Taking a fall drive to view the changing colors is an annual rite for scores of Utahns, but those who enjoy the ritual had better begin hitting the mountains now if they hope to enjoy the red, orange and yellow hues.

Hot and dry conditions this summer stressed many leaves, especially in northern Utah, which means they changed earlier than normal, according to Jason Baker, curator at Red Butte Garden. "Mostly, it's the amount of water they received," Baker said. "They are not as bright as they normally are."

The situation could be better in southern Utah, which received more summer rain, and where U.S. Forest Service officials expect the leaves to hit the peak of their colors in the next week.

Before taking a longer drive, it might be good to check with a U.S. Forest Service ranger district or local travel bureau on conditions. Fall leaf enthusiasts might also want to call the Forest Service's automated leaf hot line at 1-800-354-4595.

Here are five good drives to enjoy the changing colors in different regions of Utah:

Alpine Loop » Start this 24-mile drive at the mouth of American Fork Canyon, drive past Timpanogos Cave and complete it on U.S. 189 in Provo Canyon just past the Sundance Ski Area. A nice side trip will take you to Cascade Springs, a beautiful natural area with a boardwalk trail that can be spectacular this time of year. The Pleasant Grove Ranger District is reporting that the maple trees are currently beautiful, while aspens are just starting to turn and maples are reaching their peak colors.

Ogden River Scenic Byway » Sometimes known locally as the Monte Cristo Highway, this 44-mile drive begins at the mouth of Ogden Canyon and follows Utah 39 past Pineview Reservoir and Monte Cristo Peak, eventually ending near Woodruff, in Rich County. There are some nice restaurants along the way, as well as the Trappist Monastery and the Shooting Star Saloon in nearby Huntsville.

Red Cloud Loop » The Vernal Ranger District reports the colors are beautiful right now on this 45-mile mostly dirt road that begins at the border of the Ashley National Forest off U.S. 191 on the way to Flaming Gorge Reservoir. This is an especially good place to enjoy seeing yellow aspens.

Beaver Canyon » Driving the 17 miles from the town of Beaver up Utah 153 to the Eagle Mountain Ski Area in the Tushar Mountains can be a real treat. Consider taking the road all the way to Junction and U.S. 89, though that will require a slight detour on U.S. Forest Road 137. "The leaves are just starting," said Monty Cartwright of the Beaver Ranger District. "The maples have turned red and the cottonwoods and aspens are starting. It is really pretty. This weekend and possibly next weekend are the optimal times to go."

Warner Lake/La Sal Mountain Loop Road » This 60-mile backway, which provides access to Warner Lake where the yellow aspen leaves can cast reflections in the high mountain lake, often creates memorable photos for leaf viewers, but it's under construction this year. Instead, autumn drivers should access the loop by driving up the San Flats Road past the Slickrock Bike Trail, according to Brian Murdock, recreation manager for the Moab Ranger District. Turn right when you to get to the loop to hit Warner Lake. Fall colors are starting to turn, Murdock said.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton

True colors

Before heading out on autumn drives, call the U.S. Forest Service's automated leaf hot line at 800-354-4595.