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Some of the best vacations for a socially distanced trip are those that offer natural, outdoor attractions nearby. That includes everything from beaches, rivers, lakes to mountains, state and national parks. This fall if you want to get outside and enjoy some spectacular scenery without a high risk safety, consider one of these ideal spots.
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Boulder is all about the outdoors, so you’ll have a myriad of options for things to do while social distancing, including Chautauqua Park which offers spectacular Flatirons views and 48 miles of scenic trails just minutes from downtown. Eldorado Canyon State Park is not much farther and offers hiking, fishing and rock climbing, with varying degrees of difficulty. Fishing enthusiasts can test their luck in a stream with rainbow trout and rock climbers can climb the 850-foot sandstone canyon wall. There are four trails ranging from a half-mile to 3.5 miles one-way. Many of the shops in popular Pearl Street Mall are open, with face coverings required.
The fall offers a much quieter alternative to a summer visit in Yellowstone National Park, and it’s likely to be even more peaceful during the pandemic. With the colors of autumn, the scenery is gorgeous and the wildlife abundant, with opportunities to see everything from bison, elk and moose to bears and wolves. In September, the elk usually begin rutting and can be seen around Mammoth Hot Springs, while bears and other animals become more visible as the season moves forward. Watch Old Faithful and the many other geysers, rainbow-hued Grand Prismatic Springs, mudpots, paint pots and more without the crowds.
Nearly all visitors come to the Black Hills in the summer, and autumn is a wonderful time to find plenty of space and spectacular scenery for social distancing. If you plan your visit between mid-September and mid-October, you’ll have the best bet for pleasant weather along with views that include golden splashes across the densely forested landscape. Take scenic drive through Custer State Park on the Needles Highway with its remarkable rock formations, enjoy scenic hikes and travel the Wildlife Loop to spot wild burros, bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and elk.
The Outer Banks is a wonderful place to visit in the fall with beaches less crowded, the fishing at its peak, and the weather cooler. It’s also ideal for a scenic drive, with the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway extending 138 miles by road plus another 25 miles by ferry, crossing three islands, two inlets, and over 20 coastal villages. You’ll be surrounded by water views, with the Atlantic to the east and the Pamlico Sound to the west. Along the way, you can visit the famous Hatteras and Bodie Island lighthouses too.
In the fall, just about everyone visiting New England will be heading to the hills and mountains for prime leaf-peeping, making it the perfect time to visit the island of Nantucket. Most visitors to Massachusetts’ islands come in the summer, so you’ll be able to enjoy the idyllic beaches and tranquil harbors without the crowds, and take advantage of much lower accommodation rates too.
Fall in Austin often means idyllic weather for enjoying the scenery on foot, from downtown to the nearby Texas Hill Country. Most state parks are open for day visits, including McKinney Falls State Park where you can enjoy solitude on the miles of picturesque hiking trails right within the Austin city limits. Scenic views of the city can be found along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail that winds along the shores of Lady Bird Lake. Visiting the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is always fun too, with more than 500 animals, including 40 different exotic, native and endangered animal species from around the world.
Fall is an ideal time to visit Arches National Park for hiking, biking, scenic drives and more. You’ll be able to marvel at balanced rocks teetering on pedestals and over 2,000 sandstone arches that frame the sky through peek-a-boo windows in a colorful landscape that features everything from fiery reds and brilliant oranges to an array of purples, pinks, browns and even aquamarine hues. Be sure to check out the 290-foot-long Landscape Arch, believed to be the longest natural rock span in the world, accessed via a two-mile roundtrip hike from the Devils Garden parking area.
Kauai offers reliably great weather and discounted hotel rates without the crowds in autumn. It’s arguably the most stunning and least developed of the major Hawaiian islands, meaning it will be easy to social distance here. If you like waterfalls, it boasts a high concentration of them, including Wailua Falls, which was featured in the 1970s TV series “Fantasy Island.” There are beautiful gardens and many idyllic beaches to enjoy too.
The “Land of Enchantment” is exemplified in Taos, and the autumn season brings out the very best in this New Mexico town. Some of the best fall foliage colors in the southwest can be found with a drive on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway loop that travels from Taos to Eagle Nest and Angel Fire. The 84-mile-route passes through many stunningly scenic areas, a Vietnam memorial and along meandering roads seen in films like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Easy Rider.” Afterward, check out the many art galleries in town, and perhaps by a painting that reflects those memorable views.
Sedona is another fabulous destination for a fall escape, just two hours north of Phoenix. Look forward to hiking the trails that will bring you to breathtaking views of the red rock formations without having to endure the sizzling heat of summer. If you’re looking for spiritual healing, take a trek to one of Sedona’s famous vortexes believed to enhance meditation and promote well-being. You can even sign up for a special sound healing, with private sessions available for solos or groups traveling together to allow for social distancing. You’ll take a short walk to one of the red rock vortexes to enjoy this incredible experience offered through Airbnb.
Autumn is also a wonderful time to visit Fayetteville, West Virginia, which sits at the edge of the wild and scenic New River Gorge. The weather will be mild for enjoying all sorts of outdoor adventures, including hiking, fishing, biking and rafting, while surrounded by vibrant fall colors. You’ll be able to capture postcard-perfect photos at the New River Gorge Bridge, which offers a dramatic bird’s-eye view of the New River below with the trees painting the gorge in dazzling reds, yellows and oranges.
The largest AVA in Oregon, the Willamette Valley is an amazing alternative to busy Napa Valley and those other world-famous California wine country regions. The landscape is covered with vineyards, farmland, forests and small charming towns while providing a wide array of recreational activities and opportunities for food and wine enthusiasts. Stretching from the Columbia River near Portland to Salem, the Calapooya Mountains just outside of the town of Eugene are particularly renowned for their Pinot Noir and produce two-thirds of the state’s wine. Take advantage of wine trails, enjoy scenic hikes and picnic spots.
Update: Bend issued an order discouraging tourist travel, follow the status of that order here.
Bend is an adventure travel mecca, located just east of the Cascade Mountains in Central Oregon about three hours from Portland. Visitors can look forward to plenty of sunshine and blue skies in this region, along with gorgeous fall colors. Look forward to hiking, mountain biking, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, golf and much more. After a day of play, back in town, there is a thriving food and drink scene, including innovative, award-winning breweries, with a number of them offering large patios with outdoor seating.
Charming Eureka Springs is one of the most picturesque in Arkansas, a mountain town that’s a natural pick for anyone in search of healing through nature or art. It’s surrounded by over 60 natural hot springs, and in October and early November, the autumn colors are absolutely breathtaking. There may be no better time to experience the thrill of a Zip Line Canopy Tour right in the heart of the pristine Ozarks. The town itself has been named one of the country’s top small cities for arts, with countless galleries to explore and history lovers will appreciate the historic downtown district’s magnificent Victorians.
Autumn, particularly later in the season, is an ideal time to visit Joshua Tree National Park. While its museums are closed during the pandemic, the visitor center desks and trails are open. Enjoy idyllic fall temperatures with highs in late October through November hovering around 83 degrees, perfect for hiking, with treks that lead to views of stunning rock formations, the bizarre Joshua trees and other unusual plant life. After dark, you’ll be mesmerized by some of the world’s darkest skies, with clear nights on nearly every night of the year due to the low desert humidity and absence of light pollution.