Winter may be for snow sports, and summer for swimming, but there is no shortage of outdoor activities for adventurous travelers come fall. Forget the sleepy car trips or forgettable foliage tours. From cycling alongside 1,500 bison in South Dakota, to kayaking through Virginia wine country, here are nine great ways to "fall" into the great outdoors.
New York State of Climb
City slickers take the Metro-North train from Manhattan to ascend Poughkeepsie's Walkway Over the Hudson, a 1.25-mile, three-year-old footbridge that crosses the state's largest river. The raised walkway abuts the 251-acre Franny Reese State Park, which has 2.5 miles of hiking trails along a 19th-century carriage road. Highlights along the route include bicycle rentals, an overlook with killer views of the Mid-Hudson Bridge, and the ruins of a historic estate.
South Dakota's Black Hills region beckons with big skies and expansive landscapes. Bike tours depart capital Rapid City for breathtaking vistas of national monument Mount Rushmore and its Lakota counterpoint, Crazy Horse Memorial, then hit Custer State Park. The 71,000-acre park is mammoth, but 10 different cycling routes help two-wheeled explorers navigate the highlights, like rolling grasslands, Sylvan Lake, the towering Cathedral Spires, and some 1,500 bison.
Throughout October, the new, rustic-chic Hotel Vermont in Burlington, Vermont, has a pumpkin-picking package (try saying that five times fast) for festive travelers of all ages. Take a wagon ride to Sam Mazza's Farm, a family-owned Burlington institution since 1935, and sample cider donuts while navigating a three-mile corn maze and choosing pumpkins from a field of thousands.
Get Inn Shape
Leave it to chronically fit Coloradoans to turn leaf peeping into a cardiovascular workout. Take in the colorful fall foliage—and perhaps even early-season snowfall—via a new inn-to-inn hiking package between two Colorado mountain resorts. Pack your snowshoes when you depart the Nordic Inn in Crested Butte. The hotel will drive you to the trail-head for the 11-mile hike through the aspen- and pine-covered Maroon Bells peaks until you reach the historic Limelight Hotel in Aspen. Had enough trekking for one weekend? The hotels will happily send a helicopter or limousine for the return trip.
Sip and Sail
Virginia's vineyards produce some of the country's top vintages, and the annual fall harvest is the perfect time to toast American ingenuity. Active oenophiles can kayak Church Creek, which winds between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay, until they reach Chatham Vineyards. A family-owned operation with a top-ranked Chardonnay and adorable winery dog, Chatham has a dock for kayaks and an elegant tasting room in a Federal-style estate. Following a guided tour and tasting, paddlers head back upstream with takeaway bottles balanced carefully underfoot.
Takin' to the Trees
Leaf peeping is one thing. Strapping on a harness and ascending colorful branches for an up-close and personal look is another entirely. Tree Climb Connecticut, a program near Hartford, teaches enthusiasts ages 7 and up to traverse 2.5 acres of oaks, walnuts, and maples during the height of fall foliage season. For those who are even more serious about scaling, there are also several dedicated instructional climbing seminars, held October 19-20 and 26-27, and November 9-10, 2013.
In San Diego, fall weather means bright skies and 70-degree temperatures. As a result, every year, some 20,000 gray whales migrate from Alaska towards the warm waters of Baja California, making for some spectacular whale-watching off the San Diego coast. Spot pods of the 50-foot-long creatures on a self-guided hike along the cliffs of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, which has several trails touting panoramic Pacific views, or, sign up for a whale-watching boat trip out of San Diego Bay. Operator H&M Landing has daily departures that range from four hours to 11 days.
Take Your Pick
The northern U.S. doesn't want for apple-picking farms, but Weston's Antique Apple Orchard in New Berlin, Wisconsin, is one of a kind. The 16-acre, family-owned orchard was once visited by Julia Child, and now grows over 100 varieties of apples, including rare types like Old Church, Lemonade, and Strawberry Chenango. Stop by in the fall for an open-farmhouse tour, which includes apple picking, tastings, and a walk through Weston's Dutch colonial barn, dating to 1901. The orchard also has a petting zoo, barrel rides, and regularly scheduled horticultural and grafting classes.
With 60-odd such structures dotting its 228-mile shore, coastal Maine is ground zero for lighthouses. Get your Edward Hopper on with a Lighthouse Lovers Cruise through Casco Bay. These 90-minute sailings depart Long Wharf in Portland, Maine, throughout October, when fall foliage is at its peak, but the night air is still (relatively) warm. Onboard guides offer insight into topics like the early American whaling industry and modern-day Portland's impressive dining scene, while the double-decker boat traverses grey waters rich with seals and seabirds en route to four quintessential New England lighthouses. Photo op, ahoy!Photo Credits: New York State of Climb: Walkway Over the Hudson 8 by Attribution-ShareAlike License; Monumental Ride: welcomia/Shutterstock; Pumpkin Pickin': Ruediger Baun | Dreamstime.com; Get Inn Shape: Azahirar | Dreamstime.com; Sip and Sail: James River Kayaking by Tony Alter Attribution License; Takinâ€™ to the Trees: walking up by antoine Attribution License ; Migration Nation: Chad McDermott/Shutterstock; Take Your Pick: Verena Matthew | Dreamstime.com; Lighthouse Maniat: Doug Lemke/Shutterstock