If your spidey senses aren’t tingling with the promise of pumpkin spice, gird your loins. It’s almost fall in the US, and after being locked up for nearly 300 years (okay, six months, but who’s counting?), queer folx are ready to run amock like the Sanderson sisters.
But much like summer, LGBTQ travel this coming season is still far from ordinary. New Orleans canceled Southern Decadence, Folsom Street Fair is going virtual, big crowds are a no-no, and face masks aren’t just kinky Halloween costumes anymore. The United States continues to have more coronavirus cases than any country in the world, and to stop the spread of COVID-19, pandemic rules still apply.
With Bacchanalian bashes off the table, your dreams of filling up on pumpkin spice and everything nice might seem deferred — but fear not. This fall is an opportunity to make the great outdoors queer again by exploring lesser-known LGBTQ destinations around the US. So strap on your cutest hiking boots and check out these 10 LGBTQ-friendly locales where physically distanced adventures aren’t only easy to find — they’re the main attraction.
1. Hudson, New York
The hip town of Hudson, a two-hour train ride from NYC, is like Brooklyn’s backyard: There’s a wealth of trendy restaurants, contemporary art galleries, and enough high-end antiquing to convince you it’s time to redecorate your entire home. Once an industrial heavyweight, the town fell into disrepair in the late 20th century only to be rehabbed in the past several decades with a group of business-owning gays leading the way. Today, Hudson is decidedly LGBTQ. On long weekends like Labor Day, you’ll find crowds of queer New Yorkers strolling along Warren Street, the main drag, while contemplating what it would be like to live outside the Big Apple.
The town itself is a feast for the eyes, with architectural bones dating back to the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Nearby museums like the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and Art Omi (an outdoor contemporary sculpture gallery a la Storm King) are only a stone’s throw away. Most impressive is Hudson’s natural surroundings: From the banks of the Hudson River to the peaks of the Catskills, Hudson turns kaleidoscopic every fall as the changing leaves take on brilliant new hues.
2. Boulder, Colorado
Boulder doesn’t have a queer nightlife scene like nearby Denver, but with 300 days of sun, a fall trip to this outdoor oasis should be spent soaking up vitamin D instead of sitting inside a gay bar. Still, this artsy-fartsy college town is an LGBTQ haven that celebrates the community every September at the Boulder Pridefest. Although many of this year’s celebrations have gone virtual, there are a few in-person hangs worth attending, like a drive-in film screening of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
With 45,000 acres of preserved land and easy access to the Rocky Mountains, Boulder’s best is found on foot. Whether you take a short trek around the trails of Chautauqua Park, amble along the 5.5 mile Boulder Creek Path, or opt for something a little more strenuous (Diamond Lake is well worth the one-hour trip), Boulder is a no-brainer when it comes to physically distanced fun.
3. Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman has a long history as a queer-friendly enclave, but this summer, the town got a whole lot gayer. City-sanctioned street crews recently painted the area’s first rainbow crosswalks to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Although the city is still a lacuna for queer-centric businesses like gay bars, folx frolicking around downtown will be pleasantly surprised by the abundance of brewpubs, coffee shops, and cultural offerings like the Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of the Rockies — all of which welcome queer clientele.
Still, nobody goes to Bozeman for indoor activities. Nestled between the Absaroka, Bridger, Gallatin, and Madison mountains, Bozeman is the ideal home base for hiking, biking, and climbing. It’s also a convenient 90-minute drive from Yellowstone National Park’s northern entrance, where you can explore a landscape replete with boiling geysers, travertine terraces, and deep-cut canyons. Head to Bozeman Hot Springs when fall’s plunging temperatures are too cold for the outdoors and soak in the naturally-heated chain of pools.
4. Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville’s quirky population of artists, hippies, and those who love them are so progressive they’re post-queer — a welcome reprieve from the deep-red leanings of North Carolina. Although the city might not have the robust LGBTQ scene of somewhere like San Francisco, LGBTQ travelers will find themselves at home everywhere in this liberal bastion (a good thing since one of the city’s premier gay bars, O.Henry’s, is still closed due to COVID-19).
In fall, Asheville turns into a veritable outdoor gallery — and that’s not just referencing the exemplary street art and art deco architecture that’s on display year-round. With easy access to eight national and state parks, the city is a prime location to see fall foliage. A scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway leads to an embarrassment of epic hikes boasting long-range vistas of multicolored mountains.
