image of mountain bikers in fall forest

There’s nothing like autumn, when the air feels clean and fresh, temperatures are comfortable, and changing leaves cover the landscape in gorgeous hues. It’s a perfect time of year for outdoor activities, from forest hikes to high-desert bike rides to paddling along a rugged shore. Here are our picks for ten of the best adventures across the United States this fall.

Biking in Acadia National Park | Maine

Best fall adventures: Acadia National Park biking
Bike shop in Bar Harbor, the gateway to Maine’s Acadia National Park (Shutterstock)

There’s no more beautiful time of year in Acadia than autumn, when the weather is crisp and trees blaze with colorful foliage. One of the best ways to explore is by bicycle, which can be rented in Bar Harbor. In the early 20th century, philanthropist John D. Rockefeller gave the park 45 miles of scenic carriage roads, whose crushed-rock surfaces are ideal for biking. They’re also open to walkers and horseback riders, but motorized vehicles, including electric bikes, are prohibited.

Acadia’s main roads, including the winding Park Loop Road and the long climb up 1,350-foot Cadillac Mountain, the highest spot along the North Atlantic seaboard, are also open to cyclists, though you’ll have to contend with vehicular traffic, which can be heavy.

Plan Your Fall Adventure: Acadia National Park (NPS)

Hiking the Long Trail | Vermont

Best fall adventures: Long Trail, Vermont
A beautiful fall landscape as seen from the Long Trail in the Brandon Gap of Vermont (Shutterstock)

Tracing the length of the Green Mountains from the Vermont-Massachusetts state line to the Canadian border, the Long Trail is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States, completed in 1930. Rugged and strenuous, the 272-mile trail passes through deciduous forests that turn to brilliant red, orange, and yellow in autumn, making September to mid-October an ideal season to visit. Occasionally, the trail emerges above the tree line, reaching the summits of Vermont’s major peaks, including Mount Mansfield, the state’s highest point at 4,393 feet.

The Long Trail can be hiked in sections or as a thru-hike taking two to four weeks. Simple overnight shelters are located along the trail.

Plan Your Fall Adventure: GreenMountainClub.org

Multisport in the Blue Ridge Mountains | North Carolina

Fall hot-air balloon ride above Asheville, North Carolina
Fall hot-air balloon ride in Asheville, North Carolina (courtesy, ExploreAsheville.com)

The ancient Blue Ridge Mountains are at their best when an explosion of fall color paints the forested slopes, usually around the last two weeks of October. You can see plenty of gorgeous scenery just by driving the Blue Ridge Highway, but for a more immersive experience, climb on a bike or take a hike on one of the region’s many trails. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even fly over the landscape on one of several zipline tours in the area.

The artsy towns of Asheville and Banner Elk make good bases for exploration. Between the two lie the Pisgah National Forest, with over 1,000 miles of trails, and Grandfather Mountain State Park, home to one of the most rugged peaks in the region.

Plan Your Fall Adventure: NCBlueRidge.com

Hiking the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | Michigan

Best fall adventures: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
The Au Sable Light Station, surrounded by colorful fall foliage, stands on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Grand Marais. (Shutterstock)

A highlight of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is spectacular at any time of year, with dramatically eroded multicolored sandstone cliffs rising from the blue-green waters of Lake Superior. It takes on an extra layer of beauty during peak fall foliage season, which typically runs from late September until mid-October. Day hikers can enjoy 100 miles of trails to viewpoints, waterfalls, beaches, and the picturesque Au Sable Lighthouse. For longer treks, the North Country National Scenic Trail passes through the park, 15 miles of it atop the cliffs.

For a different perspective on the gorgeous coastline, take to the water on a sightseeing cruise or kayaking tour. Independent paddling is permitted but requires experience and preparation, as conditions on Lake Superior are notoriously changeable.

Plan Your Fall Adventure: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (NPS)

Canoeing in the Ozarks | Missouri

Best fall adventures: Ozark National Scenic Riverway
View of Klepzig Mill, located along the Rocky Creek portion of Ozark National Scenic Riverways (courtesy, NPS)

In southeastern Missouri, 134 miles of the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers comprise the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Gentle flows and clear water make these rivers ideal for canoeing or float trips through a landscape of limestone bluffs, caves, hardwood forests, natural springs, and gravel bars where you can beach your boat to stretch your legs or set up camp for a night.

Both the crowds and the insects have generally tapered off by September, which, combined with the changing foliage along the riverbanks, makes fall a beautiful time of year to visit. Numerous outfitters in the area offer canoe, kayak, raft, and tube rentals for single and multi-day river trips.

