Explore The Outdoors

5 Fall Hiking & Road Trip Gems in Utah


Fall is a great time of year to explore Utah’s desert and canyon landscapes.  Here are a few of my favorite lesser known areas and trails to explore in the state that I shared on ABC 4 Utah 4pm newscast.

WORLD’S LONGEST ART GALLERY:

Nine Mile Canyon is remote, but worth the effort.  It’s in Utah’s Castle Country in the Northeast section of state.

One of the most recognizable rock art panels in Utah is the Great Hunt Panel, which is 46 miles from the Wellington turnoff.  It will take you over 26 miles just to get to the first petroglyphs.  Even through it’s 46 miles, it’s named Nine Mile Canyon because when the 9th Calvary was building the road, Nine Mile was the name of the main road in the canyon.  So, the name stuck.

It’s called the “World’s Longest Art Gallery” because the sandstone cliff walls are filled with petroglyphs from the Fremont People and Ute Indians for miles.

The first site is marked at about 26.6 miles from the Wellington cutoff.  After that you’ll see Harper Ghost town which used to be a stagecoach stop, Pig Head Rock which to me looks like Porky Pig from Looney Tunes, a rock cliff that goes for about 100 yards filled with petroglyphs, Rasmussen Cave also filled with petroglyphs, Daddy Canyon where you can hike and see more petroglyphs, the into what is technically Cottonwood Canyon where you see the remnants of a Fremont Village, can do a short walk to see Big Buffalo which is the largest buffalo petroglyph in the canyon, and finally to the Great Hunt Panel.  That panel depicts a hunt in late November or early December based on the bighorn sheep rams, ewes, and lambs in panel.  That’s the only time of year males, females, and babies are all together.

Tips:  Make sure to gas up, get snacks and water in Wellington or Myton (if go in that way) since there are no services in canyon.  There are a couple of bathrooms.

You can easily do this as a day trip from Salt Lake City or Vernal/Dinosaur National Monument.  I’d suggest going in at the Wellington cut-off, drive all the way to the Great Hunt Panel then turn around and take Gate Canyon (there’s a sign) to Myton.

Stay:  If you’re also visiting Dinosaur National Monument, stay at Jensen Inn.  It’s a wonderful B&B and is the closest place to stay to the monument.

EXPLORE THE EAST SIDE OF ZION:

Most folks head into the canyon at Zion National Park to hike popular trails like The Narrows or Angels Landing.  When I was there last fall, the annual Plen Air Festival with painters from around the world was going on.  It was a treat to watch artist capture the stunning beauty of Zion on canvas.

If you spend time on the east side of Mount Carmel Road, your odds of seeing wildlife go up exponentially.  My friend Lisa and I saw a herd of about 20 Desert Bighorn Sheep on the east side so we pulled over and watched them from a safe distance for about 30-40 minutes.

Tips:  Always stay a safe distance away from wildlife.  You should be at least 75 feet (or two bus length) away from large wildlife.  Bighorn sheep and mountain goats have a natural tendency to butt, so never turn your back on any you encounter.

Stay:  If you stay on the east side of the national park, stay at  Zion Mountain Ranch.  The bison ranch is wonderful and there is a restaurant on the ranch.  You have lots of options of where to stay in Springdale if you opt for the west side.  If you stay in Springdale, eat at Oscar’s Café, but go hungry because the entrees are HUGE.

RAINBOW POINT IN BRYCE CANYON:

Drive the 18-miles scenic road past the ultra-popular Sunrise, Sunset, and Inspiration Points.  It deadness at Rainbow Point.  You’ll likely have a few folks there but you’ll find solitude quickly if you hike the 1-mile Bristlecone Loop.  It takes you through a sub-alpine fir forest with bristlecone pines, trees known for their great age and ability to thrive in adverse growing conditions like high winds and extreme temperatures.

While you’re hiking, take in the expansive vistas filled with colorful hoodoos, spires, and other interesting rock formations that Bryce Canyon is known for.

Tip:  Take layers.  In the fall, weather changes fast at Bryce Canyon.  If you’re hiking down into the canyon, trekking poles and sturdy hiking boots help a lot.

Stay:  Head over to Zion Mountain Ranch (mentioned above) so you can stay between Bryce and Zion.

EVERYTHING BUT THE CROWDS IN MOAB:

The hike to Longbow Arch is 1.2 miles each way so it’s less than 2.5 miles roundtrip and right off Highway 279 (Potash Rd.).  On this hike you get to see a dinosaur tracks, petroglyphs (rock art), and an amazing arch without the crowds.

First part is switchbacks up rugged cliffs, but easy enough for children.  You find dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs less than a quarter of a mile into hike.  There’s a lot of slick rock including a 6-foot rock wall with metal rungs that you get to climb.  Follow the green dots painted on the rocks to guide you.  Shortly after climbing the rock wall, the scenery completely changes from rugged to smooth mounds and looks like something from out of this world.  Continue hiking on slick rock and sandy trail as you make your way to Longbow Arch.  Climb up under the arch for a great view!

FEEL LIKE A WESTERN MOVIE AT FISHER TOWERS:

You’ll feel small surrounded by monstrous sandstone rock formations in Fisher Towers.  It’s been a movie backdrop for films like Cheyenne Autumn, City Slickers II, Austin Powers in Goldmember, and John Carter.

It’s a maze of soaring fins, pinnacles, spires and odd shaped rock formations.  The hike is a 2.6-mile out and back  trail (5.2 miles round trip) so can hike as far out as you want.  Look for the sign that says “Trail Ends” and you know you’ve made it.  Enjoy the incredible scenery that looks like something straight out of the movies.

Tip:  When hiking in Moab, you are usually fully exposed most of trail.  Take plenty of water, wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.  Because of the slick rock, hikers or shoes with good grippy treads are good to wear on these hikes.

Stay:  My favorite place to stay in Moab is Moab Digs.  The whimsical vacation rentals were designed by a husband (Up Top – upstairs) and wife (Down Below – downstairs).  I’ve stayed in both and love the use of funky decor, upcycled materials, and fun themes to both.  They owners are delightful too!

Eat:  Breakfast or hiker’s lunch at Love Muffin – their breakfast burritos are great!