Quest for fall colors along Utah’s largest natural mountain lake

“Good morning to my good friend Torrey from Torrey!”

Leaf peeping – informal term in the United States for the activity in which people travel to view and photograph fall foliage in areas where leaves change colors in autumn.

We had originally planned to spend the last day of September hiking in Capitol Reef National Park but after a great day at Deer Creek Lake with peak fall colors we decided to spend the morning driving Fishlake Scenic Byway. The weather looked much improved from the previous day and I hoped we’d have some sun and blue sky to go with the brightly colored aspens at Fish Lake.

The drive from Torrey northwest through Bicknell and Lao up to the byway took about an hour. Traffic was light and it was a beautiful drive. Arriving at the Fish Lake (highlight of the byway, elevation 8,850) it looked like we had just missed peak fall color, but the colors were still full and intense. There were some reds and oranges, but predominately we found flaming yellow aspens.

We drove the length of the lake pulling over at a few viewpoints as the last of the storm clouds were burning off the mountain. Fish Lake is the largest natural mountain lake in Utah at 2,500 acres. It boasts excellent trout fishing and some fine trails including the Lakeshore National Recreation Trail.

In my search for color, I initially thought the trail running along the east side of the lake would be great, but upon closer examination it didn’t seem nearly as appealing as the west side. Studying the maps we had, we agreed to stay on the west side and give Doctor Creek Trail a try. We retraced our drive back to the SW corner of the lake and pulled into the well-signed Doctor Creek Trailhead. Here we also found an Old Spanish Trail interpretive sign—I always love the opportunity to combine hiking and photography with a history lesson.

As we started up the trail, conditions were beautiful with mostly sunny skies and some fluffy clouds. I got great color shots in the lower stretches; however, as we climbed up the relatively steep canyon, brightly colored aspens gave way to evergreens. The scenery quickly diminished and the climbing was steep for seemingly little photographic gain. We turned around and went in search of more fall colors.

Back at the Jeep, we headed NE along Fish Lake toward Johnson Valley Reservoir. This was a beautiful stretch and I stopped in a couple spots for photos. I was glad for the fall colors which had been a lovely unplanned segment of vacation, but it was time to get back to some desert hiking. We headed SE toward Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park.

Fishlake Scenic Byway (UT-25) can be accessed off highway 24 west of Loa or highway 72 northeast of Loa.  We approached Fish Lake from the west along highway 24 and then returned to Loa via highway 72 forming a pleasant loop drive.

2 Replies to “Fall Colors: Utah’s Fish Lake, Sept 2016”

  1. Hello, I want to go out to Utah in the next Month, hoping to catch the Fall colors. I see your blog on this says September. I’m afraid if I wait until October, I’ll miss it. It is your experience they are in their peak in September?

    1. Hello Lisa,
      Thanks for visiting us at Evans Outdoor Adventures. We’ve been in the Fish Lake area twice in the fall. The photos you saw were from September 30th and I’d say we hit the colors at about their peak, maybe just a day or two late. We went one other time on October 12th and there were only a few leaves remaining which was disappointing. I’m not sure about other mountainous areas of the state, but guessing it is probably about the same. Down in the desert areas, we’ve seen nice colors mid-late October. Hope that helps 🙂
      Happy trails,

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