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The 25 Best Places to Visit in the Fall for Outdoor Adventures

United States Outdoor Insider Guides
by Matthew Meltzer Aug 28, 2019

Fall is about a lot more than foliage and football. The weather isn’t quite drop-dead freezing in the more seasonal parts of the country, and since kids are in school and tourism has slowed, it’s prime time to enjoy the outdoors. To figure out which places, exactly, are best for enjoying the brisk fall weather, the bus-and-train travel mavens at Wanderu took a look at stuff like bike rentals, urban hikes, fall temperatures, and an aggregate parks score. And though the results aren’t necessarily shocking, they will give you some inspiration for stuff to do both home and away this fall.

25. Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio is one of the best fall vacation destinations in the US for outdoor activities

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The biggest city in Ohio is often overlooked for any of its outdoor attractions, mostly because the majority of Americans think the only outdoor event here involves the Buckeyes. But beyond OSU football, Columbus has a wonderful collection of city parks, where stuff like the outdoor play area at Blendon Woods and an obstacle course at Glacier Ridge rated it a Wanderu parks score of 47.5. Though its fall temps dip into the 50s, Columbus still has ideal weather for fishing at Delaware State Park or the Hoover Reservoir. Or you can head to Battelle Darby Creek and check out bison in the fields before learning all about them in the indoor nature center.

24. Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha, Nebraska is one of the best fall vacations for outdoors activities

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Never sleep on Omaha, the largest city in Nebraska and the perfect jumping-off point for fall fun in the Cornhusker State. The secret is out amongst hunters, who come here en masse every October for the best pheasant hunting in the Midwest. It’s also peak season for those who like to see birds and not shoot them, as the fall offers ample birding opportunities along the Missouri River. The city’s Paths of Discovery trail system is a must-hit too, running 85 miles and allows you to discover every corner of the city by bicycle.

23. Los Angeles, California

The beaches in Los Angeles, California make for excellent fall vacation destinations

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Nobody’s going to dispute that Southern California has an ideal climate and topography for outdoor adventure. You just sometimes forget when you’re sitting in 18 lanes of unmoving traffic on the 405. But LA is a place where people catch up with friends over hikes through Topanga Canyon or have dates running between piers in Venice Beach and Santa Monica. But the city is also full of natural hidden gems, like the Point Dume State Beach Preserve in Malibu or the woody Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. With less than an inch of precipitation and temps in the mid-60s, fall in LA is, if nothing else, guaranteed not to rain you out.

22. Tampa, Florida

Tampa, Florida is one of the best places to visit in the fall for beaches and parks

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Tampa often gets lost behind the talking puppets in Orlando and the bright lights of South Beach. But for the outdoors, Tampa might be the Sunshine State’s best city, with three solid urban hikes, as well as the Downtown Tampa Riverwalk, a three-mile path by the Hillsborough River lined with bars and museums. Though Clearwater and St. Pete are the big beach destinations in Tampa Bay, you can find some nice secluded spots here too — like Cypress Point Park, which affords unfettered views across the bay and airplanes overhead. If you’re up for a drive, Fort De Soto Park isn’t far away, a stretch of white sand that’ll make you feel like you landed on a deserted Caribbean island.

21. Las Vegas, Nevada

Mountains and urban hikes make Las Vegas one of the best places to visit in fall

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Interesting that a city literally engineered to keep you from ever going outside offers two urban hikes and has a parks score of 57. It seems the influx of long-term residents have discovered life outside the casinos, and if you’re willing to drive a little bit, you can join them in some of the coolest outdoors in the country. An hour out of town sits the Valley of Fire, quintessential desert hiking at its finest. You can also take a kayak out on the Colorado River, or bike around a little closer to town on the mountain trails at Red Rock Canyon. You can even ski in Vegas if the time is right, with the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort at Mount Charleston offering a fun and easy afternoon on the slopes.

