Reef National Park has some remarkable family friendly hikes to consider if you have the time. Some of my family’s favorite hikes are Chimney Rock, Hickman Bridge and Grand Wash. There is also the Cassidy Arch hike which is an unbelievable, huge payoff hike, but it is very dangerous for small kids (see my review of this hike for more information). I would recommend this hike only for experienced hiking families. If you have time, explore the even less crowded southern area of the park. One of my favorite viewpoints is the surreal Waterpocket fold along the Muley Twist Road. Did Mother Nature really do that? Note that 4 wheel-drive is recommended to access this area – great for adventurous families, but be prepared!
In summary, this is a unique national park, not because of the scenery (which is surreal), but because it is not crowded. Please don’t tell those tour bus companies, my family still likes to be the only ones on the trail.
UT-63 south to Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Drive along Highway 12, \The All American Road"and be impressed with fall foliage in the high desert. This strip of highway is hands down my favorite place to drive in any season. Drive along \""Devil's Backbone\"" and learn first-hand why it has that name."""
reviewed on: June 27 2011
Bryce Canyon National Park is different than Utah’s other national parks. It’s probably the higher elevation, ponderosa pines, hoodoos and the distinct reddish orange color that makes this park so unique. FYI – if you don’t know what a hoodoo is, you definitely will after visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.
"The color red as you've never seen it before"
Bryce Canyon does get crowded in peak season as Grand Canyon tour buses have made this one of their stops. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider traveling in the off season (winter through early spring). Not only is the park less crowded, but the contrast of snow on Bryce Canyon’s orange red rock is striking. Visitors that want direct access to the park usually stay at Ruby’s Inn, which is a resort right at the park’s entrance. This resort has a very nice souvenir shop and general store worth visiting. It also has a very busy, kind of pricey, and crowded dining area. Your family may want to consider packing a picnic and enjoying your meals at one of Bryce Canyon’s amazing viewpoints.
You know you’re going to arrive at a great place when the drive along the way is so picturesque. Highway 12, which takes visitors to the junction of the park’s main entrance, is as pretty as the park itself. There is a wonderful paved bike path that follows this road, perfect for families exploring the surrounding area. In fact, the entire highway 12 deserves a review of its own. In my opinion this drive is by far the most amazing strip of highway in the nation. FYI – see if you can find all of the misspelled road signs along highway 12 (unless they have been corrected by now). My family had a few laughs spotting a few of these funny signs.
There is plenty to keep families entertained at Bryce Canyon National Park. Enjoy all the viewpoints along the road to Rainbow Point and snap some amazing pictures. If your family likes to hike, there are some great family friendly trails. One of my family’s favorite hikes in Bryce Canyon is the Navajo Loop trail – a great place to fall in love with the park’s ponderosa pine trees. Although I haven’t tried it, horseback riding down into the canyon looks amazing. Finally, don't forget to sign your kids up for the junior ranger program and add to their badge collection.
In summary, if you are in the area at least take the time to drive through Bryce Canyon National Park and enjoy the views from the road. If your family does have more time, there is plenty within Bryce Canyon and the surrounding area to explore and enjoy.
2282 SW Resource Blvd.
Drive to the Needles District on the Indian Creek Scenic Byway to Indian Creek Canyon where families can enjoy desert fall foliage and sandstone cliffs hovering above. Be sure to check out the rock art at Newspaper Rock. The Needles District is desolate and remote, but is definitely an awe-inspiring place in any season.
reviewed on: June 25 2011
I’m a little partial to Canyonlands National Park when it comes to rating Utah’s national parks. The reason why: my hubby proposed marriage to me at sunset at one of this park’s magnificent viewpoints. But that isn’t the only reason why I love this this national park. This place is unique, desolate, inspiring, beautiful, amazing, rugged, astounding… (okay, you get the picture).
"This is the place to propose marriage"
After several years of marriage and 3 kids later, we still enjoy visiting this park. You’ll find that Canyonlands National Park is less crowded than Utah’s Zion and Bryce National Parks. This is probably because the majority of Canyonlands National Park is desolate and quite inaccessible. The park is divided into 4 unique districts (Island in the Sky, Maze, Needles and the rivers). Note that there is no road connecting these distinct districts, with some districts requiring 4-wheel drive and/or hiking to access. The most accessible district is the Island in the Sky and because of this, it the most visited area.
If you have a few hours and are in the Moab area, take the time to drive the road to Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district. There are several amazing viewpoints that give visitors the true meaning as to why this district is the “Island in the Sky”. If your family has more time, hike one of the many family friendly hikes and let your kids experience how fun it is just to climb on all of the red rocks. Stop by the visitor center and sign your kids up for the junior ranger program. This program is very educational, fun for the kids and a great way to add to their collection of junior ranger badges.
