How well do you know Australia’s national parks?

How well do you know Australia’s national parks?

The island continent boasts an astonishing variety of national parks, home to red rocks, reefs and ‘roos. But how well do you know Australia’s protected areas?

A guide to Ireland’s six national parks

Burren National Park

Burren National Park is known for its lunar-like landscapes (Shutterstock)

Where: County Clare

Best for: Walking on the ‘moon’

Established as one of Ireland’s most recent national parks in 1991, Burren National Park takes up a tiny part of County Clare. Although its size is just 15 sq km, it’s part of the much larger Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, known for its fossil-rich limestone. With the name ‘Burren’ (Boireann in Irish) meaning ‘great rock’, its exposed karst landscape is often described as ‘lunar-esque’, attracting many visitors to experience this otherworldly Irish landscape. Human history here also dates back thousands of years, with the 5,000 year old Poulnabrone Tomb being one of the country’s most famous Neolithic monuments. One of the Burren’s most popular hikes is up Mullaghmore, the park’s most iconic peaks, with options to take shorter or more challenging routes.

Connemara National Park

Kylemore Abbey is one of the main attractions in Connemara National Park (Shutterstock)

Where: County Galway

Best for: A small but mighty national park

A varied landscape of bogs, peaks and grasslands, Connemara National Park bundles in some of the best Irish scenery into one neat package. Designated a national park in 1980, this relatively small region at just 20 sq km is dominated by the Twelve Bens mountain range. A highlight in Connemara includes Kylemore Abbey: perching lakeside on the grounds of a castle, it was founded by Benedictine nuns who fled Belgium during WWI. There’s also Letterfrack village: a charming community home to the park’s visitor centre. However, it lives with a harrowing history of its former industrial school, where young boys suffered years of abuse. Many people now pay their respects to their memory at the village cemetery. Escaping into nature, those wanting to experience one of the most epic Irish vistas should climb the 442 metre-high Diamond Hill. The summit rewards you with panoramic views of Tully Mountain (or Letty Hill), Kylemore Abbey and the Twelve Bens.

Glenveagh National Park

Walk through ancient woodlands in Glenveagh National Park (Shutterstock)

Where: County Donegal

Best for: Lakeside wandering and wildlife encounters

The second largest national park in Ireland, Glenveagh National Park can be found nestled in the heart of County Donegal. Its landscape – made up of mountains, lakes, woodlands and valleys – is also home to rare flora and fauna. Some of its most exciting wildlife sightings include golden eagles, eregrine falcons, and red deer (in fact, Glenveagh is home the largest herd of red deer in the country). Most visitors often head to the north of the park first to visit the four-storey Glenveagh Castle and its gardens, built in the 19th-century by businessman John Adair, who was reportedly inspired by Balmoral Castle. The fortified mansion overlooks Lough Veagh, a 5km-long freshwater lake and the heart of the park. For those wanting a challenge, we suggest following the (fairly strenuous) 8 km Glen Walk through the Derryveagh mountains and alongside the Lough Veagh, admiring old settlements and ancient woodlands along the way.

Killarney National Park

Ross Castle overlooks Lough Leane in Killarney National Park (Shutterstock)

Where: County Kerry

Best for: Exploring Ireland’s oldest national park

With the highest peaks in Ireland and low-lying lakes sprinkled with tiny islands, Killarney National Park is one of the most sought-after natural regions in the country – and for good reason. It was Ireland’s first national park, given the status back in 1932. At its heart are the fantastically named McGillycuddy’s Reeks, a mountain range with its highest summit reaching 1,000-metres tall. But most visitors are particularly drawn in by its lakes named Leane, Muckross and the Upper Lake, all joining at a point named Meeting of the Waters. And with the last surviving herd of Indigenous red deer – said to have bred here since Neolithic times – and the largest yew woodland in Western Europe, it’s no wonder UNESCO also named it a Biosphere Reserve back in 1982. What’s more, there’s plenty of heritage wonders, such as Ross Castle, to scout out while walking the various trails around this enormous 102 sq km region.

Wicklow Mountains National Park

Wicklow Mountains is known as the ‘Garden of Ireland’ (Shutterstock)

Where: Country Wicklow

Best for: A nature day trip from Dublin

Most outdoor-loving visitors are often drawn to Ireland’s west coast for its raw, rugged beauty, but Wicklow Mountains National Park, the largest national park in Ireland and the only national park in the east, is a treasure trove of natural delights. Sitting an hour drive south of Dublin, it’s lovingly dubbed the ‘Garden of Ireland’, thanks to its vast open spaces, winding mountain roads, gushing streams and waterfalls, and oak woodlands. At its heart is the glacial-made Glendalough Valley, home to a lake (of the same name) divided in two – the Upper Lake being much vaster than its lower counterpart. Ancient buildings and remains can be found here, with some churches and monasteries dating back more than 1,000 years. But perhaps the most famous landmarks is the 30-metre high Round Tower, often admired for its historic engineering methods. There are nine waymarked trails around this national park for various walking abilities.

