Come on. You know you didn’t get as much outdoor time as you’d have liked this past summer. Covering for coworkers’ “more important” time off, sticking to tight budgets, avoiding crowds at the height of tourist season: all legitimate reasons to ditch annual adventures. But when fall arrives, be ready to cash in on the goodwill and enjoy the outdoors before it’s time to unpack the parkas. Here are a half dozen of my favorite fall “catch-up” experiences that might make you think of fall as the blue ribbon season, rather than the consolation prize.
1. Sell out and rent an RV
Die-hard camping purists may turn their noses up at RVs, calling them “ridiculous vehicles.” I know this because that’s what I did. But I quickly got over it when I learned I could spend more time on the road, hitting up my favorite play spots well into winter.
There’s no shame in renting, borrowing, or buying a van conversion, Class C, or travel trailer. Gas prices drop after Labor Day, as do RV rental rates. Loop campgrounds get pretty quiet after the kids go back to school, and you’re more likely to book spots without reserving weeks in advance. Or you can find a spot to dry camp or “boondock” on a forest road or remote public land, as long as it’s legal to do so.
Just remember: Hike, paddle, or bike at least a mile per foot of RV’s overall length during your trip to earn back your adventurer card.
2. Hunt for chanterelles
Break out the lightweight rain jacket, warm layers, and wool socks. It’s mushroom hunting season! Chanterelles are the perfect “beginner” mushroom, easily identified by their wavy tops and ridged, gill-free undersides. They grow almost anywhere in North America. East Coast subspecies “fruit” from early summer through fall, and West Coast chanterelles emerge with the first heavy rains of autumn and fade out mid-winter. In the mountains of the Southwest, they’ll arrive with August’s monsoon season.
Learn more about spotting, harvesting, storing, and cooking chanterelles from reputable organizations like the Mycological Society of San Francisco or a well-illustrated field guide. Never harvest every chanterelle in a patch, since they’re the reproductive organs of a larger, underground organism. Leaving a few will ensure new ones will emerge in subsequent years.
3. Hike “in-season” trails
If you’re mapping out your chanterelle treasure hunt, why not pick a trail along a cascading creek? Those same first rains that coax mushrooms through the duff also bring life back to dry streambeds. You’d be surprised how many waterfalls you miss when you limit your hiking to the summer months.
Fall’s a fantastic time to tackle trails that are too hot, crowded, muggy, or buggy in the summertime. Don’t tell my parents, but when I head down to Coachella Valley for their anniversary in October, I’m more excited to hike Indian, Ladder, and Tahquitz Canyons outside Palm Springs, or explore Joshua Tree National Park. It’s the only time I can hike even the easiest desert trails without keeling over from heatstroke.
Be careful on technical trails, as overhead and underfoot rocks become dislodged with moisture, and wet leaves can wreak havoc on your footing.
4. Chill out on the water
Minnesota is famous for its massive mosquitoes, which is why fall is the best time to launch a backcountry canoe or kayaking trip on the Boundary Waters. That’s one of the absolute best end-of-season paddling destinations, in my book. But if you can’t make it there, your local lakes, rivers, and estuaries will have a whole new look with fall foliage along the banks and mist rising from the water. There will be fewer motorized boats to break the spell of silence and a better chance of seeing wildlife now that the crowds have thinned out. Take extra precautions against colder water, although in early fall may still be very warm compared to the cooling Indian summer air.
5. Chase the fall bite
Fall presents great opportunities to wet your waders—from the outside, of course. Our favorite fish are in late inland migration or loading up on calories for the winter. Book a guide or boat charter, or head out to your favorite river with a buddy.
If you’ve never tried fishing on a fly rod, hooking up to steelies with streamers and a 9w is quite a thrill. Ask around for the best spots, whether you’re on Oregon’s Sandy River in the West, or any Lake Erie tributary in the East. You might even lucky and catch a big fat fall chinook, even as far inland as Idaho’s Snake River.
6. Explore wine country on your terms
I’m not a huge fan of road cycling, especially in the heat. But drop the temperatures into the 70s or a bit below, dangle a glass of Pinot Grigio as a reward, and set me loose in wine country? I’m clipping in.
Not long ago, I wrote about the sweet spot where wine tourism and true outdoor adventure intersects. This fall, you can go hardcore or take a slow roll through your favorite wine country, be it Virginia, Willamette Valley, Napa/Sonoma, or the Texas Hill Country. Cozy up in a B&B or load your bike panniers with everything you need for a scaled-down camping trip. And by “scaled down,” I don’t mean ditching your expensive four-season tent to make room for a case of your new favorite vintage.
KÜHL people were made for KÜHL weather
If you have the right attitude, equipment, and outdoor clothing, there is no off-season. Sure, there might be bad wine, uncooperative fish, and the occasional gully-washing downpour, but if you were all about guarantees, you’d book a cruise. So don’t let your co-workers’ family reunions, destination gender reveal parties, and 100% comped trade show trips hold you back any longer. Let them pick up the slack while you do your thing.
And put them on notice, because winters up next, and you don’t plan to miss it.