In summary, this is a unique and beautiful National Park. And if you plan on proposing marriage, sunset is definitely the time to do it.
4000 The Canyons Resort Drive
Park City, Utah
This is one of Utah's lower elevation ski resorts so a great option to enjoy fall foliage if the weather has already turned (i.e. the tops of the mountains are already covered with a powdered-sugar-like dusting of snow). Ride the Red Pines Gondola where families can fish, hike, bike and boat before its time to go home and wax those skis.
reviewed on: September 15 2011
As a lifelong Utah resident, I recall skiing the former “Park West Resort” in college; cheap skiing with little amenities offered. Forget about the past, the former Park West Ski Resort, now Canyons Resort is Utah’s largest ski resort with amenities galore and outdoor recreation suitable for families in any season.
"Destination resort in any season"
My family visited Canyons resort in early September where we delighted in all of the wonderful summer activities. However, riding the lifts with kids ignited their desire to come back, ski the slopes and see the snow making equipment at work. We stayed at the Grand Summit which is just steps from Canyons Resort’s Red Pine Gondola and Orange Bubble Express high speed quad lift. I have not skied with kids, but can imagine convenience is crucial when handling little ones outfitted in awkward equipment. Furthermore, the Grand Summit offers year round in-house child care that includes activities such as gondola rides to sledding hills and ski lessons for kiddos as young as 2 years of age!
Canyons resort offers some very unique winter programs such as the First Tracks program which gives skiers early entrance to the mountain on certain days of the week. You may even be accompanied by some Olympic skiing celebrities!
Something that completely interests me, something I never knew existed, is an option to ride in one of Canyon Resort’s snow cats, grooming some of the resort’s 4,000 acres. I can already see my 10 year old son and his young at heart father salivating at the thought of riding in one of these state of the art machines.
If picturesque family friendly opportunities are your cup of tea, consider booking a horse drawn sleigh ride at the Grand Summit Hotel. I can already envision those picture perfect postcards that I could send to my flatlander relatives!
Outdoor recreation at Canyons Resort doesn’t end when the approximate 355 inches of snow melts, it just transforms. Canyons Resort has recently undergone several capital improvements making this a destination resort for all seasons. These improvements include an extensive group of groomed trails, mountain bike park with different skill level trails, private reservoir for fishing and pedal boating, a Zip Tour Adventure for thrill-seeking travelers, and an 18-hole putting course.
We took our kids age 10, 7, and 2 to Canyons Resort in early September to check out some of the new additions to the resort. We rode the Red Pine Gondola to mid-mountain where we embarked on an adventurous journey. First stop, hiking the Red Pines Loop trail (see my detailed review on this hike) where we spotted a moose within 15 feet of the trail. Next we were amazed by the new mountain biking park with obstacles fit for Shawn White on wheels.
Later we explored the Canyons Resort private reservoir after a short hike from the High Meadow Lift where pedal boats and fishing equipment rentals were readily available. Finally we rounded out the day with 18 holes on the resorts beautiful putting course (see my review of the Canyons Resort putting course).
It was a lovely weekend exploring all of these new improvements. Our only disappointment occurred when we arrived at the Canyons Resort’s private reservoir to see Tiger Trout jumping, pedal boats begging for a ride, and fishing poles lined up, all surrounded by clouds and lightening closing in. We were instructed to immediately return to the Red Pine Lodge and wait for the storm to pass. Obviously we didn’t get to boat or fish that day, but I can attest to those fish ready to bite. Okay, so I’m dreaming of those fish waiting to bite; I’m one of those crazy Moms that love to fish. But I do appreciate the caution that Canyons Resort paid due to the storm. We were stranded at the Red Pines Lodge for 40 minutes, a good warning to be prepared for anything at this high elevation. Luckily, I had a stocked backpack with snacks and drinks and the lodge served complimentary hot coffee. We visited the resort a week before the Zip Tour Adventure was to open but I can attest to the awesome venue amid this high alpine paradise. Future visitors who experience the Zip Tour Adventure, please come back and report.
