Monday, October 5, 2015

Fall Foliage Hunting in Northern Utah

My Journey Through Canyons and Mountains in the Beehive State

Fiery fall color in Logan Canyon - Northern Utah
This year I decided to start my fall color hunt in a new place, the northern half of the great state of Utah. I'd heard it was a great place for fall colors, but after so many years of living in Colorado I couldn't seem to ever get over the Rockies to our western neighbor in autumn. So now that I'm in the Pacific Northwest I decided to cross the Cascades and go east to check out the northern reaches of the Beehive State. 

And what an unexpected find it was!  Not only were there groves upon groves of aspen trees which are typical of the American West, but much to my pleasant surprise were the endless forests and mountainsides of oak trees that were in full fiery red and orange bloom. 

Fiery fall foliage in a canyon east of Logan, Utah
Unfortunately my trip, which was to have included an extension into western Colorado, got cut short by a nasty flu bug that cropped up just as I arrived in Utah, which forced a change in plans and altered my visit. Whereas I was planning on a mainly camping trip, the onset of the illness forced me to hole up in hotels in Park City and Salt Lake City for much of the time. 

Despite the bug, I was able to get some good shooting in. The weather also was against me. You might say how could sunny, blue sky, 80-90 degree Indian summer weather be bad, and the answer is cloudless skies do not make for the best photography, as bland blue skies make photography much more challenging than with some good cloud formations that can light up with various colors for good sunrises and sunsets. There were none of those to be had on this trip. 
Golden aspen forest near Guardsman Pass in Utah
With my health and the weather not cooperating, I still managed to venture out into a number of scenic byways, canyons and mountain passes.  Among the places I got to included Logan Canyon in the far northern reaches of the state, the Tony Grove area, the Mirror Lake byway area south of Evanston, Wyoming and back into Utah, Park City, Pine Canyon, Guardsman Pass, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude, American Fork Canyon and the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway in the Wasatch Front between American Fork and Provo. 

Conditions were, in the 3rd-4th week of September, generally past peak for aspen in many areas. There were certainly some peak groves, but many of the aspen were either on the downward trend or had completely dropped their leaves - I was amazed that most of the big aspen groves above Park City were completely bare this early for example. 
Along the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway in northern Utah
However, many the aspen were at peak just beyond Park City, up and around Guardsman Pass, and also on the approach and decent from Mirror Lake, west of Heber City.  

The oaks were what really made the trip. They seemed at peak vibrancy everywhere I went, and I could not get enough of the brilliant reds, oranges and yellows that were lining the canyons and foothill areas on either side of the Wasatch and Uinta mountains.  
Amazing oaks at peak color in Utah's Pine Canyon
Would I return to northern Utah again for foliage season? Without question, absolutely! And so should you! Utah may not be on many people's fall leaf-peeping radar, but it should be. Often overshadowed by Colorado to the east, the Grand Tetons to the north, and Zion Canyon area to the south, the northern destinations of the state can make for weeks of fall foliage fun if you hit it right.  
Hillsides ablaze with color in Utah's Logan Canyon
Here's a few helpful links I used in planning my trip that anyone should find useful, including a number of hikes and drives to see the fall leaves at their best: 
Have you been to Utah for fall foliage season?  If so, what are your favorite places to see the autumn colors? Share any places or tips in the comments section.  Happy Leaf Peeping!

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