Wild Nephin National Park

The boardwalks at Wild Nephin National Park makes its bogs walkable (Shutterstock)

Where: County Mayo

Best for: Gazing into the galaxy

For those who enjoy a spot of stargazing, you’ll struggle to find anywhere better in Ireland than Wild Nephin National Park. This 150 sq km site was certified as the country’s first International Dark Sky Reserve in 2016, meaning its night skies are protected from experiencing excessive light pollution. For novice stargazers, the park’s guides provide educational programmes to help you make the most of the dark skies above: the Milkyway and even meteor showers have been spotted here. Of course, Wild Nephin also has plenty of natural topography to view during daylight hours. Sitting on the western seaboard, it’s dominated by the Nephin Beg mountain range, but well known for its Owenduff Bog, one of the largest active blanket bog systems in Western Europe that supports various wild species, from red grouse to otters. For a scenic yet difficult hike, follow the 40km Bangor Trail to experience the park’s ancient landscapes from an old road, once the main route connecting Bangor and Newport in the 16th century.

Learn more about each of Ireland’s national parks at nationalparks.ie

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Why the northern lights will put on their most spectacular displays in 2024

If you’re someone who’s always dreamed of seeing the dancing colours of the northern lights, then 2024 is the year to make that dream a reality.

Occurring every 11 years, the solar maximum is said to create the most spectacular aurora borealis displays. The next maximum is set to peak in 2024/2025, meaning the seasons of winter and autumn will be the best time to finally book that trip of a lifetime.

Here, author, aurora-chaser and astronomer Tom Kerss tells us exactly what the solar maximum is, how it impacts the northern lights, plus his top tips for seeing them and the science behind the colours.

Northern lights over Tromsø, Norway (Shutterstock)

So, what is the solar maximum?

We don’t often think about the sun changing, but the sun is changing all the time. It has a heartbeat of sorts that takes about five minutes, and we can listen to that wave passing through the sun. It also changes in brightness a little. But one of the most evident changes on the sun is that, if we use a special telescope to look at the sun and filter the sun’s light down many times so it’s safe to look at, we notice there are these dark marks on the sun.

Galileo was one of the first people to study these marks on the sun, and that was over 400 years ago. Very quickly after these sunspots were first discovered, astronomers noticed that sometimes there were a lot of spots on the sun, and sometimes there were no spots on the sun. They started to also notice a cycle, where every 11 years there would be a maximum number of spots on the sun, and then in the intervening periods, also on a cycle of 11 years, there would be a minimum number of sunspots, which might mean that you have two months where not a single spot is visible.

This solar cycle tells us something about the inside of the sun and its magnetic field. When we have the maximum number of sunspots, we call that the solar maximum.

How does the solar maximum impact the northern lights?

It’s around that time when the sun has the maximum number of sunspots that the probability of seeing very good displays of the northern lights goes much higher. As a result, for aurora chasers, we really like to think about the solar maximum as a great time to go and see the northern lights. Particularly if you want to have those displays that people talk about for decades. Those real, once-in-a-lifetime memories that are so exciting.

When will the solar maximum arrive and how long does it last?

We predict that the solar maximum is going to arrive this year in 2024. Exactly when it arrives, we can’t know for sure, because we won’t know when the solar maximum happens until after it’s passed. Only by looking backwards will we be able to say exactly when it arrived. But what we can say is that in this period of time, sightings of the northern lights are likely to reach their maximum intensity and frequency.

How long will it last? We also don’t know. It could be that we get a long maximum and that it stretches out over years. Some of the models we have are predicting that may happen, and for aurora chasers, that’s very exciting.

Green is the prominent colour of the northern lights, but there’s also displays with purple too (Hurtigruten/Tom Kerss)

A strong aurora display, captured by Tom (Hurtigruten/Tom Kerss)

When is the best time to see the northern lights? Does this change with the solar maximum?

The visibility of the northern lights sort of depends on factors that you can and can’t control.

We need dark nights for the northern lights to become visible. It’s a bit of a myth, but the northern lights don’t just come out and appear. They’re there all the time, but they change with intensity.

We would normally expect the aurora season to start in September and to end in March. It is possible in late August, sometimes, if there’s very strong displays, and it can be possible in early April as well. If you want long nights of darkness, then going between November and February are the ultimate times to go.

During the solar maximum, the visibility of the auroras can only be extended a little bit. What the maximum brings us is more intense displays of auroras at a higher frequency.

What are your top tips for seeing the northern lights?

Consider travelling as part of your itinerary, for example on an expedition cruise. Visiting different destinations increases your chances of finding them and is also a great way of changing up the landscape to make even more memories.

In terms of actually seeing the lights, my number one tip is perseverance. You want to give yourself a few hours and make aurora spotting part of your routine, so that you are thinking about it every evening and giving it some extended attention. Because you might be under some cloud for a while, but after an hour that cloud could break. It might break for just a few minutes, and you don’t want to miss that.

My final tip is to think about northern lights etiquette. Maintain dark conditions as much as possible. Think about getting a torch with a red light because that keeps it a little bit darker. Make sure all your phone and camera screens are turned down to their minimum brightness. When your eyes are well adapted to the dark, that’s when the real magic happens. You will be able to see the faintest auroras and the different colours of the northern lights.

Why are there different colours displayed by the northern lights?

The colours of the northern lights are something we like to say are mysterious, but we do understand well. Essentially the colours are emitted by the different gases in our atmosphere.

The oxygen atoms in our atmosphere emit a green light, the most prominent colour. It’s also the colour that’s most visible for our eyes.

