Go Under the Mountains
There's as much beauty below ground as above in the Swiss-cheesy limestone karst heart of the Ozarks. Blanchard Springs Caverns, two hours north of Little Rock in Ozark--St. Francis National Forests, is the region's showstopper cave, offering the usual sanitized lighted tours. But way cooler, and much darker, is the Wild Cave Tour ($75; www.fs.fed.us/oonf/ozark). It's Spelunking 101--a headlamped, knees-on experience. Keep the Batman theme alive with a stay in kitschy Beckham Creek Cave Haven ($675 for two people, two nights; www.ozarkcave.com) near Jasper, a five-room cave suite.
Take the Cumberland Cruise
Apple-crisp fall weather and easy water make for superb canoeing on the Big South Fork (of the Cumberland) National River (www.nps.gov/biso), about 130 miles south of Lexington. The best trip for your money is a 12.2-mile stretch of flat, lazy water between Blue Heron Mine and Alum Ford. Much of the run threads high cliff lines, though it broadens out in the lower sections, and everywhere there's showcase color from poplars, maples and oaks. Sheltowee Trace Outfitters offers a shuttle and rentals ($23 per person, per day; www.ky-rafting.com).
Bike the (Other) Muir Trail
Kettle Moraine may sound like a cheddar-suffused Wisconsin casserole, but in truth it's rolling terrain carved by glaciers during the last ice age and home to the Midwest's best mountain biking. "Rolling terrain" can entail some steep sections, but the small-chainring stuff seldom lasts more than 60 feet as you wend through forest and prairie on 28 miles of singletrack. The John Muir Trail system sets off from Highway H just south of Palmyra ($4 for a trail pass; www.dnr.wi.gov). Pitch a tent in the Kettle Moraine State Forest campground at Whitewater Lake ($10).