One of my family’s favorite summer activities at Canyons Resort was biking. We discovered that you don’t have to be an extreme bike park obstacle junkie to enjoy the trails. Canyons Resort has groomed trails appropriate for beginning bikers to wild trails suitable for the bold mountain biking crowd sporting complete face-covering helmets and neck braces. With a little one in training wheels and another better suited for a bike trailer, my family found our own adventure on the valley floor of Park City. Canyons Resort and the Grand Summit Hotel are within steps of the Cabriolet lift which dropped our family off, with bikes in tow to a gateway of never-ending bike paths (see my review of Nineteen Sports). These pathways aren’t just paved trails along a busy highway, these pathways lead explorers through trees, and bridge covered streams, expansive farmland and country adequate for video game animation. Every place we turned we found a new path imploring exploration. Unfortunately, “dairy air” issues (i.e. posterior pain) kept us from exploring beyond a few wonderful hours. We will return with gel seats and bike shorts in hand!
In summary, our visit to Canyons Resort can be summed up in a few words, “Park West….never heard of it”. Canyons Resort is a developed, full amenity luxury resort, perfect for families in any season. Bring your bike, bring your skis, or just bring a good book to read; this is destination recreation at its best.
Disclosure: Although I received complimentary gondola and lift tickets, my reviews are always my own opinions and are not influenced by staff or its affiliates.
Timpanogos Cave National Monument
American Fork, Utah
Fall is my favorite time to visit this national monument. The cooler weather makes the hike up to the cave tour much more bearable and there is plenty of fall foliage and picturesque viewpoints to enjoy all along the way.
reviewed on: January 11 2011
Timpanogos cave is a unique family outing for any nature loving family. Please note however that the hike to the cave base is steep so it is not for everyone. My kids, age 6 & 10 (and baby in backpack) had no trouble on the hike. But we are an experienced hiking family. The upper part of the trail is carved in to the rock and is fairly narrow with huge drop-offs. There have been injuries and deaths due to falls from this trail but incidents like these are rare as this is heavily used. It is is important to watch your kids closely and warn them of the dangers on the trail. I would suggest that you have your kids to slow down and hold your hand on the upper part of the trail. The park service has recently made some safety improvements to the trail and added more handrails.
"Watch your little ones - This steep hike is worth it!"
Be sure to leave any baby backpacks at the "backpack storing area" a few yards below the entrance. We missed this sign and had to run back to leave our baby backpack. There are some areas in the cave too tight for carrying baby backpacks so you are required to store these (don't leave valuables because the storage is just a place on the trail, not a locked storage area). The cave tour walk is short enough that you can just hold your little one.
The tour of the cave is so interesting, unique and educational. There is one part where the tour guide turns off all of the lights. Be sure to be holding your children's hands and have fun experiencing "true" darkness.
Make reservations in summer months as spots for the tour fill up quickly.
Highway 210 Little Cottonwood Canyon
Utah's ski resorts aren't only known for the best snow on earth. The resorts are also known for some amazing fall foliage. Consider visiting Snowbird on the weekend in late summer, early fall and enjoying their Oktoberfest celebration with plenty of music, food and rides for the kids. Take a tram ride if the weather is nice and enjoy fall foliage at some seriously high altitude.
reviewed on: August 23 2011
When 600-plus inches of powder snow melts from Snowbird Ski Resort’s Hidden Peak, the resort transforms into a high elevation family adventure park with activities such as an alpine slide, tram and lift rides, bungee trampoline, bounce house, mechanical bull, ropes course, climbing wall and zip-line. Each of these activities can be purchased separately, for a completely customized day of activities. However, Snowbird offers an all-day activity pass that includes unlimited use of each of the activities at a reasonable price ($39 adults, $24 child). I can attest that the all-day pass is definitely worth the price as one-time individual activity price averages approximately $10 per activity.
My family, with kids aged 10, 7, and 2 enjoyed an active day at Snowbird in August with our all-day activity bands around our wrists (and kiddos slept extremely well that night). Each member in my family had a delightful time discovering our own favorite activity with my 2 year old preferring the bounce house, my 7 year old mastering the alpine slide, and my 10 year old conquering the ropes course. Mom and Dad preferred the 10 minute aerial tram ride to the top of Hidden Peak where we hiked a short distance enjoying amazing views and beautiful wildflowers to the Peruvian Express Ski Lift where we walked through a 600 foot mountain tunnel to enjoy awesome views of Mineral Basin. Our return trip was on the Peruvian chairlift as tickets for the Peruvian chairlift and the aerial tram are interchangeable making it a great option for families to enjoy a loop trip. Note that even my 2 year old enjoyed the ride down the chairlift although it was a bit nerve-wracking for me to see her hanging from the lift at these heights. If you have a particularly wiggly toddler, or kiddos afraid of heights, you may want to just stay with the tram ride.