Pink is a colour you can see during very powerful aurora displays. It’s the lowest down in the aurora and it’s released by nitrogen, which is the most common gas in our atmosphere. We often think oxygen is, but nitrogen is much more common.

There’s also the possibility to see purple lights, particularly in photographs. That’s a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen.

The exotic red light occurs right at the top of the aurora curtains. It’s released by oxygen, but the electrons are doing a slightly different thing than when they’re lower down and we see the green colours. It’s difficult to see by eye unless the aurora is very powerful.

Tom Kerss is the author of Northern Lights: The Definitive Guide to Auroras and also one of Hurtigruten‘s resident astronomers. Follow him on Twitter.

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10 of the UK’s best stargazing escapes

The view of our cosmos has been enjoyed by humans for tens of thousands of years, inspiring great works of music, literature and art. But while the romance of a starry night is undeniable, light pollution is a growing problem that has already erased the stars from many city skies. The German Research Centre for Geosciences recently found that light pollution is increasing by 10% every year, putting ecosystems, wildlife, human health and the sight of the stars under threat. This trend is a worrying one, but there are still plenty of havens for stargazers.

Many people now travel to see and experience the natural wonders of the night. The British Isles is no different. It offers plenty of opportunities to indulge in some stargazing, with 20 of its dark-sky preserves now certified by DarkSky International, and even more recognised locally as Dark Sky Discovery Sites. While the weather doesn’t always play nice, when the clouds clear, these islands offer star-studded getaways with the chance to spot lesser-loved nocturnal wildlife or even connect with history under the cover of night.

1. Autumn haunts in Eryri (Snowdonia), Wales

Rugged Eryri National Park at night (Shutterstock)

Rugged Eryri National Park (Snowdonia) is home to some of Britain’s darkest skies. On clear evenings in this part of northern Wales, the stars shine brightly and Eryri’s landscapes are full of nocturnal wildlife, from badgers and bats to toads. One way to enjoy the night is by chugging through the mountains aboard a heritage locomotive, and both Bala Lake and Talyllyn railways offer Halloween-themed night services in October. Elsewhere, Mountain Walks has hikes up Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) at dusk, so you can watch the sunset and then descend by the light of the moon. For something special, book early for an escape on Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island), which opens to visitors between March and October and was crowned Europe’s first Dark Sky Sanctuary this year.

2. Starry festivals in the Yorkshire Dales & North York Moors, England

Sutton Bank Star Hub (Steve Bell)

The neighbouring Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors national parks became twin International Dark Sky Reserves when they were certified by DarkSky International at the same time in 2020, ensuring that much of North Yorkshire remains a cosmic wonderland. Dark Sky Discovery Sites in both parks offer the best viewpoints for seeing the sky on clear nights. In the North York Moors, book a shepherd’s hut or cottage with Gumboots & Wellingtons near Dalby Forest, then take an Astro Dog astronomy tour or join Yorkshire Coast Nature for an evening bird walk. In the Yorkshire Dales, adventures range from night-photography workshops to canoeing and pizza nights at How Stean Gorge. The North York Moors also hosts its own Dark Sky Fringe Festival in late October, while the parks run a combined festival in February.

3. Nocturnal wildlife in Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, England

Milkyway over Walltown Crags (Northumberland National Park)

The jewel in England’s stargazing crown is found in the North East, where Northumberland National Park and most of Kielder Water and Forest Park have been awarded international recognition for their dark skies. The region’s 1,483 sq km Dark Sky Park is home to the unique Kielder Observatory, the best place to begin a stargazing journey in the UK. Kielder’s team of astronomers and science communicators offer a calendar of almost-nightly astronomy events, allowing visitors to dip into an introductory stargazing session, try for a full moon or meteor shower, or dive headfirst into the mysteries of dark matter and the deep cosmos.

Further afield in Northumberland, Battlesteads is a hotel and astronomical observatory combined, offering a place to sleep and stargaze in one property, with an on-site team of astronomers to lead you through the sky, plus helpful stay-and-gaze packages. The Twice Brewed Inn also has a similar programme as well as its own brewery on site, all situated along the history-laden Hadrian’s Wall National Trail, serving up the ghosts of Roman soldiers for evening company. Indeed, if you turn your telescope to the star Gamma Cygni in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan), then your eye will be absorbing light that left this star some 1,900 years ago, around the same time that the Romans began building their famous wall. If you just fancy stepping outside and having a gander yourself, there are 18 UK-awarded Dark Sky Discovery Sites that offer the best views of the night sky in the park. Bring binoculars from home or simply take in the glittering spectacle with your own eyes.

To dive a little deeper, spend some time learning about Northumberland’s incredibly diverse nocturnal wildlife on a tour with Wild Intrigue, an ecotourism social enterprise that leads mini-expeditions and safaris across the county to spot animals, birds and insects. They always include a little something special, too; for example, their ‘Bats and Pizza’ nights are incredibly popular, or you could get to know the planet’s most misunderstood but beautiful pollinators – moths – over muffins and hot drinks.

