You need a drive. You need it to be stunning. Because you need to hit the road in your sedan, truck, bicycle, moped, babe-magnet motorcycle, or Mormon pioneer handcart. You need to put the summer heat waves behind you and drive smooth, elevated, elevating, twisting, bewitching roads.
Best Time for Fall Foliage
The last week of September is the first week of autumn, and it’s also the best week for fall colors in the higher altitudes. Put on your hand-knit sweater and wash and condition your hair so it can flow magnificently in the breeze. You’ll be like a J.Crew model, striding into the garage, in slow-mo, with one tiny key in hand… and 3 kids, 2 car seats and a diaper bag full of crackers and milk. (Aren’t mom jeans trendy right now?)
05. Highway 12 - Boulder Mountain
Time: 1 hour each way
Distance: 36 miles each way
This section of an All American Road will take you up and over the highest timbered plateau in North America — which logically makes it a top pick to see fall leaves. Boulder Mountain sports plenty of birch and aspen trees (i.e., gold and gold!) mingled with pine, fir and spruce trees. You’ll drive through one of the best parts of Dixie National Forest (the state’s largest national forest). There are a plethora of lookout points for you take a plethora of panoramic pictures. Just in case your suspicions are correct, this highway happens to connect Capitol Reef at the north with Bryce Canyon at the south and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument right smack dabby in the middle. A rare treat of a drive if you have about four hours.
Stop at Magnolia’s Street Food — a food truck usually parked in Anasazi State Park’s parking lot — for a darn good burrito, some potent coffee for the driver and quesadillas for the children.
04. Skyline Drive, Tucker → I-70
Time: That depends
Distance: Up to 100 miles
Where the friggin’ heck is Tucker, Utah? Thanks for asking. It’s just off of Highway 6, a suburb of the bustling ghost town of Thistle. There are multiple options where you can enter and exit this purdy mountain drive.
If you are one of the few, the proud and the brave who desire to go the full 100 miles through the rougher southern sections, you’ll need a high-clearance 4X4. Call the Sanpete Ranger District (435-283-4151) before you go to inquire about current road conditions.
For those of you who want to focus on the fall colors instead of rough roads, after starting at Tucker, you’ll want to take Highway 31 down to Fairview, 27 miles and about 45 minutes. Any vehicle can take this on (post-highway 31 the road requires high clearance/4WD vehicles).
In the tiny town of Spring City is a tiny cafe called Das Cafe. Not for tiny appetites. Be sure to try the legendary authentic German bratwurst meal and the bread pudding. Mmmmmm. You’re not even a tiny bit hungry after eating here.
03. Nebo Loop, Payson → Nephi
Time: 1.5 hours each way
Distance: 37 miles each way
Pit Stop: Several pullouts with scenic views
Beginning on Forest Road 015, this road is a spine-tingler. Complete with the Devil’s Kitchen (a mini Bryce Canyon), you’ll face the highest peak in the Wasatch: Mount Nebo (11,929 feet).
Your miles will turn into smiles as you pass red/orange oak leaves mixed with juniper at lower elevations, then golden aspens between green fir and spruce a little higher. Gray sandstone cliffs and salt flats will also grace you with their presence.
What’s that clicking noise? The sound of your car colleagues compulsively snapping photos of the gorgeous color palette background.
Stop at Reed’s Drive-In in Nephi at the end of your drive. Their pastrami burgers and ice cream shakes are legendary.
02. Alpine Loop, American Fork Canyon → Provo Canyon
Time: 45 minutes one way
Distance: 26.5 miles one way
Pit Stop: Campgrounds at the summit or wait for luxury at Sundance Resort
If you plan to use any of the recreational facilities (picnic areas, campsites or toilets), you need to purchase a $6 pass at the entrance of American Fork Canyon.
The mountain air revitalizes your molecules and your eyes are reborn as they behold the unfathomable fall colors in every direction. Your drive will take you past Timpanogos Cave, around the east side of Mt. Timpanogos and then to Sundance Resort. Instagram friends will thank you for posting a selfie with majestic Mt. Timpanogos in the background and your silky hair in the foreground (napping baby in stroller optional).
If your kids need to stretch their legs and you need to show off your hand-knit sweater, stop at Cascade Springs and walk along the short board walk to a unique water feature.
Then keep driving — windows down, obviously — and infuse yourself with fall foliage delights. Aspen, maple and oak: We love thee.
Got the Munchies?
The Deli at Sundance Resort is a great place to grab a sandwich and a cookie for the kiddos and a beverage for yourself. If you’re kid-free, head over to The Owl Bar to order up some chicken nachos and burgers. Just like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would do.
01. Logan Canyon → Garden City, Bear Lake
Time: 1 hour each way
Distance: ~82 miles
Pit Stop: Tony Grove Campground (vault toilets), milepost 393.8
Logan Canyon greets you with its fossil-laden limestone walls. Follow the Logan River from an elevation of 4,525 feet to a soaring 7,800 at its summit. Driving through Wasatch-Cache National Forest, you’ll be pleased to see many colors winking and blinking at you from oak, aspen and maple trees. Breathe deeply. Once more. Do you smell that? It’s autumn. Keep breathing. Is your window down? Because your hair is calling out to you. You should be on a shampoo commercial.
Try a Dole Whip, raspberry shake or pulled pork sandwich complete with sauce bar at ZipZ Bear Lake in Garden City.