What to know before you go: Bring plenty of sunscreen and drinking water. Sunburn and dehydration is eminent at this high elevation. It is also a good idea to bring a good daypack. I was happy to be able to safely zip up all my belongings while riding the chairlifts. There are some good restaurants located at the base of the resort and many of them offer “kids eat free” specials in the summer. However, you can also pack your own picnic and eat at one of the many picnic tables provided. Parking is free but can get crowded during peak times. I would suggest parking at the Snowbird Resort Entrance 4, which is uphill from all of the activities. This parking is a little less crowded and you can ride the Chickadee chairlift back uphill to entrance 4 when you are departing. Finally, check out some of Snowbird’s lodging and activity packages deals which include activity passes and lodging at one of their fine resorts.
In summary my family enjoyed a beautiful summer day enjoying the activities at Snowbird Ski Resort. This is a five star family fun activity, if you can avoid long lines. I did deduct one star from my review just for the long lines at some the most popular activities. However we visited on a busy weekend day, so I would suggest visiting on a weekday if possible in order to avoid long lines.
Disclosure: Although I received complimentary all-day activity passes, my reviews are always my own opinions and are not influenced by staff or its affiliates.
1030 N Bear Lake Blvd
Garden City, Utah
The drive along Bear Lake is picturesque in any season. So consider enjoying the fall foliage and squeeze some of those last rays of sunshine while playing lakeside before the snow starts falling.
12601 Big Cottonwood Canyon Road
Salt Lake City, Utah
The drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Silver Lake is both convenient, for Salt Lake County residents and awe-inspiring. Consider spending some time exploring Silver Lake at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Or just take a drive, pack some snacks or a picnic and spend a day soaking in the last of the season's sun before the snow falls and the skis get waxed.
reviewed on: July 29 2011
On a hot summer day, I love living close to mountains where within 20 minutes I can drive 3000 feet higher in elevation and find it 20 degrees cooler. I drove my kids, age 10, 7, and 2 up Big Cottonwood Canyon on a hot summer day. Our destination was the Silver Lake trailhead near Brighton ski resort.
"Family Friendly, but Crowded"
This hike is an easy ¾ mile loop hike around Silver Lake, along flat marshland boardwalks and forested trails. Kids 3 and older should be able to hike this trail by themselves. Strollers and wheelchairs can even be pushed along the boardwalks which would make a very enjoyable and scenic stroll. My two year-old easily completed the entire ¾ mile loop hike unassisted and enjoyed stopping along the way to admire ducks, fish, and the pretty wildflowers.
The only downfall to this hike is that it is an extremely popular hike and fishing lake. You never get the feeling like you are alone in nature on this trail. That is why a deducted a star from my rating. There is a less crowded trailhead that breaks off of the Silver Lake hike to Twin Lakes or Lake Solitude. These hikes are 1 mile and 1.25 mile one-way respectively, good options to find some solitude. One thing to note, bring plenty of sunscreen, shoes that can get wet, and bug spray.
In all, this hike was a fun activity for a weekday afternoon. However, I would recommend finding a different hike during the weekend if you want a real getting-away-from-it all nature experience with your family.
Highway 210 Little Cottonwood Canyon
A drive to Cecret Lake's trailhead up Little Cottonwood Canyon is a wonderful place to catch some fall foliage. This is high elevation hiking so be prepared for cooler temps. Bring a camera and enjoy the views from above.
reviewed on: September 19 2011
Cecret Lake (pronounced “Secret Lake”) isn’t a secret to families looking for an amazing hike in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. This is a popular and family friendly place to take the kiddos for some outdoor recreation.
Cecret Lake is located at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, beyond Snowbird and Alta ski resorts at the base of Albion Basin. It’s only a 15 drive from the valley floor, but the drive is amazingly beautiful and takes families to some incredible alpine wilderness. The hike is only 1.5 miles roundtrip, requiring a relatively small elevation gain up some switchbacks (trailhead begins at 9,460 feet and ends at 9,880 feet). The destination of the hike is Cecret Lake, a small lake located at the basin of a glacially carved valley. Children will have fun exploring around the lake so plan on packing some snacks and drinks and enjoying your time.
We have taken kiddos on this hike several occasions and the walk is enjoyable all along the way with awe-inspiring views, wildflowers galore, and granite boulders perfect for little ones to conquer. Since this is a busy hike, and parking at Albion Basin is limited, it is best to arrive early on weekends. Albion Basin Campground is located near the trailhead so consider reserving a spot for camping or picnicking. These spots do fill up quickly on the weekends.
In summary, this is a very popular hike for families and highly recommended. Visit on a weekday to avoid some of the crowds and guarantee parking.
Nebo Loop Rd
Another loop drive perfect for enjoying the fall colors. This drive is longer than the Alpine Loop and a bit more isolated.