4. Study the stars on Coll Dark Sky Island, Scotland

Coll Dark Sky Island (Shutterstock)

The Isle of Coll in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides became an International Dark Sky Community in 2013, reflecting its residents’ commitment to protecting their unpolluted nights. Calmac Ferries can drop you off at Arinagour, Coll’s main village, which is a collection of sea-facing, whitewashed cottages. The absence of street lights makes for unpolluted night skies, and almost any beach or field on the island is a good place to stop and look up. In mid-October, Coll Bunkhouse and the Cosmos Planetarium run ‘Coll and the Cosmos’, a two-day astronomy workshop with telescope stargazing and lessons on the solar system and cosmology. You can stay on-site at the bunkhouse or opt for a local B&B and book workshop tickets separately. Coll is also a very good place to glimpse the elusive northern lights.

5. Domes, dark walks and distilleries in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland

Caerlaverock Castle under the stars (Visit South West Scotland/Ben Bush)

Since being certified as the first International Dark Sky Park in the UK back in 2009, Galloway Forest Park remains one of Britain’s darkest areas, tucked away in the south-west corner of Scotland. Alongside it, the town of Moffat is a certified Dark Sky Community with its own observatory and a sustainable whisky and gin distillery that has the only wood-fired stills in Scotland. Guided dark-sky and moonlit walks are held in Moffat from autumn to spring, including during the Moffat Walking Festival in early October. Elizabeth Tindal, aka the ‘freelance ranger’, regularly leads night-time tours all over Galloway. And for a starry night’s sleep, book the Dark Sky Dome, a glamping stay in Scotland’s largest geodesic dome in the heart of Carrick Forest.

6. Night hiking in Exmoor National Park, England

Dunkery Beacon in Exmoor (Laurence Liddy)

As the UK’s oldest Dark Sky Reserve (certified in 2011), Exmoor National Park not only has starry skies above wide expanses of moorland, but one of England’s few surviving examples of temperate rainforest. Activities at the Dark Skies Discovery Hub in Exford include regular evening programmes introducing the night sky. Meanwhile, a nearby night-time walking trail, which opened in 2021, crosses star-blanketed moorland waymarked by glow-in-the-dark finger posts.

Telescopes can be hired year-round from the National Park Centres in Dunster, Dulverton and Lynmouth. The Exmoor Dark Skies Festival also runs from mid-October, hosting dusk wildlife safaris, night cycling, stargazing pizza nights, ranger-led walks and even starry yoga. Finally, Jennie Wild of Wild About Exmoor is a certified guide who hosts evening tours, hikes and farmhouse dinners complete with roaring campfires; she also has cottage accommodation.

7. Ancient landscapes in OM Dark Sky Park, Northern Ireland

Beaghmore Stone Circles at night (Mid Ulster District Council)

The first International Dark Sky Place certified in Northern Ireland is this ancient landscape at Davagh Forest, near the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains in County Tyrone. The earthbound attractions of OM Dark Sky Park include the Beaghmore Stone Circles, a group of seven early Bronze Age megalithic stone circles, along with ten stone rows and 12 cairns, but even these have links to the skies. The alignments of the circles and stone rows suggest that they were used as an astronomical calendar to record midsummer sunrise, the rising and setting of the sun and moon, and other heavenly events. Tools found here have been carbon-dated to 2900–2600 BC, meaning this was a place where an ancient people lived their lives by the stars overhead.

OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory opened in 2020 and celebrates astronomy both ancient and modern. There is an indoor astronomical museum that offers an introduction to the basics of the solar system and cosmic science. But the real draw here are the guided tours around the stone circles and rows, which give a deeper insight into how the landscape is connected to the sky and offer the chance to see these alignments for yourself.

The main attraction every year is the Stars and Stones Experience, which is available in the evening from October to March. Visitors are guided by a local storyteller and guide, who will weave together the site’s archaeology and astronomy, explaining how scientists believe the circles may have been an ancient observatory. There is also the 3.4km Solar Walk, which links up the alignments in the sky with the stones and ancient rituals via an accessible boardwalk. In addition, OM runs regular stargazing nights, meteor-shower viewing parties and astronomy socials and events in the all-weather visitor centre.

8. Starry alignments in West Penwith & Bodmin Moor, England

Crowds gather as the sun goes down in Cornwall (Carolyn Kennett)

Cornwall’s two International Dark Sky Parks – West Penwith and Bodmin Moor – not only have protected night skies, but they lie within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that are filled with history. These are remote places of unpredictable weather and wild landscapes on which ancient Britons built stone circles, barrows and other sacred sites that align with the stars and movements of the sun.
Stay at Eddington Lodge, near Bodmin Moor, in one of its Scandinavian-style log cabins. The lodge offers a raft of astronomy courses and also has observation pods that have 50cm telescopes, plus a domed observatory with a refracting telescope to view and photograph Saturn’s rings as well as galaxies, nebulae and moons. You can also get a glimpse of the sun sinking perfectly over a standing stone on an archaeoastronomy tour with local expert Carolyn Kennett.

9. Wide skies and wallabies on the Isle of Man

You won’t just see stars in the Isle of Man; nocturnal wallabies can be spotted too! (Megan Eaves)

The ‘Dark Sky Discovery Site’ is a uniquely British certification for stargazing locations, and the Isle of Man (with 26) has more than anywhere else. Its sites were created by local astronomer Howard Parkin, who also offers bespoke stargazing tours. One of the island’s best starry spots is the Sound Café (thesound.im), which sits at the southern tip and overlooks the Calf of Man, a tiny islet offshore; it holds astronomy events in autumn and winter. Look out too for evening walks in search of nocturnal wallabies in the Curragh wetland with local legend John ‘Dog’ Callister, who tells the story of how these marsupials came to live wild on the island. Make your base at Thie Spooyt, a beautiful self-catering house that is bookable through Island Escapes and comes with Irish Sea views and a telescope for stargazing.

