Looking to turn over a new leaf on your annual fall foliage excursion? Trade in subdued “oohs” and “ahs” from the passenger seat for “wows!” and “holy cows!” by signing-up for an action-packed leaf-peeping adventure. Each of our 10 fall foliage travel adventures is bound to give you a one-of-a-kind perspective on the bold waves of crimson, fiery-orange, and golden hues that sweep the country at this time of year. So read on to discover 10 exhilarating alternatives to jumping in a fresh pile of crispy leaves! (Or, for those of you who prefer a more traditional means of taking in the fall season's splendors, check out our Top 10 Fall Foliage Destinations.)
Bike in Yosemite National Park
Post Labor Day, the deciduous trees of California's Yosemite National Park are not alone in experiencing a lovely transformation – temperatures become pleasantly cool (with subtle hints of Indian summer), the mosquitoes vanish, and the hordes of summer visitors disappear, leaving the park more reminiscent of a sanctuary than a frenzied tourist attraction. One of the best ways to experience the splendor of fall foliage travel here is by renting a bike from a park kiosk and pedaling over 12 miles of paved paths along the flat floor of the breathtaking Yosemite Valley.
Cruise Lake Champlain
Burlington-based Vermont Discovery Cruises’ Moonlight Lady plies the waters of Lake Champlain well into October, when a fiery display of fall foliage blankets the surrounding Adirondack and Green Mountains with a Technicolor coat of scarlets, burgundies, oranges, and golds. The two- to seven-night sailing options – which debuted in 2008 as the first motorized overnight cruises on the lake in over 50 years – offer up outdoor decks primed for fall foliage travel, exceptionally fresh farm to fork cuisine, and an intimate eight-cabin configuration.
Horseback Ride in Grand Teton National Park
Strap on your boots and saddle up – autumn is the perfect time of year to explore Wyoming’s stunning wilderness. Local wranglers, like those at Dry Ridge Outfitters, offer a variety of guided horseback riding trips that last anywhere from an hour to several days out on the trails. Prime fall foliage travel season is mid-September to mid-October, when Grand Teton National Park is flush with red-gold aspens and golden cottonwoods, set against a brilliant blue sky. Back at ground level, keep your eyes open for moose, elk, and the occasional bear, too.
Hot Air Balloon in Asheville
For a bird’s-eye view of autumn’s changing hues, the sky's the limit on the foliage you'll see from aboard a hot air balloon out of Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville Hot Air Balloons will have you soaring to a leaf-peeper's cloud nine some 500 to 2,000 feet above Pisgah National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains – the latter of which boasts the superlative foliage of the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of America’s premier scenic drives for fall foliage travel adventures. One-hour flights depart daily at sunrise.
Kayak on the Saco River
Take a leisurely autumnal paddle on the scenic Saco River with a fall-foliage kayak or canoe trip through outfitter Saco Bound. This pristine New Hampshire waterway courses through some of New England’s more scenic autumnal forests and farmlands (including some in Maine), and boats are available for hire through mid-October – the height of the spectacular leaf display (and prime time for fall foliage travel adventures).
Llama Trek in Taos
While running off in search of foliage and llamas in the adobe-speckled artists’ colony of Taos, New Mexico, might sound like a quest for fool’s gold, rest assured that the golden hues you'll discover in the nearby aspen forests are indeed the real deal come autumn – as are the llamas-for-hire that can accompany you into the woods, courtesy of Wild Earth Llama Adventures. While indigenous to South America, the 'llovable' gear-carrying llamas fare extremely well in Taos's climate and make great companions, along with a naturalist guide, for navigating the terrain and embarking on one-of-a-kind fall foliage travel adventure.
Ride the Cog Railway in White Mountain National Forest
The thrills of riding Mt. Washington’s Cog Railway haven't lost any steam since the locomotive first began ascending New England's highest peak in 1869. As much a New Hampshire rite of passage as leaf-peeping, the 3-hour journey is the best way to appreciate the region's fiery fall plumage. Admire nature's handiwork up close (maple reds, beech bronzes, birch lemon-yellows) as you chug up the 3.1-mile trestle, then cap off the fall foliage travel adventure by experiencing the full tour de force of the autumnal palette from the 6,288-foot summit, where the views encompass four states, Quebec, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Rock Climb in the Hudson River Valley
Autumn in New York's Hudson River Valley is a sight to behold – and there are few better vantage points from which to take it all in then dangling from a rock face on the Shawangunks – affectionately dubbed “The Gunks” – range, some 90 miles north of Manhattan. A magnet for adrenaline junkies, this revered rock-climbing mecca is scalable by first-timers and expert climbers alike with the professional guidance of outfits like New Paltz-based Alpine Endeavors. Stay the weekend at the historic Mohonk Mountain House and you can also round out your fall foliage travel by visiting one of several nearby harvest festivals kicking off in October.
Wine-Taste in Shenandoah Valley
As the foliage of over 15 million acres turns brilliant shades of reds, golds, and browns, the entire state of Virginia celebrates a month-long wine festival that would make Bacchus proud. October 2012 marks the 24th anniversary of Virginia Wine Month, with 26 wineries falling within the scenic Shenandoah Valley area. The list of possible activities is endless, but highlights include attending a ladies-only wine tasting, a concert series, a Virginia vs. France wine competition, and even a pet-friendly wine tasting event.
Zip Line in Texas Hill Country
For a most colorful encounter with nature this fall, zip on over to Cypress Valley Canopy Tours, based just 30 miles outside of Austin. Sail through picturesque Texas Hill Country by zip line, right through the burnt-orange and yellowish hues of cypress trees that can reach as high as 100 feet tall here. October also marks the onset of exciting regional events like the Texas Wine Month Trail and the Gruene Music and Wine Festival, making it a great time to embark on fall foliage travel adventures and experience another side of Texas.