Colorado is our home state, and it is one of the BEST places to see fall colors. Even though we both grew up in Colorado, and we've each seen 20+ Colorado falls already in our lives, this year we got extreme FOMO by having been away from Colorado the past three years during its prime fall season. In our three years of full timing, we've screwed up our fall plans 3/3 years. By this, ...
We spent most of September in Utah. Before leaving the Salt Lake area, we hiked Blanche Lake. 6.5 miles with 2,700 feet elevation gain. The elevation gain felt more gradual than I expected and was surprised that we did the hike pretty quick. I didn’t know that the fall colors in Salt Lake and Ogden are so amazing and was in love with the pinks and oranges and rust colors in the bushes, since I’m so used to seeing mostly yellow fall colors in Colorado. We passed quite a few people on the trail that I was not sure looked prepared for such an extensive hike, but we had total solitude at the lake when we got there for a good 15 minutes before anyone else showed up.
Both of us have been to Zion and Bryce as kids, and had the recent urge to go back! We both hiked Angels Landing in our teen years, and didn’t feel the need to do it again, especially because of the photos we’ve seen of the trail being a bumper to bumper traffic jam. So we hiked the Narrows instead, which was new for both of us. If you haven’t done the Narrows, its definitely one to add to the bucket list, because there’s not a lot of other hikes that require you to hike directly in the river.
The Narrows hike starts at the Temple of Sinewava stop from the shuttle. You hike for about a mile on the path along the Virgin River, and when the path ends, you enter the river, and hike for about 2 miles up the river. You can hike longer, but at a certain point you are required to have a backcountry permit. It seemed like most people turned around after 2 miles. A lot of people rent water boots and hiking poles from the local outfitters, but we went directly into the water in our hiking boots, and felt like we had enough grip that we wouldn’t have spent the money on the rental shoes. A hiking stick would make it a lot easier, but we did totally fine and didn’t fall once. In late September, the water was knee high for most of the hike, and waist high for a couple sections. Blake actually wore his Chacos for the first part of the hike, and switched to hiking boots to have more support. The hike weaves in and out of the river, going onto the banks at certain points. We found that if you cross the river in the areas where everyone crosses, the rocks have been worn down of any moss, and are a lot less slippery.
A little before 2 miles, there is a canyon offshoot you can explore – the Orderville canyon, that requires a bit of scrambling in some sections to get around big boulders. We only went a couple hundred feet into this canyon and then continued in the main canyon to where it gets really tall and skinny.
We felt like September was a perfect time to go because the air was still hot and the water was refreshing. You have to get a permit to get on the park shuttle, which become available at 9 am the day before on recreation.gov. Even though we went during the pandemic, the trail was absolutely packed! Not exaggerating, we probably saw 1,000 people on the trail that day.
Bryce in a day:
I don’t even remember visiting Bryce as a kid even though I know I did, so I wanted to see as much of the park in one day as possible. The best way we found to do this was to park at the overflow RV lot near the entrance and hike all the way to Bryce Point through the Queens Garden Trail, Navajo Loop Trail, and half of the Peek-a-boo loop trail. This way we got to see both Sunrise and Sunset points, and the rock formations of Queen Victoria, Wall Street and the Amphitheater, Two Bridges, and the Cathedral. It ended up being about 6-7 miles, 1,500 feet elevation gain, and took 4-5 hours. At Bryce Point, you can take the shuttle back to your car so you don’t have to backtrack. Bryce was pretty crowded, and it ended up still being quite hot, but I was absolutely in love with the red rock formations, and being able to hike down into them. You don’t aways get to get that close to features like this in a national park, but in Bryce you feel like you’re completely surrounded. The views have to be earned though. The best part about Bryce is hiking down into the canyons, which requires some really steep inclines on the way out of the canyon. And then you do it again at the next viewpoint.
This is one of those places where we’ve driven past the sign on I-15 dozens of times but never bothered to check it out. We were looking for an activity between Bryce and Zion and had seen that a friend recently visited Cedar Breaks National Monument, and realized it wasn’t too far off the highway. We headed southeast from Parowan on I-15 to drive past Brian’s Head ski resort, and enter the monument from the north entrance. We didn’t realize this route up to Brian’s Head had 13% grade inclines and that ended up being pretty rough on the truck since we were still towing the jetboat. We had to sit on the side of the road for a second to cool it off, but at least had quite a good view with fall colors in the aspens.
Cedar Breaks is small enough you could complete it in a day. There’s a couple small hikes (3 miles or less), one visitor center, and several viewpoints. You gain 4,000 feet between I-15 and the monument, so the temperature dropped significantly, and it was a cloudy day, so it really started to feel like fall. There was hardly anyone in the monument, so we had no problem parking with the camper and boat trailer. We pretty much hit every viewpoint as we worked our way to the south entrance, including the Northview Overlook, Sunset View overlook, and the Point Supreme Overlook. We hiked the Alpine Pond Loop, which is about two miles round trip and brings you past a alpine pond that kind of reminded me of Hanging Lake in Colorado, with information about the delicate ecosystems, and green color.
We also hiked the Ramparts trail to the Spectra Point, which takes you along the rim of the canyon to an overlook a little farther down into the canyon. Unlike Bryce Canyon, the hikes and viewpoints in the monument are mostly along the canyon rim rather than take you down into the canyon. The viewpoints were beautiful, but hard to compare the experience we just had in Bryce. There’s one more viewpoint after another mile or so that drops another 350 feet elevation deeper into the canyon, but we didn’t do this one. And that is pretty much the entire park. There is a campground and visitor center, but we didn’t stay the night. We exited through the south entrance which will take you back to Cedar City. Definitely recommend for a day trip when passing through Southern Utah if you have extra time.
Lake Powell: Bullfrog
We joined some friends that were going out on a houseboat trip from Bullfrog Marina, and packed up the camping gear in the jet boat for the weekend. Our third time in Powell this year, but first time camping off the boat in Powell. For late September, the days were still hot (high 80s), the water was refreshing during the day, but the nights really cooled off, which made tent camping pretty bearable. The water was really low this time of year (had dropped 30 feet or so since we were there in March), and found a camp spot on a flat spot on the rocks. We essentially did some wake surfing and playing around in the jetboats, and just had a good time with friends.
The coolest thing we did though was this slot canyon hike on the side of the canyon walls up-lake from Bullfrog. Even though it’s unmarked, our friends had done it before and showed us where to start. Someone has to stay with the boat, and you have to swim to the rocks if the boat can’t get that close. You hike/scramble up the rock ledge which leads to a quarter mile long slot canyon a couple feet wide paralleling the lake with sand at the bottom. After walking through the slot canyon you have to scramble up and then back down, which actually gets a little bit tricky. There are fixed ropes on the way down, some of which look really old and some have been replaced with newer ones, so be careful which ones you grab! You have to stem your way over and under a few boulder, all while being a hundred feet above the lake and overlooking down to the water. At the end of the hike you can walk down a ledge all the way to just a couple feet above the wave and have to jump in, or you can jump from 20 feet high, and swim back to the boat. We passed one other group that was going the opposite direction and was struggling to get up the obstacles, so it’s definitely better to start from the up-lake entrance and work your way down the slot like we did. Not having spent much time in Powell in our lives, I thought this was pretty epic, and love learning about all the hidden gems in Powell every time we go back.