10. Dark and quiet skies in Mid Wales

Elan Valley Dark Sky Park (Alamy)

Home to the starry-skied Cambrian Mountains and neighbouring Elan Valley Dark Sky Park, which is set on 18,200 hectares of the Elan Valley Estate, Mid Wales is one of Britain’s most underrated stargazing regions. Both these areas offer great night-sky views when it’s clear, and generally receive fewer visitors than other dark-sky areas in Wales, guaranteeing a quieter experience. The Elan Valley has many traditional cottages that are perfect for both star-watchers and cosying up next to a crackling fire. The Cambrian Mountains also have an ‘Astro Trail’ that joins up viewing sites, including a looming stone arch at Cwmystwyth, plus woodland and reservoirs offering expansive night-sky views. Time your trip to coincide with Welsh Dark Skies Week in February, when there are astronomy events, photography workshops, stargazing and more.

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Finding happiness in Finnish Sápmi (Lapland)

“I feel like a big kid,” I thought to myself as I hurtled the tundra on a husky-pulled sled in temperatures of -24°C. For the sixth year in a row, Finland has been voted the world’s happiest country (Gallup World Poll), and I could see why. I was based well within the Arctic Circle, close to Saariselkä but a long way from the Santa sightseers. This is a place to relax, go slow and enjoy the serenity of snowshoeing in the wilderness. I dipped into icy lakes and surfaced looking ten years younger, enjoyed reindeer rides and endless cups of blueberry tea, then headed back to my luxurious glass-igloo cabin in the evenings to see the northern lights dance nightly overhead.

There are more reindeer than people here (Elliot Wellsteed-Crook)

Nightly aurora displays made the winter evenings in Northern Finland a delight (Elliot Wellsteed-Crook)

Must see: I travelled with Not in the Guidebooks, a tour operator that offered the chance to meet the Sámi community, a people who are deeply proud of their culture. Instead of Lapland, they prefer to call the region by their own name, Sápmi. While sat in a cosy wood cabin, our Sámi guide explained that they had survived for thousands of years by hunting and fishing in what is now Northern Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Kola peninsula of Russia, and told of how they first began to travel in tandem with the reindeer, who migrated for mating and food. Over time, bad weather, taxes and modern geopolitical forces squeezed their territory. Instead of following the reindeer, the Sámi began to herd and domesticate these now semi-wild animals, as they no longer had space to roam. Today, Northern Finland has more reindeer than people and there are strict controls for sustainably managing the population, since there is only a limited amount of lichen for them to eat.

Husky power is the best way to travel (Elliot Wellsteed-Crook)

Getting to know the locals (Elliot Wellsteed-Crook)

I wish I had known: When you understand the physics behind the rippling lights of the aurora borealis, it makes the experience all the more magical. What you are seeing are electrically charged particles that have escaped the sun and travelled to our planet on solar winds; they are then shuttled by the Earth’s magnetic field between the two poles. The spectacular colours produced are a result of these particles colliding with molecules of nitrogen (blue, red and pink) or oxygen (green and red) in the atmosphere.

Top tip: You can detect and capture the dreamy displays of the northern lights better by using a night setting on your camera than you can with the naked eye, but be sure to occasionally put your camera or phone down and take it all in. Know that it is rare to see a natural display as vividly as it might appear on TV; the aurora often appears as an ethereal sprinkling of dust, but it makes the encounter no less magical.

About the trip: The author travelled with Not in the Guidebooks

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The best places in North America for a quieter time in autumn

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With fewer crowds to spoil the view, autumn is often a better time to explore the coasts, countryside and cities across the USA and Canada. Here’s where to go, as chosen by our local experts.

See eco initiatives in action in the Missouri Ozarks

Writer and keen kayaker Barbara Ostmann

Writer and keen kayaker Barbara Ostmann

“We led the country in saving our streams: these were the first free-flowing rivers to be preserved and protected by the National Park Service, creating the Ozark National Scenic Riverways,” says travel writer and keen kayaker Barbara Ostmann, who grew up in the Arkansas Ozarks before later hopping the border to live on the Missouri side.

“There’s huge citizen participation in taking care of our rivers. We have thousands of ‘Missouri Stream Teams’, where people adopt sections of the river and are responsible for keeping them clean – and they are crystal-clear,” she adds.

The Ozarks have the highest concentration of first-magnitude springs in North America, which pump out more than 2.8 cubic metres of water per second. The area’s conservation efforts extend to the land, where a former railroad corridor is being turned into Rock Island Trail State Park.

“If you want to canoe the rivers or go hiking, the crowds drop off in fall. During this season there are fewer people, the trees are gorgeous and you can see squirrels gathering up their acorns. If you take the time to look around you, it’s a wonderful show.”