Plan Your Fall Adventure: Ozark National Scenic Riverways (NPS)

Horseback Riding in the Rockies | Colorado

Best fall adventures: Colorado horseback riding
Horseback riding through a colorful aspen grove (Shutterstock)

In the autumn, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains take on a golden glow thanks to the changing leaves of the aspen trees that blanket the mountainsides. September and October generally enjoy crisp, sunny, dry weather, and wildlife such as elk, moose, black bears, and bighorn sheep is typically active. One of the best ways to experience the season is by taking a horseback ride in Rocky Mountain National Park, where about 260 miles of trails are open to horses.

Two stables operate in the national park during the summer and early fall, and year-round rides are available out of nearby Estes Park.

Plan Your Fall Adventure: Rocky Mountain National Park (NPS)

Mountain Biking in Sedona | Arizona

Best fall adventures: Mountain biker in Sedona, Arizona
A mountain biker negotiates the Mystic Trail in Sedona, Arizona. (Shutterstock)

Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest and famed for its red rock canyons and buttes, Sedona has more than 250 miles of high-desert trails for mountain bikers of all levels of experience. In the fall, the searing daytime temperatures of summer cool down to comfortable levels, and the changing foliage makes a brilliant contrast against the red rock. For those who prefer adventures without wheels, hiking trails abound, including in Oak Creek Canyon, one of the best places in the state for fall foliage. Late September through mid-October is the best time to go for peak color.

Plan Your Fall Adventure: SonomaCounty.com

Biking Sonoma Valley Wine Country | California

Best fall adventures: Biking through Sonoma Valley
Sonoma County boasts more than 250 wineries spread out over 13 distinct American Viticultural Areas. (Shutterstock)

The famed wine region of Sonoma County, California, is at its most beautiful during harvest season, when the leaves on the grapevines turn from green to gold and deep shades of red and burgundy. Apples, pumpkins, squash, blackberries, potatoes, and chestnuts, and other fall produce are also ripening at this time.

Biking the scenic country highways of the valley is the best way to experience the season at a leisurely pace. Nights may be cool, but the days are perfect for cycling, with mild temperatures and soft autumn light rather than the intense sunshine of summer. Parks such as Quarry Hill Botanical Garden and the North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park also make good stops for fall foliage walks.

Plan Your Fall Adventure: SonomaCounty.com

Hiking, Biking and Hot Springs at Lake Tahoe | California/Nevada

Best fall adventures: Lake Tahoe mountain biking
Mountain biker on the Flume Trail at Lake Tahoe (Shutterstock)

Fall may just be the perfect time to visit to visit Lake Tahoe. Come September, the summer crowds disappear, and fall typically arrives with abundant blue skies and comfortable temperatures, ideal weather for outdoor activities.

Hiking opportunities are endless, from flat walks along the lakeshore (elevation 6,250 feet) to more challenging mountain trails with sweeping views. The popular 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail circumnavigates the lake and is open only to foot traffic, but mountain bikers will also find hundreds of miles of trails in the area. Nearby hot springs provide opportunities to wind down—or warm up, if you’re hardy enough for a late-season dip in the lake!

Plan Your Fall Adventure: Tahoe.com

Kayaking and Hiking in the San Juan Islands | Washington

Best fall adventures: Orca off San Juan Islands, Washington
An endangered orca breaches near Henry Island in Washington’s San Juan Islands. (Shutterstock)

The San Juan Islands are one of Washington state’s favorite summer playgrounds, but come autumn, the quieter rhythms of normal island life resume. The end of the tourist season doesn’t mean fall is a bad time to visit, however. On the contrary, the weather is often beautiful. Thanks to the sheltering bulk of Vancouver Island, the San Juans experience significantly more sunshine and less rainfall than nearby Seattle.

Kayaking is a wonderful way to explore the islands’ coastlines and, with luck, spot native wildlife such as orcas, harbor seals, and bald eagles. Onshore, there are excellent opportunities for hiking and biking. On Orcas Island, Moran State Park contains the highest point in the archipelago, Mount Constitution (2,409 feet), which provides panoramic views.

Plan Your Fall Adventure: VisitSanJuans.com

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  • Annika Hipple is a freelance writer and photographer who covers travel, environmental issues, sustainable development, and other topics. Her work has appeared in BBC Travel, Sierra Magazine, Time Out, in-flight magazines, and numerous other publications.

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