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Karen Marley | 09.03.2019

As summer winds down, a certain nostalgia takes over, a sense that the season’s best offerings for outdoor adventure are behind us. Campfires, whimsical road trips, and paddling are packed away for the season.

Nonsense! After Labor Day, late summer and early autumn provide some of the best days to be out on the trail.

Crowds thin out, affording you more intimate experiences with beautiful places than you would find during peak summer months, not to mention an easier time scoring the best campsites! It’s not just people that you’ll see fewer of, cooler nights start taking their toll on insects of the more annoying variety, so you’ll be pestered by fewer mosquitoes, gnats, and biting flies. In exchange, crickets’ nighttime serenade reaches its crescendo, adding to the evening’s luster.

For much of the country, the harshest of summer’s heat has passed. What remains are soft, languid days that gently ease us into deep autumn. This transitional period gives you the best of both seasons: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. The slow seasonal change is sensed by the animals who become active for breeding and migrating, treating hikers to dynamic flocks of birds, busy mammals gathering food, or the sounds of mating calls.

Not to be outdone by the animals, plants also strut their flashy side. Late blooming wildflowers fill meadows, and many plants change the scenery with their ripened fruits and seeds. Few would dispute that the trees are the real stars of the show. With fall foliage in every conceivable shade of yellow, peach, red, and orange imaginable, hikers get a front row seat to an impressive spectacle.   

To experience any one or all the above, grab your gear and hit the trails. Across the country, from short excursions to longer adventures, whether you’re a leaf peeper, wildlife seeker, or just want some perfect-weather outdoor time, the paths are waiting.


Lookout Mountain, North Carolina. Carr Elliot.


This region is world-renowned for its autumn foliage. Sugar maples burst into flaming colors, turning the countryside into a kaleidoscope of fiery hues. Just pick a trail and head in. You can’t go wrong.


Before the Midwest became America’s breadbasket, it was an unfathomably vast and wild prairie, where the buffalo roamed, and the deer and the antelope played. They still do in certain areas, and this is the time to see them.


Cooler temperatures come later to this region, but the mid-summer humidity has begun its retreat, making it the perfect time to squeeze in more swimming, hiking, and beaches.


Views to Lake McDonald from the Apgar Lookout. Stephanie Keene.

Rocky Mountains 

With its massive peaks and swaths of lemon-colored aspen contrasting with dark evergreens, the Rocky Mountains are the definition of dramatic beauty. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep on the front side of their rut season jousting for ewes.   


Monsoon season is over in the deserts, leaving pleasant temperatures in its wake. September is reported to be one of the better months to raft the Grand Canyon, and higher elevations will treat you to fantastic ribbons of yellow quaking aspen.

Far West   

The lands of coastlines, vineyards, big trees, and the Sierra Nevada all look a little different through the lens of late summer and early autumn. You don’t want to miss it.


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