– Katie McGonagle

Play bridge bingo in Vermont

Vermont’s historic bridges are covered to protect them from winter weather (Shutterstock)

Vermont’s historic bridges are covered to protect them from winter weather (Shutterstock)

Vermont is known for having more than 100 historic covered bridges – that’s more per square metre than any other US state. Each has its own architectural style but all were designed for the same purpose: to protect their decking from the harsh Vermont winters (though they also kept horses from being spooked by the running water below).

These 19th-century steel-free structures have earned countless fans, including Heather Hassett, owner of Vermont Confectionery, a store selling local products in the quintessential New England town of Bennington.

Heather Hassett is the owner of Vermont Confectionery

Heather Hassett is the owner of Vermont Confectionery

“I’ve lived here all my life, and seeing the bridges in fall still takes my breath away,” she says. Diehard devotees can try to identify the bridge builder by the style of truss, while photographers can simply focus on snapping them with flaming autumnal foliage surrounds.

The state’s south-west corner has five bridges in close proximity – three in Bennington and two in nearby Arlington. Hassett says: “Pick up some cider, Vermont cheese and maple or pumpkin products in town and then stop for a picnic next to Henry Bridge, which has a pull-off area with tables.”
Finish by driving to the Paper Mill Bridge to see its “lovely waterfall”, followed by the Silk Road Bridge. Take it slow, advises Heather: go one car at a time and don’t be the person who tries to manoeuvre a camper van under a covered bridge!

– Karen Burshtein

Take it slow in New Brunswick

New Brunswick coastline (Shutterstock)

New Brunswick coastline (Shutterstock)

“Fall is a great time to slow down and catch your breath here [in the Bay of Fundy]. We’re not a park you want to rush,” insists Nancy Lockerbie, general manager of the Fundy Trail Parkway, which follows the billowing outline of the cliffs overlooking Canada’s New Brunswick coast. The parkway also marked its 25th anniversary this year and is set to become an official provincial park from 2024.

“It’s one of the last remaining coastal wilderness areas on the Eastern Seaboard, so the park and parkway have been created out of nothing. There are 21 lookouts where people can see the magnificent Bay of Fundy, where we have the world’s highest and lowest tides.

Nancy Lockerbie is the general manager of the Fundy Trail Parkway

Nancy Lockerbie is the general manager of the Fundy Trail Parkway

“One of the highlights is Walton Glen Gorge – some people have named it the ‘Grand Canyon of New Brunswick’ – and now we have an electric shuttle to take people who couldn’t do that hike to the observation point. It’s spectacular.”

– Katie McGonagle

Join in with a community camomile harvest in Washington State

Wild flowers including camomile in the Cascade mountains, Washington State (Shutterstock)

Wild flowers including camomile in the Cascade mountains, Washington State (Shutterstock)

Nestled in the foothills of Washington’s North Cascade mountain range sits Willowbrook Manor English Tea House and Farm Stay, where visitors can witness the vibrant reds and golds that carpet the Pacific Northwest landscape deep into the fall months.

But it’s more than just a beautiful view: homegrown camomile sends sweet floral notes swirling into the air during the Autumn Harvest Tea, when owner and operator Terry Gifford invites the local community to help harvest the crop, followed by cups of camomile tea and scones – with all proceeds going to help those in need.

“People come to the farm to celebrate the wonderful colours and flavours of fall,” says Terry. “The garden tour takes guests down a long path covered with a canopy of wisteria, leading to a large patch of aromatic Roman camomile. I call it ‘the giving field’, because this is where the community comes together for special events like camomile planting, weeding and harvesting. These tea-and-work parties raise awareness and funds for homeless families in our area.”

– MaryRose Denton

See lakes and stars in Nevada

Lake Tahoe sees fewer visitors in autumn (Alamy)

Lake Tahoe sees fewer visitors in autumn (Alamy)

As the crowds at Lake Tahoe thin in the autumn and Nevada gears up for the annular eclipse, there are plenty of ways to soak up the state’s beaches, dark skies and rocky wildernesses, says Dawn Andone, park interpreter for Nevada State Parks.

“The beaches of Lake Tahoe are crazy busy in summer, but by September, the crowds have died down and it’s still warm going into October. Most head to Stateline for its casinos, but Incline Village, in the quieter northern part of the lake, is more beautiful and has some nice hotels, while the 270km Rim Trail offers hikers peaceful views of the shoreline from up on high.

Dawn Andone is the park interpreter for Nevada State Parks

Dawn Andone is the park interpreter for Nevada State Parks

“Over in the eastern part of the state, I started the annual Park to Park cycle ride (65km–160km), which starts at Kershaw-Ryan State Park and goes up to Echo Canyon and back. It runs on the first weekend of October this year, and the reason we do it is so that you can watch the leaves changing from a different perspective.

“Or if you want to see the eclipse, head to Charcoal Ovens State Historical Park [named after its 19th-century beehive-shaped ovens], which has the best open skies. Or to see the state’s starry nights, the Nevada Northern Star Train runs from Ely to the Great Basin.”

– Gareth Clark

Savour the peace of Yosemite National Park

Yosemite changes to a shade of gold in autumn (Shutterstock)

Yosemite changes to a shade of gold in autumn (Shutterstock)

Autumn comes late to Yosemite National Park, but it also opens up a labyrinth of trails and landscapes with no one else around, says Elizabeth Barton of cooperative tour operator Echo Adventures.
“Fall up here looks different to down at sea level; it starts mid-October and can last until Christmas. It’s still very much summer going into September, so my favourite time is later on, when the crowds leave and the weather cools.

