Fall hikes to fall for
Crisp mornings, bright colors and fewer crowds make fall one of the best times to get out on Wyoming’s trails.
With Labor Day goes the crowds in some of the state’s most popular places, such as Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton National Park.
“It’s breathtaking, and minus the crowds it’s even better,” said Brian Bergsma, safety and occupational health manager with Grand Teton. “Just get past Inspiration Point and get into the canyon. The views are ever changing.”
Fall is also a time when changing colors seem to reinvent the landscape. The Sibley Lake Nordic Ski Trails near Dayton can provide trips as short as you want, while offering pockets of aspens changing colors against black rocks, said Sara Evans Kirol, with Bighorn National Forest.
Below are favorite fall hikes from forest service and park staff. Visit classic trails that become new adventures when the tourists head home and the colors change. Or, explore a new area with the recommendations below.
Fall might be the best time to visit Yellowstone, said Ivan Kowski, backcountry program manager at the park. The elk are bugling, the crowds have thinned and the colors are vibrant. After 14 years in the park’s backcountry office, it’s hard to pick just one favorite hike, he said.
One of Kowski’s favorite fall hikes, the 5-mile Beaver Ponds loop, is a trail he normally avoids in the summer. In the fall you might even get the trail all to yourself. But be sure to hike with buddies. This is bear country.
The trail starts in two places, including behind the Mammoth Hotel, where it follows an old road and offers beautiful views and sage brush and grassland topography before entering a forest of lodgepole pine. Aspens and willows are near the pond and turn the colors of fall. You can also start the trail from the Clematis Gulch trailhead near Liberty Cap, Kowski said.
The hiking is moderate with some elevation changes, Kowski said. It’s a great trail for wildlife viewing. The area is home to elk and moose and is good bear habitat, so make sure you have your bear spray.
With almost 18 years working on trail crews and supervising the department, Brian Bergsma, not only knows the paths inside Grand Teton, he helped build many of them.
Now the safety and occupational health manager at the park, one of his favorite fall haunts is a mellow trek starting in Granite Canyon and ending at Teton Village.
“I hate to use the term breathtaking, but it’s phenomenal when the leaves are turning,” he said.
The trail takes you through stands of aspen trees and opens to views of Jackson Hole. To keep it short leave a car at the village before beginning the hike from Granite Canyon. Start at the Granite Canyon trailhead and walk to the Valley Trail Junction – about 1 mile from the start. Then head south for about 2.5 miles arriving near the Après Vous chair lift at the mountain resort, he said.
“It’s really mellow, but it’s gorgeous,” he said.
The area is home to wildlife and is one of the best areas to see moose, he said. The leaves in the area normally start changing color mid-September.
The Tipple Trail provides Melissa Martin a perfect family adventure. Martin, the acting planning staff officer with the forest, has been with the forest service for 23 years, the last 16 on the Medicine Bow Forest.
The Tipple Trail, which can be accessed off Highway 130 and across from the Lake Marie Trailhead, offers access to a series of other trails allowing Martin, and her 11 and 13 year old children, to pick how far they want to go. The Miner’s Cabin trail is particularly interesting, winding through dwarfed vegetation, she said. The trail offers diverse types of vegetation from hiking within the forest to overlooks to views of Medicine Bow Peak.
Depending on the moisture the foliage turns fiery red, orange and yellows and pops against the conifers in the mixed forest. “(The colors) are kind of yearly-dependent, but it’s always worthwhile,” Martin said.
The hike is moderate, but does begin with a downhill, so save energy for the push back up at the end.
When Judy Robinson, a support service specialist with the Bridger-Teton National Forest, wants to escape, she heads to Toppings Lake.
“It’s kind of a nice, peaceful place to get away,” she said.
The hike is a locals’ favorite and is only several miles to the lake, she said. The trail goes past two small lakes – you’ll know you’ve reached Toppings because the trail dead ends, and crosses through meadows and huckleberry patches. This is grizzly country so carry bear spray, make noise and stay alert. The foliage offers a variety of colors. The timbered lake is full of arctic grayling, but fishing can be a challenge because of the trees on the bank and the dead snags in the water. But sometimes that’s part of the fun, she said.
While the trail is fairly mellow there are sometimes downed trees to cross, she said. The trail starts off Highway 89 opposite the Cunningham Cabin. People often miss the trail, which is marked with a green gate. There is parking below the gate and the hike begins on an old road, she said.
You might have the lake to yourself, or you might need to share it with Robinson who, after 17 years working for the forest service, still loves to visit the lake.
“I go and take a picnic lunch,” she said, “and sit by the lake and just enjoy the solitude.”
Bucking Mule Falls are impressive in the summer, but the open trail is often too hot to make the trip enjoyable, said Sara Evans Kirol, trails coordinator with Bighorn National Forest.
Kirol has been with the forest for seven years and before that worked at Medicine Bow National Forest.
While Kirol hikes throughout the year, September is her favorite month to explore the forest’s trails. The insects have died down and the summer crowds have thinned and there are more wildlife sightings. The Bucking Mule Falls Overlook Trail, at the northern end of the Bighorns, starts in the open, makes its way into the trees and through a “spectacular” canyon and ends at a waterfall, all in three miles.
To get to the trailhead take Highway 14A from Lovell and turn north on Forest Service Road 14. The trail is fairly easy with few hills. There are elk in the area and often signs of bears. An overlook on the canyon rim, provides impressive views.
Banner photo by Eric Schmuttenmaer/Flickr
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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