Our favorite and most well known parks in the country are still shut down due to the impasse in Washington DC – Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, the Grand Tetons. All of us at MountainHop are hankering to get back to the national parks and forests in our backyards before snow really comes to the Rockies. We’ve realized though, that now is the perfect time to reacquaint ourselves with state parks that are just as beautiful, a little smaller and crucially – still open. There’s no need to miss seeing the fall colors in the short time we have left of autumn. Here’s our roundup of the best state park trails to catch the reds and golds before it’s winter.
Head northwest to Whitefish, MT, where Whitefish Lake State Park and Les Meson State Park are the perfect home bases to explore the area. Families may enjoy just camping and doing the loops around Whitefish Lake, but you’re also just a mile from the ski resort. To get your hike on, head up Big Mountain at the Whitefish Mountain Resort on the popular Danny On Trail for 3.8 miles to the summit (the Flower Point Loop, which adds an extra 1.8 miles, appears closed for the season). The Danny On will take you through pines, golden aspens and the crimson huckleberry bushes with great views of Glacier National Park from the summit if it’s clear. Just remember that the gondola is no longer running, so you will have to hike back down. And hey, if there is a compromise in DC, you’re perfectly poised to hop into Glacier.
Fully soak in the elements of autumn with a stroll in Bear River State Park near Evanston. The three miles within the park are a lovely break on a Sunday afternoon, with 1.2 miles paved and the trail leads over a picturesque arched footbridge crossing the Bear River. Aspens, blue spruce, lodgepole pine and cottonwood trees line the water. Make sure to wave hello to the small herd of bison and elk that call the park home. Bear River is free to enter; donations are accepted.
The seventy-two mile long Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes between Plummer and Mullan, ID, follows the old route of the Union Pacific Railroad. The ten-foot wide asphalt trail was named one of the top 25 trails in the entire nation by the Rails to Trails conservancy. The trail is lined with maples, cottonwoods, tamaracks, poplars and aspens that are in the middle of turning seven shades of brilliant, so hop on anywhere with your dog, rollerblades or bike for a view. Multiple campsites, picnic areas and trailheads abound off the main path, as the trail runs through Heyburn State Park, the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, Lake Coeur d’Alene and the historic mining district, Silver Valley.
Out near Eagle-Vail is Sylvan Lake State Park, a 2.4 square mile preserve that’s home to aspen forests, bald eagles, coyotes, black bears and even loons. There are plenty of options to fit your needs: the 1.5 loop around the lake is a great walk, especially if you want to fish. Take sections of the 5.8-mile West Brush Creek Trail to explore pretty quiet areas of the park. They like to call Sylvan the gateway to the White River National Forest, and although you can’t hike those USFS trails, you’ll still be able to catch the views. According to the parks website, there’s still some green leaves hanging on so this week fall colors should absolutely peak.
Just outside of Santa Fe is the state’s first park, Hyde Memorial. Chock full of pines and aspen trees, it’s set right in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and along Little Tesuque Creek. Although the end of the camping season is Mid-October, the park is open year-round for hiking. Hyde considers the West Circle Trail the most challenging hike, as it has a 1000-foot elevation gain in one mile, but since it hits the top of the park at 9,440 feet it also has the best view. The trail system totals only about 4.2 miles, so Hyde is a perfect day escape from the city.
Wasatch Mountain State Park is the place to land in Utah, nearly 22,000 acres of preserved state land. Swing by the Huber Grove, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, to check out the aspen grove and the 130-year-old orchard for a nice ramble. For something more strenuous, the hike up Wilson Peak fits the bill. It’s best to stop at the Visitor Center first, as you’ll get the best directions with local landmarks rather than relying on the online maps. It also happens to the last week of Wasatch’s “Picture Perfect” Photo Contest, so the colors may give you the edge for a win! Categories include Fun in the Sun, All About Nature, and Under-13s.
This Guide to the Best State Parks For Fall Foliage is courtesy of Katie Carroll and our friends at MountainHop. MountainHop is the place to find out what’s happening in over twenty mountain towns, from British Columbia to New Mexico and the peaks in between. Their mission is simple: to answer the all-important question, “What’s Now in the Mountains?”.