When to Go: Third Week September
Get a rare insider’s view of Glacier National Park when you attend its “Fall for Glacier” weekend at the Izaak Walton Inn, Sept. 19-22. In addition to a 3-night stay, all meals, campfire poetry sessions, scientific lectures and a Saturday night “Backpacker’s Ball” featuring live bluegrass, the getaway includes excursions—a Middle Fork Flathead River float trip, one of Glacier’s iconic Red Bus tours or any of eight spectacular hikes—led by experts in the fields of geology, climate change and wildlife biology. Out in the autumn-tinted Glacier backcountry, you’ll discover what makes this quiet, short-lived season so special here.
When to Go: Fourth Week September
A closely guarded secret among Colorado fishermen is the Williams Fork River, a 34-mile-long tributary of the Colorado that flows down the west side of the Continental Divide and features some of the finest brown trout fishing in the West. Its fast riffles, deep runs and pockets galore provide trout with plenty of hiding places, and ensure they’re well-fed with yellow sallies, caddis, midges, tricos and red quills. Fall—when aspens pitch their golden leaves like coins into the river—is one of the prettiest times of year to fly fish “The Fork.” Lucky for you, the pros at Englewood-based Mile-High Angler guide trips on these Gold Medal trout waters year-round
When to Go: Fourth Week September
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—or U-P (pronounced “youpee”), as Michiganders call it—is home to the Porcupine Mountains, a 60,000-acre wilderness of small peaks that overlook Lake Superior and are inhabited by moose, wolves, deer and black bears. Roughly 20 hike-in rustic cabins and yurts make for excellent backcountry base stations, opening up the wild interior to hikers, fishermen and paddlers. Here, too, is one of the most extensive stands of old-growth northern hardwood forest in North America, whose virgin maple, basswood, hemlock and birch trees dance with color starting in late September.
When to Go: First Week October
Forty-five miles of rustic carriage roads crisscross the rugged contours of Acadia’s Mt. Desert Island. Originally constructed by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as motor-free byways for horseback riding, today these scenic roads offer travelers easy, struggle-free access to the wild heart of the national park. Catch a horse-drawn carriage tour from Wildwood Stables in early October, when eastern hardwoods stand out against the island’s abundant evergreens and dark-gray granite outcroppings, blazing in bright reds, oranges and golds. Feeling energetic? Be your own guide when you take to the trails for a breathtaking (though easy—Rockefeller graded the roads very gently for carriages) bike ride.
When to Go: First Week October
What most people don’t realize about the Empire State is that it’s home to one of the nation’s biggest wilderness preservation experiments, the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park. At the heart of the park, nestled among the 4,000-plus-foot-tall High Peaks is, well, Heart Lake. And on the shore of Heart Lake is the Adirondack Loj (pronounced “lodge”), a rustic retreat that serves as the perfect launchpad for day hikes into the surrounding peaks. At day’s end, hikers refuel on hearty, family-style meals and put their feet up by the Great Room’s massive stone fireplace.
When to Go: Second Week October
Vermont is famous for its incredible fall foliage, and perhaps just as infamous for the crush of bus tours that descend on the Green Mountain State’s narrow byways come October. Skip the bus, and stretch your legs on a six-day inn-to-inn bike tour through the historic Champlain Valley at the height of fall harvest season. Sojourn guides cyclists between inns along quiet country roads that wind through a bucolic landscape of patchwork farms and quaint villages set beneath the Green Mountains. At night, feast on the local bounty of vegetables, cheeses and meats, and wash it down with Vermont craft beer.
When to Go: Third Week October
Fall is the best time to visit—and sleep out under the stars in—the national parks of southern Utah’s canyon country. By then, scorching summer temps have cleared out (and so have tourists), leaving pleasant daytime highs in the 60s and low 70s. More importantly, though, the cottonwood stands that grow along creeks and rivers shine a bright, contrasting gold against deep red canyon walls. Zion has one of the latest occurring and most spectacular displays of foliage among the group, not to mention epic slot hikes in the Narrows and the Subway, and über-starry night skies.
When to Go: Fourth Week October
Fall is “crush” time in California’s legendary Napa Valley, when local vintners harvest grapes and celebrate the bounty of the recent growing season (even as the crush of tourists has cleared up). Join Backroads on a late-season, six-day cycling tour to see world-famous wineries in action. This challenging tour leaves from the relatively undiscovered Pope Valley and winds through Napa, Sonoma, Alexander and Dry Creek valleys, climbing steep grades between them and taking in views of the Pacific at Bodega Bay. Each night ends at a luxurious hotel or spa, and copious wine will surely help ease your sore muscles.
When to Go: Fifth Week October
The low-lying Columbia River Highway gets a late burst of color from big-leaf maples and cottonwoods, providing a stunning contrast along the moss-covered forest trails that lead to the area’s dozens of gushing waterfalls. While some—like the famed, 620-foot, two-tiered Multnomah Falls—are visible from the road, others require miles-long hikes to see. At day’s end, swing by local bars to sample the fruits of local harvests, including local wines, craft beers and ciders.
When to Go: First Week November
The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds south along the mountains from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee is often called “America’s Favorite Drive.” At The Active Times, we prefer to call it “America’s Favorite Ride”—and the 252 miles within the state of North Carolina are the best section for cycling. The route offers long views of hundreds of fiery native hardwood species—including sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweet gum, red maple and hickories—dancing with color and contrasting with southern conifers and the blue-tinged mountains. At day’s end, vacation towns like Asheville and Brevard make for perfect rest stops along the way, offering cozy accommodations and delicious, thirst-quenching craft beers.
When to Go: Second Week November
South Carolina’s Forks Area Trail System (known by the knobby-tired set as “FATS”) makes for an awesome, heart-pumping introduction to mountain biking. Purpose-built by the Southern Off-Road Biking Association, the 37 miles of trail include something for everyone—including technical challenge, smooth-flowing singletrack and pump track-style jumps—spread across six rolling loops. Hit the trails in November, when the surrounding Sumter National Forest finally erupts into fall colors.
When to Go: Third Week November
In late fall, the 25,000-acre Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge, which is tucked into a sweeping bend of the Mississippi River, becomes the temporary residence for 200,000-plus quacking mallard ducks (as well as black ducks, gadwalls, pintails, teals and wood ducks), who stop over to rest on their southern migration. Visitors can get a close-up view of the birds from a canoe, while, all around you, fall puts on its final display in Tennessee’s largest block of bottomland hardwood.