“Any time you hike more than a mile from your car in Yosemite, you’ll lose the bulk of other visitors, especially in the high country along Tioga Road and Highway 120. My favourite route is the North Dome trail, a 14km loop that most people can do because there’s not a lot of elevation. It takes you out to the northern rim of Yosemite Valley, so you’re walking through beautiful forests, then you pop out and you’re facing Half Dome, El Capitan and Glacier Point. It feels like a summit, but it’s just an easy 7km hike.

“It’s a good time for horseback riding in the area too. You can trot among giant sequoias – the largest trees on the planet – in Yosemite‘s Mariposa Grove. It’s so cowboy!”

– Gareth Clark

Watch whales in the waters of off Florida’s Amelia Island

Sunrise kayak along Omni Amelia Island Resort (Omni Amelia Island Resort)

Sunrise kayak along Omni Amelia Island Resort (Omni Amelia Island Resort)

Perched on the edge of the Florida coast, Amelia Island has a front-row seat for the wildlife migrations passing up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Delicate monarch butterflies pause to feed on milkweed as they flit through in search of warmer climes, and North-Atlantic right whales are known to bask in the island’s waters.

Lauren Hodges, marine biologist at Omni Amelia Island Resort’s nature centre, says: “I always recommend to people that they come in fall, because the temperatures have cooled off, schools are back in session and there’s less traffic, so it’s an ideal time to visit.”

“I moved here because there are a lot of marine species that are specific to this area. This is also a critical habitat for the endangered North-Atlantic right whale, which comes here to breed in fall because of the island’s warm waters. They edge close to the coast because they like to give birth to their babies in the shallows.”

– Katie McGonagle

Reconnect with nature in Jasper National Park, Alberta

Matricia Bauer is a Cree knowledge keeper and plant medicine guide at Warrior Women (Indigenous Tourism Alberta/Roam Creative)

Matricia Bauer is a Cree knowledge keeper and plant medicine guide at Warrior Women (Indigenous Tourism Alberta/Roam Creative)

Canada’s Rocky Mountains are awash with tourists in summer, but to connect with the area’s Indigenous heritage – exploring flora and fauna alongside its traditional owners – it pays to wait until the crowds have gone. Matricia Bauer is a Cree knowledge keeper and plant medicine guide at Warrior Women in Alberta, who leads medicine walks through Jasper National Park.

“The Wapakwanis Plant Walk lets me share local flora through the eyes of an Indigenous person,” says Matricia. “We look at it from an edible, medicinal and spiritual perspective.

Matricia Bauer wants to Indigenous the world, one drum beat at a time (Indigenous Tourism Alberta/Roam Creative)

Matricia Bauer wants to Indigenous the world, one drum beat at a time (Indigenous Tourism Alberta/Roam Creative)

“Traditionally, fall was when we did the final harvest to fill our caches for winter with blueberries, fireweed, Labrador tea and rosehips. By visiting during this harvest season, people are re-establishing their connection to the land. I show them what they can harvest for themselves, then we get busy using the plants to make brews, lotions and salves.”

– Diane Selkirk

Explore Philadelphia‘s landmarks on foot

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia (Shutterstock)

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia (Shutterstock)

Philly usually empties during summer, as the heat drives locals to the shores of neighbouring Jersey, but come autumn, says Liz Pagonis of Philadelphia Runner, the weather cools, the parks and neighbourhoods spring to life and you realise just how walkable (or runnable) the city can be.

“People come to Philly for its history (Independence Hall, etc), and these sites are always quieter in fall, but this is a city of neighbourhoods too. It’s cool enough to wander during this time and you’ll find each area has its own thing going on. This city has so many pockets that you can only see on foot.

Liz Pagonis of Philadelphia Runner

Liz Pagonis of Philadelphia Runner

“Take, for example, Philadelphia’s art murals. As well as the usual walking tours, there are also running tours with non-profit Mural Miles as the weather cools down. It organises monthly art runs and brings artists along to talk about the pieces as you go.

“There are plenty of fall colours, too. Fairmount Park is the largest landscaped urban area in the US and connects over 60 parks. The second-largest of these is Wissahickon, where you can watch the foliage turn to orange as you wander the creek. You’re still in the city, but it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere.”

– Gareth Clark

Walk crowd-free streets in Washington DC

Washington, DC is quieter in autumn (Shutterstock)

Washington, DC is quieter in autumn (Shutterstock)

With world-class museums and monuments at every turn, there’s never a bad time to visit the nation’s capital. But, to avoid spring’s cherry-blossom crowds and summer’s humid weather, fall is the quietest time to explore.

“I always tell people: if you have a choice of any time of year, November is when to come,” says Tim Wright, owner of tour company Attucks Adams. “Even in Thanksgiving week, people leave DC, so it usually empties out.”

Wright recommends quiet outdoor spots such as the National Arboretum, with its collections of dogwoods, azaleas and Asian gardens. “It’s huge, and on some days I feel like I have it all to myself. The leaves also change in October and November, so you get some incredible colours.”

The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and the free community firepits at waterfront development The Wharf also come recommended, but for the best views, Wright advises skipping the queues at the Washington Monument. “Tickets are very hard to come by, so head to the Old Post Office tower on Pennsylvania Avenue instead – it’s free, underrated and the sightlines are great.”