20. New York, New York

Urban parks and colorful foliage make NYC one of the best fall vacations in the US

Photo: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

New York City proves you can pave over nearly every square inch of a city, fill it with more humanity than God ever intended, and still have pretty great outdoor activities. Central Park is the marquee name here, but those outside this city might not know about Governor’s Island, which now boasts an adventure zone with a zip-line. We wouldn’t advise channeling your inner Kramer and swimming in the Hudson River, but there are plenty of places that’ll rent you kayaks to paddle through it. For something a little more peaceful, check out the botanical gardens in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, all of which provide a peaceful respite when the summer crowds subside.

19. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia is one of the best places to visit in fall for outdoor adventures

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Another densely populated urban metropolis you wouldn’t expect to rank this highly is Philadelphia, which checks in with a surprising parks score of 66.67. But you may recall that Pennsylvania translates to “Penn’s Woods,” and you can get out into said woods along the Schuylkill River trail, a 30-mile paved path from the city to Parkerford. You can also escape into the trees at Fairmount and Wissahickon Valley Parks, learn something while you’re outside at Valley Forge Historic Park, or check out some of Philadelphia’s best parks within city limits. For something completely different, take a walk through Ringing Rocks County Park, where 10-foot rock mounds ring out loud when stuck with a hammer.

18. Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta in the fall is one of the best vacations in the US for hiking

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North Georgia is one of the most underrated scenic wonderlands in America, and nearly all of it is accessible just a short drive from Atlanta. Trek the Appalachian Trail — or at least a little slice of it — as the trail’s final (or first) 78.6 miles are in this region, or hit one of the best hikes near Atlanta for some fresh air and fall foliage. In town, you can explore the city by bike or foot along the Atlanta Beltline, an old rail corridor around the city connecting it all through the great outdoors. If weather permits, you can also take part in the time-honored tradition of “shooting the hooch,” where you float down the Chattahoochee River, beers in hand, enjoying the shade of the trees along the banks.

17. Chicago, Illinois

Lake Michigan shoreline makes Chicago one of the best places to visit in fall in the US

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Though stuff like “elevation” and “deep forest” might not be easy to find in Chicago, you can still run through this city better than most in America. The Lakefront Trail gets all the pub here, a famous 18-mile jaunt along the shores of Lake Michigan. Go a little south of the city and you’ll find yourself in Palos Forest Preserve, with demanding rolling hills in the heart of preserved wetlands and remote ravines. Or challenge yourself a little more along the 10 miles of crushed asphalt at Waterfall Glen, which takes you up and down hills past majestic waterfalls that’ll make you forget you’re within spitting distance of Willis Tower.

16. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is one of the best fall vacation destinations in the US for outdoor lovers

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People who breeze through town sometimes like to say semi-condescending things about Milwaukee like, “Oh it’s great, like a smaller Chicago.” But it’s actually nothing at all like the Windy City aside from its lakeside locale, and spending a weekend taking in the city from the waters of Lake Michigan will have you realizing how much nicer the nature is in a smaller city. If you’re not up for sailing the lake, grab a kayak and paddle the Milwaukee River, stopping at the breweries that dot the shore. For something on land, take a stroll through the Schlitz Audubon Center, a 185-acre preserve with six miles of trails and a watch tower boasting perfect views of the lake.

15. Baltimore, Maryland

Its hiking and bike trails make Milwaukee a great fall destination for outdoor activities

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Theoretically, a city with average temps in the low 60s, over three inches of rain, and a park score of 43 wouldn’t figure to land this highly on the list. But Baltimore scores big with its absolute abundance of bike rentals, 32 citywide. You can use them to do a loop around BWI airport, the odd airport with a bike trail around its perimeter. Or roll through 30 neighborhoods in 15 miles along the Gwynns Falls Trail. You can even dip your toes into mountain biking in Charm City by hitting the relatively easy trails at Gunpowder Falls State Park and enjoying the waterfalls without a terrifying ride.

