Few seasons are as packed with as much travel potential as fall. Leaves light up forests, summer crowds are gone, and the heat gives way to crisp air, making it perhaps the best time of year to get outside and explore. Americans are understandably ready. Road trips have never been more popular, and people are beginning to look further afield, too. Traveling abroad to some places is easier than you might think—provided you do your homework. Many countries, like Iceland, simply require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test prior to landing. Still, traveling now calls for flexibility and smart planning, especially as the Delta strain of COVID-19 creates uncertainty. Always double check the news about restrictions in a place before arriving, and if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s how to adapt on the fly and embrace change. That’s how many of the best adventures come together anyway. To celebrate fall, we compiled a list of destinations that avoid crowds and get you outside, whether you decide to travel now or in the future. See you on the road. —Ryan Krogh
Explore Colorado’s Grand Mesa
Colorado’s shimmering golden aspens make the state’s trails prettier—and more popular—than ever in fall. But there’s a way to have them to yourself. Head to the newly renovated Electric Mountain Lodge (from $350), about 80 miles east of Grand Junction. Located at 9,200 feet atop the Grand Mesa—the world’s largest flat-top mountain—the four-room, five-cabin property sits at the gateway to Grand Mesa National Forest, providing guests access to over 300,000 acres of backcountry. The remote location feels like your own private park, with 200-some miles of trails for mountain biking and hiking, plus lakes for paddling and casting—all of them directly outside your front door. Fly fishing on the Roaring Fork River and mountain biking the Palisade Plunge, 32 miles of thrilling downhill singletrack, are easy day trips. Meals, served at Electric Mountain’s main timber-framed lodge, are mostly sourced from the chef’s farm in nearby Paonia—think kale and feta salad, roasted beet bruschetta, and grass-fed burgers—and are a reminder why this area is known as the state’s breadbasket. This region is also the heart of Colorado’s burgeoning wine scene. Book tastings at Azura Cellars and the Storm Cellars to see why the wines are starting to turn heads. —Jennifer Murphy
Chill Out on Molokai, Hawaii
Fall is typically Hawaii’s shoulder season, when daytime temperatures cool to a blissful 70-degrees, hotel prices drop, and crowds thin. However, travel has flooded back after pandemic lockdowns, and islands like Maui and Oahu are once again packed with travelers. But there is still Molokai, the antithesis of resort-lined Waikiki. With no stoplight and just a single hotel, the island beckons travelers who crave a slower pace and empty beaches. Hotel Molokai (from $140), with its retro, Polynesian-style bungalows, is a central base close to the main town of Kaunakakai, as well as the sacred Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove that was planted in the 1860s by King Kamehameha V. For a more far flung escape, head to the west side of the island and book one of the campsites (from $5) at Papohaku Beach. The largest white-sand beach on the island stretches for three miles and is 100 yards wide, so it feels like your own private island. Halawa Valley, home to one of the earliest Hawaiian villages, is a 90-minute drive to the island’s east end, and the winding road is worth the trip. The last born-and-raised descendant of the valley, Anakala Pilipo Solatori, still lives there, and he’ll take you on a three-mile hike to Moal’ula Falls through his guiding outfit Halawai Valley Falls Cultural Hike. Solatori’s conversation and the falls are far way more memorable than any luau. —J.M.
Adventure in Texas Hill Country
Hill Country mostly gets pegged as a great day trip from Austin or San Antonio, thanks to its surplus of antique stores and 100-plus vineyards. Increasingly, though, the area’s rolling limestone and granite hills and spring-fed rivers are luring mountain bikers, climbers, hikers, and paddlers. There’s no better time to visit than the fall, when the summer sun stops pounding Central Texas with 100-degree heat. Milton Reimers Ranch Park, 30 miles northwest of downtown Austin, offers 18 miles of flow trails for mountain biking and a wide selection of sport climbs, ranging from 5.5 to 5.14, on limestone cliffs that overlook the Pedernales River, perfect for a post-adrenaline-rush, cool-down dunk. Further southwest, between the towns of Boerne and Fredericksburg, is Flat Rock Ranch, a family-owned cattle operation that carved 29 miles of mountain biking trails into its 1,300 acres, with hill climbs, long downhill sections, technical singletrack, and several creek crossings. Just 10-minutes away are the clear waters of the Guadalupe River, which paddlers flock to for trips along its cypress tree–lined banks. For hiking, there’s Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, home to the U.S.’s second largest granite dome, rising 425 feet above the surrounding landscape. The state park has 11 miles of trails, and if you’re headed there it’s almost mandatory to march to the top of the Summit Trail for 360-degree views of Hill Country. For a longer hike, there’s the 4.6-mile Loop Trail, which circumnavigates the dome. Either way, make sure to leave early in the morning to avoid the sunbaked afternoons, which can still get uncomfortable in September. Celebrate the summit with lunch at Vaudeville, in nearby Fredericksburg, with pork belly tacos that are some of the best in the state—and in Texas, that’s saying something. They have a full selection of Texas wines by the glass—and bottles to go, too—in case you’re in the mood. For a place to bed down, there’s TrueHeart, with twelve cottages and a lush garden tucked away just off Main Street (from $215). —R.K.
Bike Tour Vermont’s Culinary Heartland
Vermont is no secret in the fall, when its vast tree canopies—more than 80 percent of the state is forested—transform into an eye-popping patchwork of marigold, ochre, and burgundy hues. Combine that with the area’s farmhouse-dotted countryside, artisanal cheeses and microbrews, and general bucolic vibe, and it makes sense why road-tripping through the state is high on anyone’s autumn bucket list. But there is a better way to see the leaves: by bike, so you’re not forced to experience the scenery in blurs of color, and you can work off all those fresh apple cider doughnuts. There’s a new outfitted bike tour that’s dedicated to the state’s artisanal food from DuVine Cycling ($3,895). The weekend tour covers nine to 52 miles a day, with options for serious climbs tackling 4,969 feet of elevation gain, and plenty of stops to sample Vermont staples like cider from Fable Farm, nutty Tarentaise cheese from Thistle Hill Farm, and seasonal Harvest brown ale from Long Trail Brewing Co. At night, a cozy, six-person cabin in the charming village of Woodstock is your private base. Not a biker? The options to slow down and enjoy the colors are endless, from leaf-peeping while hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail between Pomfret and West Hartford to kayaking on the 750-acre Chittenden Reservoir with local outfit Appalachian Trail Adventures. Surrounded by Green Mountain National Forest, paddle excursions double as safaris, with moose, fox, beaver, and bald eagle sightings common in fall. —J.M.
Go Beyond the Beach in Bermuda
With a storied pirate history, centuries of sailing lore, and the infamous “triangle” sewn thick into Bermuda’s fabric, the Atlantic archipelago just 90 minutes by plane from New York is full of intrigue. It’s also full of legit adventures. Intrepid locals have long practiced what is now known as deep-water free-soloing—climbing sheer limestone faces with only the ocean to break your fall—and free diving among hundreds of shipwrecks that rest offshore. Recent attractions have made the island a beacon for outdoor-lovers looking for more than a beach vacation, including the Bermuda Rail Trail National Park, 18 mostly-paved miles covering the island from…
Read More:The 25 Best Fall Trips in the World