As the calendar counts down to the winter solstice, temperatures sink and days grow shorter. But with the right destination, as well as early starts and plenty of warm layers, you can get in full days of fun. Plan a day trip or a weeklong, multi-sport orgy.
If you are kayaking through Alabama's Little River Canyon (go ahead and skip the first 2.5 miles aptly called Suicide Run) or mountain biking the 145-mile Kokopelli Trail from Loma, Colorado to Moab, Utah, you'll notice one thing. Solitude. Chances are even if you are visiting one of the mega-popular tourist destinations, you'll have the place to yourself.
Michael Feinstein, spokesman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco reports, "Summer season is the most crowded season for national parks because that is when most Americans take their family on vacation. Both national and state parks see a dramatic drop in visitation after Labor Day."
Feinstein agrees that most parks experience a 40 to 60 percent drop in visitation in the fall months. September through November is the best time to visit tourist meccas like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and the Grand Canyon. No people and no bugs. While campsites are at a premium during summer months, and are often inaccessible after the first snow, fall travelers are likely to have their choice of the best spots.
During the summer months at Rocky Mountain National Park, the fortunate few who get last-minute campsites are lucky if they have a view of the latrines. But after Labor Day, you usually don't need reservations, even for sites with spectacular vistas of Longs Peak and the Indian Peaks to the south. For a true wilderness experience, try some of the off-the-beaten-path parks and destinations like the southern Oregon coast, western Kentucky and the Dakotas.
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Not only will you generally find fewer people out playing during the fall, but it will cost less as well. This is your chance to stay in exquisite backcountry resorts at bargain prices. Banff National Park, Canada's Graceland for hikers, turns into a proverbial ghost town from September through the start of ski season in December.