By Megan Hill It’s been a rough summer for much of the country. Record heat, droughts, and wildfires have gripped large swaths of the U.S. for months. Or maybe you experienced perfect weather, but are just relieved to have the kids back to school. With the days growing shorter, the temperatures starting to drop, and the above-referenced children (mostly) occupied the welcome relief of fall is nearly upon us. And this means new travel opportunities to places that offer chances to glimpse fall foliage and enjoy cooler – but still comfortable – weather. Let’s think outside of the box a little: consider these getaway ideas that capture the best under-the-radar travel ideas, places that are packed in summer but see relatively few fall visitors, yet still offer some of the best of the season’s scenery and activities.
Whitefish, Montana Situated at the north end of the gorgeous Flathead Valley, to the west of Glacier National Park, the small town of Whitefish is mobbed by tourists in summer and winter. But if you make it there before ski season sets in, you’ll experience a burst of fall color and moderate temperatures. This year, Montana’s wildfires have been particularly intense, but once summer ends, the smoke will have cleared and the roads will be open. In Whitefish, enjoy a range of outdoor activities, from hiking in the surrounding mountains, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on cerulean Whitefish Lake, mountain biking, and more. Up on Big Mountain, the ski area, you can take a scenic gondola ride and brave the thrilling alpine slide. Fuel up in between adventures at one of the town’s many outstanding restaurants, like the locally-focused Pig and Olive sandwich counter or Great Northern Brewing Company, where you can sip a pint on the balcony overlooking the town and surrounding mountains. For a fine dining option, head to Café Kandahar on Big Mountain, where you’ll enjoy a memorable meal from James Beard Award-nominated chef Andy Blanton. And Whitefish is a natural jumping-off point for visiting nearby Glacier National Park, whose sculpted mountains and scores of lakes beckon travelers. In fall, the roads are still open but the crowds have dissipated; rather than fighting traffic and struggling to find a parking spot, you’ll likely have the park to yourself. Just be sure to educate yourself about hiking in bear country before you go.
New Orleans New Orleans has made headlines again recently, having just commemorated the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. The once-devastated city has rebounded, and tourists are rediscovering the Big Easy. Fall is the best time to visit; the threat of hurricanes is all but over, and temperatures and humidity have typically dropped to comfortable levels. New Orleans doesn’t see a speck of fall color, but this subtropical city seems to always be under a thick canopy of colorful plants. Explore the French Quarter, where New Orleans history comes alive and the city’s most interesting characters are on parade. A range of tours are offered, including cocktail tours, history tours, and haunted tours, so you can easily find something to suit your group’s interests. Food is an essential part of New Orleans culture, so expect to eat a lot on your trip here. Whether you explore some of the New American restaurants that are helping revitalize the city, or tap into the old guard’s upscale Cajun and Creole classics, you can’t go wrong no matter where you eat here. New Orleans has a thriving nightlife scene, with a bevy of jazz clubs and music halls showcasing the bayou’s outstanding talent. Consider planning your trip around one of New Orleans myriad colorful festivals, many of which take place in fall: Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival, Mirliton Festival, Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, and Oak Street’s beloved Po-Boy Festival.
Columbia River Gorge As it approaches the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River scours a deep gorge between Washington and Oregon. Here, mist-shrouded cliffs plummet towards the mighty river, which once carried Lewis and Clark’s expedition into the history books. In fall, the gorge’s endless crowds disperse, so you’ll likely find you have the orange-and yellow-flecked hillsides to yourself, as well as the hundreds of waterfalls that tumble down its crags. Many of the falls are easily accessible, requiring little more than a short walk on a paved path to a viewpoint or overlook. Others offer secluded (and mostly flat) hikes along fern-studded trails in quiet forests. Leave time to visit the myriad wineries and breweries in the area, many of which offer some of the best pours in the region. Worth visiting are Pfriem Family Brewers, Walking Man Brewing, Backwoods Brewing, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, and Double Mountain Brewing. On the wineries side, head to Syncline, Cor Cellars, and Domaine Pouillon. Book a room at one of two outstanding hotels, Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa, or Skamania Lodge, both of which offer hot soaking pools to relax and unwind after a busy day of exploration. Wherever you go, let the joy of discovery lead the way. Megan Hill is a Seattle-based freelance writer. Her work covers food, travel, and the outdoors around the Pacific Northwest and beyond. You can read more from her at http://www.meganhillfreelancewriter.com