14. Colorado Springs, Colorado

The mountains and foliage in Colorado Springs make it a great fall vacation destination

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The entire state of Colorado can be one big wilderness park if you plan correctly, but no small city in the nation exemplifies all that’s great about the Rockies as Colorado Springs. The fall colors in Mueller State Park are among the best in the West, where you can take them all in on the park’s 55 miles of trails. Red Rock Canyon is also a must-visit, a relatively new park that was once designated to become a luxury resort and is now open to the public. Really, the outdoor options are endless here, and sub-50 degree fall temps are probably the only reason it doesn’t rate higher.

13. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is one of the best cities to visit in the fall for outdoor attractions

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Boston’s outdoors might not be readily apparent, but its most famous attractions include the sprawling Boston Common and the nation’s most historic walk along the Freedom Trail. Those obvious tourist draws aside, you can also take boats out on Boston Harbor to enjoy a different vantage point, or paddle along the Charles River. You can also enjoy the views from the hilltops in the DCR Blue Hills Reservation. Or go ice skating on Frog Pond if you hit the city late enough in the fall.

12. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque is one of the best places to visit in fall in the US

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Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list — to those who only know the city from television — is oft-overlooked Albuquerque, a gem in the high desert that can go toe to toe with any mountain city for outdoor recreation. The largest cottonwood forest in the world weaves through town along the Paseo del Bosque trail, a 16-mile bike path along the Rio Grande. Fall temps in the high desert are cool — about 57 degrees — which means you can hike the trails through the Sandia Foothills all day and never break a sweat. If you’d rather not be that active, enjoy the scenic tram ride up to the top of Sandia Peak and let the cables do the work for you.

11. San Jose, California

San Jose on California's central coast is one of the best fall vacations in the US

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Another forgotten outdoors mecca is San Jose, known mostly as the urban center for Silicon Valley but also a gateway to much of California’s central coast. Towering over the city are the Santa Cruz Mountains, where you can trek through the vineyards at Ridge Vineyards and taste with a bird’s-eye view of Apple world headquarters. You can also stop and enjoy the flowers at the city’s municipal rose garden. Or venture into the oldest municipal park in the state at Alum Rock Park.

10. Sacramento, California

Sacramento's scenic bike paths make it one of the best fall vacation destinations in the US

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The old joke about Sacramento is the best thing about it is how close it is to everything else. “Hour and a half to the city (San Francisco), hour and a half to the mountains,” longtime locals love to crow. But even without leaving Sacramento you can find some fantastic nature, especially along the American River Bike Trail, one of the most scenic bike paths in America. Take the trail long enough you’ll end up at Folsom Lake, a deep-water recreation area perfect for an afternoon of boating or beaching. Head a little out of town and you’re smack in some of the nation’s best whitewater too, with trips down the American River a weekend tradition for locals.

9. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis has the second-highest park score in the US, making it one of the best places to visit in fall for outdoor activities

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People from freezing cold places like Minneapolis like to say stuff like, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” And this fall will be your chance to test that, as one of the nation’s best outdoors cities has average temps in the 40s. Stock up at REI and head to the Twin Cities, where the survey’s second-highest parks score stems from places like Lyndale Park with its iconic views. Or Mills Ruin Park on the west side of St. Anthony Falls, where the city’s flour milling history has been preserved for visitors.

8. San Diego, California

Miles of beaches make San Diego one of the best places to visit in fall

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Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla — you name the San Diego enclave, and it’s going to be ideal during fall. For the more adventurous, try your hand and hang-gliding over the fPacific at Torrey Pines Gliderport. Potato Chip Rock is also a marvelous, if challenging, hike that’ll bring you to one of the most underrated photo spots in California. You can also stop and see the famous sea lions at La Jolla, or scope out the beaches and go tidepooling in search of sea anemones, starfish, and sea cucumbers.

