Best Fall Trees for Utah Gardens and Where to Find Them

It’s fall and Utah’s tree foliage is on the turn. Select from this list of USU Extension’s best fall trees for Utah gardens to capture a crescendo of colors that showcases the season’s palette brilliantly.

Sheriden Hansen, USU Extension Associate Professor of Horticulture, breaks down the best fall trees for Utah planting.

Nothing evokes the cozy feelings of fall like the brilliant blaze of colors that landscape trees offer. Bursts of red, yellow and orange provide a fiery send off as we move into the colorless winter months. Adding fall color into your landscape can be as simple as planting a selection of trees. The unique environment of the Intermountain West requires careful tree selection due to high pH soil, arid climate and extreme temperatures. Often, recommended trees such as red and silver maple­—known for fall color—struggle in these difficult conditions. Utilizing tried and true cultivars adapted to our unique environment can provide thriving trees with a palette of color.

The Best Fall Trees for Utah’s Climate

Utah Gardens

Big Tooth or Canyon Maple 

A small, native tree that provides much of the brilliant blaze of red and orange along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Mature size: 15-30’ tall and wide
Fall color: Orange to red
Hardiness zone: 3 to 8

Utah Gardens

Sensation Box Elder

Male flowers add texture and interest in the spring without attracting insects. Fall color is a multicolor mix of yellow, orange and fiery red, making this an ideal, drought-tolerant shade tree for the landscape.

Mature size: 30’ tall x 25’ wide
Fall color: Multicolored yellow, orange and red
Hardiness zone: 4 to 6

Utah Gardens

Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry

A small, often multi-stemmed tree that boasts a graceful shape. White, pollinator-friendly spring blooms produce small berries that attract birds. Fall foliage turns a brilliant orange.

Mature size: 15-25’ tall x 5-10’ wide
Fall Color: Orange
Hardiness zone: 4 to 9

Utah Gardens

Frontier Elm

A hardy hybrid elm with moderate resistance to Dutch Elm Disease, this tree brings a deep, moody red tone to the fall color palette.

Mature size: 30-40’ tall x 20-30’ wide
Fall color: Burgundy red
Hardiness Zone: 4 to 7

Utah Gardens

Princeton Sentry Ginkgo 

Ginkgo is a slow growing tree with a rich history and fossil record. The Princeton Sentry is a fruitless male cultivar with fan shaped leaves that burst with yellow in the fall.

Mature size: 40-50’ tall x 20-30’ wide
Fall color: Yellow
Hardiness zone: 3 to 8

Five Leaf Peeping Adventures in Utah

BEST HIKE FOR LEAF PEEPING: LAKE BLANCHE TRAIL IN BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON

The hike up to Lake Blanche is a Wasatch Classic, but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular when the leaves start to change. Start from the Mill B South Fork Trailhead at the bottom of the S-curve on Big Cottonwood Canyon Road (S.R. 190). The trail itself is fairly stout covering 2,808 vertical feet on the roughly seven-mile out and back trail. You’ll meander up through dense forest in the Twin Peaks Wilderness before popping out at Lake Blanche where the colors will be firing around the water beneath dramatic views of Sundial Peak.

BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE RIDE FOR LEAF PEEPING: TOUR DE SUDS LOOP IN PARK CITY

This ride begins with a mellow spin up Daily Canyon in Park City’s Historic Old Town. From there, you’ll hook on Tour De Suds, one of the area’s original mountain bike routes. The trail weaves up through aspen trees before connecting to Flagstaff Loop and topping out on Empire Pass. The panoramic views from the summit might make you gasp in awe, so remember to catch your breath before descending a series of trails—Corvair to Little Chief to Sams to Trapper’s Gate—snaking their way through the forest back to the car.

BEST TRAIL RUN FOR LEAF PEEPING: BLOOD’S LAKE TRAIL IN BONANZA FLATS

Trail running is basically hiking—just slightly faster—so it helps to have a flatter grade and smoother surface. The Bloods Lake Trail in Bonanza Flat near Guardsman Pass is only a couple years old, and it’s ideal for a pleasant jog. The three-mile out and back trail starts with a mellow pitch, only tipping up significantly for the final .4 miles to reach the aforementioned lake. You’ll follow the twisting trail through bursting yellow and red aspen trees before hopefully seeing a moose or two relaxing in the water. If you’re one of those sickos who prefers to suffer over a much longer distance, I recommend the Desolation Loop from Millcreek, which is about 13 miles and also turns around at a picturesque lake.  

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Photo courtesy UOT Images

BEST ROAD BIKE RIDE FOR LEAF PEEPING: MILLCREEK CANYON IN SALT LAKE CITY

Let’s face it, fall can still be pretty hot in the city. Millcreek Canyon is a wonderful place for a road bike ride because the harder you work, the higher you get and the cooler temperatures you’ll find. Cyclists can grind all the way up 2,700 vertical feet of pavement in a touch over nine miles, all while enjoying remarkable views of changing colors in the Wasatch as well as stunning overlooks of the Salt Lake Valley below. Millcreek has only a fraction of the vehicle traffic as the other classic climbs in the area, so you won’t have to worry as frequently about being mowed down while just trying to see red and yellow leaves in all their glory.

BEST URBAN ESCAPE FOR LEAF PEEPING: CITY CREEK CANYON

You needn’t head into the high wilderness in search of fall colors because they’re right in your backyard in Salt Lake City. City Creek Canyon may sit within city limits, but it feels a lifetime away from the bustle of downtown when you’re surrounded by glowing gold, red and orange foliage. You can bike, hike, jog, walk your dog or even just sit down and enjoy a moment to yourself in City Creek. Start at Memory Grove Park and embark on as long an adventure as you’d like.


Get more garden tips via USU Extension here.

This story was originally published by our sister magazine, Utah Style & Design. Read more of their home and garden tips here!

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