Up Nebo Loop Road in Payson Canyon. Photo by Adam Provance. 

It’s officially sweater weather. Now that fall is here, it’s time to enjoy all things autumnal: toss on your cardigan, use pumpkin as an ingredient in everything and get out to enjoy the colors. But first, a quick lesson on why leaves are changing:

A decrease in sunlight alerts a tree to prepare for winter when photosynthesis can’t happen anymore because of the dry air and lack of sunlight. The tree seals off the leaves and stops producing chlorophyll, a key part of photosynthesis and the reason leaves are green. With green out of the picture, a leaf’s yellow and orange pigments (xanthophyll and carotene) get a turn. Some trees produce anthocyanins to protect leaves and squeeze out every last bit of nutrients — this is where the red comes from.

Autumn never lasts long enough in Utah (unfortunately, it’s usually all of two weeks), so get planning your scenic hiking adventures.

Expert hiker Adam Provance, a desert and wilderness survival instructor, shared five family-friendly hikes in the Utah Valley area you won’t want to miss out on this fall. All of these hikes are accessible through October, so lace up your tennis shoes, grab some water, snag your camera and head to the hills.


The Grotto. Photo by Adam Provance.

The Grotto

Location: Nebo Loop Road, Payson Canyon

Stats: 1.2 miles round trip, 1 hour, elevation gain is less than 200 feet

Details: This quick jaunt takes you to a grotto, an open-ceiling cave, with a 20-foot waterfall at the end of the hike. The hike has medium traffic, but you can have it mostly to yourself if you have good timing. Speaking of timing, this hike is perfect for leaf peeping in October.

Drive: Provance says the drive is gorgeous and “it’ll be a treat just getting there.” Take exit 254 off I-15 and turn south onto Payson Main Street (State Route 77). Turn left onto 100 North, turn right onto 600 East, and follow the road to Payson Canyon and the Nebo Scenic Loop. The trailhead is seven miles up the road on the left. You can park on the right side of the road.

Big Springs Hollow

Location: South Fork of Provo Canyon (past Vivian Park)

Stats: 5 miles round-trip loop hike, 500-foot elevation gain

Details: This is a gorgeous hike, especially in the fall. It’s well traveled (sometimes on horseback or mountain bike) so you won’t feel isolated. But if you want less traffic, hit the trail on a weekday afternoon. Provance recommends going in a couple weeks when the aspens are turning. The shady trail takes you to some natural springs that bubble up out of the rocks (FYI: sometimes there is gross fungi). Along the way, you might see moose or deer, and you will cross several times over a crystal-clear creek that the kiddies might like to play in.

Drive: Head through Provo Canyon and turn south on the South Fork road at Vivian Park. Drive about three miles and turn right at the National Forest access. Park in the lot at the end of the paved road. The trail starts at the hole in the fence at the north end of the parking lot.

Stewart Falls

Location: Near Sundance

Stats: 3.6 miles round trip, 310-foot elevation gain

Details: This hike is great in the spring and fall. You walk through stands of aspens, which are incredible when they start to change, to a beautiful two-tier waterfall that falls more than 200 feet down the back of Mt. Timpanogos.

Drive: Head up Provo Canyon and turn left onto U-92 toward Aspen Grove and the Alpine Scene Loop. The trail starts at Aspen Grove, but be certain you’re on the correct trail. It’s the one that starts near the restrooms in the parking lot and meanders through a field before cutting into the trees. After you hike, make sure you drive the Alpine Loop— gorgeous.

*This hike may need to wait until the government shutdown is over, as you have to go through a guard shack to get to the national forest. (By the way, a three-day access pass is $6 per car.) However, I hear some people just park nearby and walk up to the trail.

Buffalo Peak

Location: Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Provo

Stats: 1 mile round trip, 300-foot elevation gain 

Details: This is another quick hike that has beautiful colors and views. Provance says right about now is a great time to hike it. Not a lot of people are on the trail, so you might even have it to yourself. The only somewhat tricky part is the last 200 feet where you walk up some loose rocks, but it’s really not a big deal.

Drive: From I-15, take the 800 North Orem exit and drive east until you reach Provo Canyon. Drive up the canyon a couple miles until you reach the turn off on the right for Squaw Peak Road. Take the road all the way until it splits (about 4 miles) and go left toward Hope Campground.

Silver Lake

Location: Up American Fork Canyon

Stats: 4.4 miles round trip, 1450-foot elevation gain

Details: This is a moderate hike, probably good for ages 10 and up, and it takes you up to a beautiful lake that is frozen until late in the summer. (You may want hiking shoes.) Not so much into hiking? You can also drive to Silver Lake Flat Reservoir for great views of the back of Timp while you picnic.

Drive: Take exit 284 (Highland-Alpine) off I-15 and follow SR-92 east for just under eight miles to the mouth of the canyon.

*This hike may also be closed during the government shutdown.

Provance reminds hikers to carry enough water and bring a light jacket if you’re hiking the low foothills in the morning or around sunset. It also never hurts to have a first-aid kit and survival kit even though most of these hikes will have phone reception.

And if this isn't enough, click here for more fall hikes.