7. Washington, DC

Washington, DC's urban trails make it one of the best fall vacations in the US

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You probably wouldn’t have guessed the nation’s capital had the highest parks score on the list, as most people don’t think of DC parks much past the National Mall. But Washingtonians know their city is home to some of the best urban nature in the world. Start at Rock Creek Park, where you can explore its 32 miles of trails, or head up the Capital Crescent Trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring, Maryland. There is, of course, the Potomac River and all its boating and kayaking opportunities, plus the National Arboretum and its 446 acres of relaxation.

6. Seattle, Washington

Seattle's foliage and green space make it a great fall vacation destination

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Seattle in the summer might be the most beautiful city in the world, but even as the temps cool off and rain seeps in, the Emerald City offers outdoor recreation like no other. The urban parks are spectacular, whether it’s the bluffs at Discovery Park or the picture-perfect running trails at Green Lake. Head across Lake Washington to Bellevue and you can kayak from the Meydenbauer Marina past the homes of tech billionaires. And a little further east you’ll find majestic mountain hikes like Rattlesnake Ridge in North Bend, and Poo Poo Point near Issaquah.

5. Portland, Oregon

With nearby mountains, trails, coast, and vineyards, Portland, Oregon is one of the best places to visit in fall

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Head east of town on I-84 and you’re smack in the middle of the Columbia River Gorge, one of the most scenic places in America and the heart of wine country. But Portland scores well in town too, with a parks score near 80 and 21 places to rent bicycles. Portland’s parks are like little urban forests, with Forest Park and its 70 miles of wooded trails chief among them. There’s also the International Rose Test Garden, the behemoth rose garden in Washington Park. Plus Chinese and Japanese gardens giving tribute to the city’s Asian influence.

4. San Francisco, California

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in the fall

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For a city that famously measures only 46 square miles, San Francisco packs in a remarkable amount of outdoor opportunities. Anyone who’s ever biked through Golden Gate Park can attest to the abundance of wilderness here, as can anyone who’s spent an afternoon hiking through Glen Canyon. The city rated a 78 for parks, bolstered by weekend sunning staples at Dolores Park and Patricia’s Green. If you’re up for a life-changing bike ride, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and ride up to the Marin Headlands, where Point Bonita Lighthouse juts out into the Bay.

3. Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado ranks in the top 3 best places to visit in fall in the US

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Denver’s Rocky Mountain proximity would be enough to land it this high on the list. But the recreational opportunities that don’t involve 14,000-foot peaks might still surprise some people. Urban kayaking, for example, is huge here thanks to the man-made chutes at Confluence Park. The city also boasts 85 miles of trails and 29 bike shops. City Park — Denver’s urban green space crown jewel — also offers one of the most unique walking trails in America, a five-kilometer jaunt along the city’s 5,280-foot contour that keeps you walking at exactly a mile high.

2. Long Beach, California

Long Beach, California is one of the top fall vacations for outdoors lovers

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For some reason, Long Beach has surfed under the radar as a Southern California outdoors destination. But the city Snoop Dogg made famous has some of the best beaches in California, all the perfect weather of its neighbors in LA and San Diego, and relatively fewer people. Get out on the waters of Alamitos Bay, where if you’re feeling strong you can try your hand at kitesurfing in one of the West Coast’s top destinations. You can also take a gondola ride through the city, like it’s a better-smelling Venice. Or hit one of the city’s 32 bike rental shops and explore the beach on two wheels.

1. Oakland, California

Oakland, California is the best place to visit in fall for outdoor activities

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Score one for San Francisco’s rugged little brother, which tops the list with a parks score of 55 and a whopping 11 urban hikes. Tilden Regional Park, in addition to offering a charming little choo choo ride among Redwoods and Eucalyptus trees, also has some of the best hikes in the bay. There’s also the venerable Lake Merritt, which was doing the urban running trail thing long before it was cool. For biking, Joaquin Miller Park offers the best trails in the region. And kayaking through the Oakland Estuary is a calming way to decompress after spending an afternoon in Bay Area traffic.

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