5. Umpqua National Forest, Oregon
Oregon has a higher percentage of LGTBQ residents than any other state in the country, and though Portland is the crowning jewel of queer life, there’s plenty of kindred communities found around the state. This fall, try a romantic trip to Umpqua National Forest. Here, nearly one million protected acres of Oregon wilderness unfold in verdant woodlands punctuated by mountain lakes, raging rivers, and natural thermal pools too idyllic to pass up.
Umpqua’s Last Resort, a gay-owned campground where visitors can rent cabins, go glamping, or hook up an RV, is a fuss-free way to experience the Pacific Northwest. Book now for an October excursion — most sites are filled through September, though the occasional last-minute cancellation does pop up on their Facebook page.
6. Salt Lake City, Utah
Mormons might give Utah’s capital a bad rap, but let’s get one thing straight — Salt Lake City isn’t. From out-and-proud city council leaders to the surprising number of queer-owned establishments (try gay-owned Laziz for food and the Sun Trapp for drinks), SLC is so gay it wouldn’t be surprising to see the angel Moroni toss rainbow-colored glitter from his perch atop the city’s Mormon Temple.
But this fall, a trip to SLC isn’t about galavanting around town — it’s about frolicking in the nearby mountains. The Wasatch Range, home to ski resort towns like Park City, lead to some of the most exhilarating hiking in the western United States. Here, golden willows, crimson maples, and emerald pines that line cobalt waters make treks to sites like Lake Blanche and Lake Mary particularly rewarding.
7. Lost River, West Virginia
Most Washington, DC, weekenders head east to find sanctuary on the beaches of homo-friendly Rehoboth, but those who prefer queer mountain adventures go west to Lost River. This small-scale Provincetown near the Potomac, two hours outside the nation’s capital, became a getaway for LGBTQ urbanites when the gay-owned and operated Guesthouse Lost River opened in the 1980s. Today, businesses like the Lost River Trading Post — an artisan-packed general store owned by gay couple Donald Hitchcock and Paul Yandura — continue to wave the rainbow flag proudly despite the state’s social conservatism.
To steer clear of politics outside this bucolic blue bubble, rent a cabin to escape the madding crowd. Lost River State Park, which covers 3,934 acres, offers secluded lodging within the forests outside of town.
8. Blue Ridge, Georgia
Nestled in the Chattahoochee National Forest, Blue Ridge is a quiet refuge for queer Atlantans looking to escape urban life in the Big Peach. This quaint mountain village in the Appalachian foothills went from down-and-out logging town to must-see destination in recent years — a transformation precipitated in part by a growing number of LGBTQ residents investing in the area.
Main Street’s tasty eats and boutique treats, a handful of which are gay-owned, can be easily explored in half a day, leaving plenty of time to ogle the natural surroundings. Lake Blue Ridge Reservoir is a launchpad for kayaking and swimming, the Ocoee River is prime for rafting and fly-fishing, and no trip is complete without a hike to Amicalola Falls. It’s the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast — a must-see stop for vacationing size queens.
9. Anchorage, Alaska
The capital of queer in America’s final frontier is undoubtedly Anchorage — the ideal escape for bears and those who love them. (Seriously — the state contains 98 percent of the US brown bear population and over half of the grizzly bears in North America.) Those looking to mingle with furry friends of the human variety should head to Mad Myrna‘s — a multi-room gay bar with themed nights and drag performances.
When in Anchorage, sidling up to the bar should always come second to exploring Alaska’s wilderness. The glacial landscape surrounding the state’s largest city is immense. Spend an entire trip hiking to see panoramic views atop peaks like Flattop Mountain, whale watching on boat tours that leave from the southern town of Seward, or searching for the prehistoric-sized mammals that reign supreme in this untamed territory. Whatever you end up doing outdoors, always bring a buddy. It’s much easier to handle a wild bear when there’s group action involved.
10. The Berkshires, Massachusetts
The Berkshires’ pastoral scenery is the backdrop for arts institutions like Jacob’s Pillow and Tanglewood in the summertime, but as the weather turns cold, the landscape becomes the star. By October, it’s peak leaf-peeping season, and travelers come in droves to snap photos of the area’s arboreal show. Urbanites from New York and Boston will find hipster-worthy havens in towns like Lenox and Great Barrington. To get down with the queer locals, head to Dream Away Lodge — an eccentric performance and dining space hidden in the town of Becket’s rolling hills.
The Berkshires might take second place to Provincetown when it comes to the state’s top LGBTQ destinations, but for the uncertain season that lies ahead, trading in the men for the mountains is probably what the doctor ordered.