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If you ask me, summer's overrated. I live for that sweet spot between the first autumn frost and the last falling leaf when it feels like I have the world to myself—even if there are fewer daylight hours to explore it.
These days, my kid's still at home with remote classes and my partner's company has fallen in love with Zoom meetings. The lines between summer and the school year are as fuzzy as my favorite fleece—and sometimes, so are our personal boundaries. That's why it's essential we all get our "outside time," individually and as a family.
We're always up for an outing no matter the weather. However, these are some of the adventures and activities we like to save for fall.
Admit it: The thought of going to a National Park at the height of the tourist season makes your eyes roll. Other people's screaming kids, rubbernecking traffic, the frustration of watching city folks try to get selfies with dangerous critters... Might as well spend your weekend at the mall.
Well, after Labor Day things chill out in our National Parks, and they're never so gorgeous as they are late fall through early spring. This is the best time to get your favorite women's hiking pants on and book a visit. Hotel and motel bookings loosen up and tend to cost less. Moreover, you'll experience more fall colors and fewer garishly-clothed, sock-and-sandaled, asphalt-adjacent lookie-loos.
Show me somebody who doesn't think gardening is an outdoor adventure, and I'll show them pictures of our backyard before the pandemic hit. Blackberry bramble (a western Oregon thing) everywhere, overgrown holly, an anemic lawn. Now that it's fall, I'm almost done with my "Woman With Too Much Time On Her Hands and No Sense of Aesthetics" theme, complete with a few dwarf apple trees and a small recirculating fountain. My daughter learned to build a bat house while we were on lockdown, so we can expect fewer bitey bugs next year.
Want to offset your grocery bill? Maybe create a low-maintenance landscape? Fall rains make topsoil easy to work, and they help ornamental grasses and perennials get established. Till compost and soil amendments into new garden beds so it has a season to break down; in spring, you'll have a head start on your veggie garden.
Anglers live for fall. Many popular freshwater game fish avoid warm, shallow water in the summer, and that typically rules out bank fishing. But when the water cools, it's fish on! Find out what's biting in your area and get tips and tricks on fishing's favorite social media app, FishBrain.
If you happen to live near spawning rivers, fall's a great time to battle salmon and steelies. Local fly shops and sporting good stores often post fishing reports for local rivers. Those include water flow, effective bait and patterns, and fish counts.
Need a little help getting on the fish? Check out our in-depth fly fishing guide. Or, take a hint from the next section:
We know that game hunting isn't for everyone, but if you're a carnivore, there's no better way to fill your freezer with lean, healthy meat. Even if you get skunked, a trip with a qualified outfitter will be an experience you won't forget.
Book a hunt (or fishing trip) with your best buddies or your family, or just for yourself. It's a fantastic way for new hunters to get acquainted with the tradition. If you bring along any squeamish companions, they can always hunt with their cameras—or hang out in camp with a good book and a warm blanket.
Frugal this fall? Here's a tip: If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that our lives can change on a dime. Hunting and fishing guides often have cancellations and they'll offer those spots at discounted rates. If you don't want to wait until next fall to book a trip, you could get lucky!
Want to sleep in a cozy lodge every night? Prefer to backcountry "glamp" in a canvas cabin tent, complete with a woodstove? Want to cover a lot of ground with saddle horses and pack mules? There are options for everyone and even the most basic tend to include delicious food, hair-raising campfire stories, and jaw-dropping scenery.
Stalking your quarry doesn't always have to end with hot coals and an iron skillet. Contact your local Audubon society chapter to learn about local fall migration viewing hotspots, guided birdwatching tours, and volunteer opportunities. Bird nerds are wonderful people, and they'll help you better understand and appreciate the ecology on your favorite trails, kayaking creeks, and in your backyard. Did our suggestion of creating a garden perk up your ears? The Audubon Society can help you choose plants, trees, and shrubs that provide cover, food, and habitat so on those lazy days when you can barely make it to your patio, you can still feed your nature jones.
Schooling at home? It never hurts to ask your kid's science teacher to approve of birdwatching as an "extra credit" project.
You don't have to invest in new gear to become a bird watcher. You've already got comfortable hiking pants, mid-layers, a windbreaker, trail and mud shoes, a pair of binoculars, and a field guide or two, right? Of course, you do. And it's something you can do on your lunch break, whether you're working from home or stuck in an office park on the outskirts of town.
By the way, avian species aren't the only creatures on the move in the fall. You want to know where to look for whales, caribou, seals, and other wildlife? Get some tips for year-round highlights, too.
Have you always wanted to mountain bike in Moab, hike the canyons around Palm Springs, or rockhound along the southern Colorado River? If you're anything like me, you spend the hottest days of the year hiding under a cool rock—but when the temperatures ease up, you're headed straight for those "hell no" singletracks and hiking trails.
Same goes for desert wildlife. Kids will have a better chance spotting colorful lizards sunning themselves on the rocks on sunny, warm days before the critters hibernate for winter. If you're in bighorn country, you might even get to see rams playing King of the Hill to impress the ladies. The breeding season for desert-dwelling bighorns is August through November.
Remember to check the weather forecasts and bring plenty of warm layers; any time of the year, desert zones experience extreme temperatures.
Cool, crisp air, brilliant fall colors, and fewer crowds make outdoor experiences all the more appealing, no matter how many adventure buddies you bring along. Plus, after a long summer of socially-distant frolicking, you're probably in the best shape possible to tackle physical challenges, whether you're hiking, trail running, or biking. Keep up the momentum! You're going to need it when winter—and cabin fever—arrives.
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