This time of year the main entrance of Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah, often sees bumper-to-bumper traffic. And that’s just getting there; you’ll also encounter crowds on the trails. If you nevertheless want to see Zion in fall, your experience might be more enjoyable in the Kolob Canyons, in the northwestern area of the park.
Deborah Wall is the author of "Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide," and "Basecamp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States," published by Stephens Press.
Deborah Wall / Special to View
Now through early spring is the best time for roaming remote desert areas and examining the desert’s geology. A drive to Amboy Crater offers both! The road trip takes you through the Mojave National Preserve and along historic Route 66 to the tiny town of Amboy, and its nearby volcanic crater.
This is a great time of year to head up to the Spring Mountains Recreation Area — what we locals call Mount Charleston. You will experience crisp, early-fall temperatures and maybe a good fall foliage show in the surrounding mountains. One of the best options might be Fletcher Canyon, a side branch off the larger Kyle Canyon. This is a moderately strenuous hike with an 880-foot elevation gain, but it is suitable for most older children and adults, as long as they can handle a 3.5-mile round-trip hike.
Near the lower Colorado River in eastern California, the Blythe Intaglios are giant designs, man-made long ago by engraving, tamping or scraping away the desert pavement, thus exposing the lighter gravel or soils beneath.
The appropriately named Grand Canyon can be enjoyed from at least two perspectives. The South Rim is more popular andopen all year. The North Rim is closed in winter, but the best time to visit there is upon us: September and early October,before most North Rim services shut down about mid-October because of early snows. In that window, weather will usuallybe clear, with a slight chill.
Hidden Forest can be the destination for a wonderful 10-mile, round-trip day hike, or for a backpack excursion up to arustic cabin in a ponderosa pine forest. Though the trailhead lies within 50 miles of Las Vegas, its 5,860-foot elevationprovides a welcome escape from the searing summers of the valley floor. It gets even cooler as you go, for the hike has anelevation gain of about 2,000 feet. The gain is spread pretty evenly through the journey, but it’s moderately strenuous evenso.
Alpine Lakes Loop Trail is one of the best all-around hikes in Great Basin National Park, especially if you’re hiking with people of varying ages and abilities. The loop trail features fantastic views of Wheeler Peak, 13,063 feet in elevation and the second-highest in Nevada. The hike also passes two pretty mountain lakes.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is on everybody’s list of must-see places in the Southwest, but during summer, dealingwith the crowds and traffic can be frustrating at best. However, if you have some flexibility in your schedule, there’s aremedy. Check out the park’s popular main area, with its natural amphitheaters filled with striking hoodoo formations, firstthing in the morning, before most visitors arrive. Then set out to other areas of Bryce for hiking.
Flagstaff, Arizona, is not only a good destination to escape the hotter weather of Southern Nevada, it serves as the perfect base camp for a few one-day side trips to the state’s greatest sights. Within an hour or two from town you can be at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, sliding down a natural water chute near Sedona or visiting any of three national monuments.
Mammoth Lakes, California, in the eastern Sierra Nevada, is best known as an international winter ski and snowboard resort. However, mid-July through September it transforms into one of the best hiking and mountain-biking paradises in the state. It offers the bonus of being the best jumping-off place to visit Devils Postpile National Monument, about 7 miles from town, and is a must-see destination.
It takes some time to drive to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, a couple of hours north of Tonopah, but the road trip is worth it — especially in summer, when the temperatures are at their most pleasant. Located on the western edge of the Shoshone Mountains, the 1,540-acre park has elevations ranging from 6,840 to 7,880 feet.
One of the best weekend getaways our region affords is to Lone Pine, California. It’s uncrowded — a small town of about 2,000 people — and lies in Owens Valley at the foot of the Sierra Nevada’s spectacular eastern slope. The area is rich in camping, hiking and fishing opportunities and is the site where many popular movies were filmed. Even the four-hour drive there can be fun, for much of it is via uncrowded highways through open and attractive country.
Most people who did not grow up in the Mojave Desert were probably surprised to learn how few sand dunes are found here. The vast, flat landscapes of desert pavement and creosote were not remotely what we had envisioned.