– Katie McGonagle

Best places to visit for nature and weather in North America this autumn

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From leaf-peeping perfection in the southern states, to northern lights marvelling in the Yukon, the USA and Canada offer a myriad of magical outdoor experiences in the autumn. Here’s the ones not to miss, according to our local experts.

Leaf-peeping for all in Tennessee

The beautiful autumn shades of Tennessee’s state parks (Alamy)

The beautiful autumn shades of Tennessee’s state parks (Alamy)

Seeing the rich hues of autumn is a special experience. But for those who are colour-blind, those vivid shades can be impossible to tell apart. That’s why Tennessee’s state parks have introduced viewfinders that use special lenses to enable those with colour-blindness to see the leaves in all their bright, blazing glory.

Leigh Gardner, ranger at the Justin P Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park, says: “People who cannot perceive red-green colours can use these viewfinders to see the autumnal colours change. We have an Access 2030 initiative to create more accessibility – paved trails, parks with all-terrain wheelchairs – so folks with limited mobility can see more of the park, and we don’t charge an entry fee because we’re trying to make sure that the parks remain accessible to all.

Leigh Gardner is a ranger at the Justin P Wilson Cumberland State Park

Leigh Gardner is a ranger at the Justin P Wilson Cumberland State Park

“The waterfalls start to pick up toward the end of fall, so if you’re lucky, you’ll get that waterfall-autumnal colour combination as you enter the final weeks of November.”

– Katie McGonagle

Take in wine and highlands in Sonoita, Arizona

Just 45 minutes’ drive south of Tucson lies Sonoita. This is wine country, and as far removed from the cactus-strewn deserts of Arizona as you’ll find, especially when the grape harvest gears up in autumn and the slopes still glisten green from the August monsoon, explains Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wineworks.

“South of Tucson, the road starts to climb, the hills begin to roll and you can reach up to 1,300m. It’s quite a bit cooler up here, so back in the 1970s, when they were looking for places in the Four Corners states to grow high-value, low-water crops, they picked Sonoita as having the most potential for cultivating wine grapes. Our vineyard now grows 30 varieties.

Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wineworks

Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wineworks

“There are ten wineries open for tastings in the area, and services in Tucson can pick you up and drop you off for the day. We’ve also got the Santa Rita Mountains on our doorstep – Mount Wrightson (2,882m) even has grapevines growing wild on its slopes. It’s dry and warm in early autumn, so pack a picnic and head out.”

– Gareth Clark

Follow the bird migration along the Georgia Coast

Little St Simons Island is wonderful for birdwatching in autumn (Shutterstock)

Little St Simons Island is wonderful for birdwatching in autumn (Shutterstock)

“Little St Simons Island is the jewel of the Georgia coast,” says Stacia Hendricks, director of special projects at The Lodge on Little St Simons Island. “Geologically it’s quite young – only about 4,000 years old – but it is one of the few remaining islands that was never harvested of its canopy.

“Georgia’s coast has 14 major barrier islands and five major river systems, so we have estuaries where freshwater and saltwater mix, making great feeding sites for migratory birds. The peak of that migration is late September and early October.”

This is the time to spot red knots, which travel from the tip of South America to the fertile feeding grounds of the Arctic, along with black-bellied plovers, long-billed curlews and rainbow-bright painted buntings.

“My favourite is the American oystercatcher. It’s an extraordinary bird that can live up to 40 years and eats a bushel of oysters each day. It’s not just happenstance that birds stop in Georgia; the more we learn about the journey, the more astonishing it is. This has been going on for millions of years and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of understanding.”

Katie McGonagle

See the Milkyway in Northwest New Mexico

Listen to Native American storytelling under the night skies in New Mexico (Shutterstock)

Listen to Native American storytelling under the night skies in New Mexico (Shutterstock)

The incredible rock formations of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness – set in the San Juan Basin of north-west New Mexico – are an impressive canvas for hikers and photographers by day; however, come nightfall, there are more spectacular sights to behold.

“The fall season is unique because the Milky Way and the stars are visible at the end of our sunset tours, on the walk back to the trailhead,” says Kialo Winters, founder of Navajo Tours USA. “It’s an awesome experience to see a blanket of stars, and a lot of guests actually break down crying. We also offer storytelling based on the night skies and how they link with our creation story.”

Kialo Winters of Navajo Tours (Jon Reed Photo)

Kialo Winters of Navajo Tours (Jon Reed Photo)

Kialo is Diné and Zia Pueblo born, brought up on the Navajo Nation reservation east of Chaco Canyon. He spent 15 years as a teacher integrating Navajo culture and language into schools.
“It’s important to us to model sustainable tourism practices to protect and preserve our ancestral lands for future generations to enjoy, and also to respect our Indigenous heritage and traditions. We hope to leave a lasting impact of enrichment and understanding of our Indigenous communities.”

Katie McGonagle

Discover America’s newest national park in West Virginia

New River Gorge is the US’s newest national park (Alamy)

New River Gorge is the US’s newest national park (Alamy)

New River Gorge is the USA’s newest national park, set among the ancient Appalachian Mountains. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, but while autumn is ideal for climbing and white-water rafting, you don’t have to chase an adrenaline rush to enjoy this gem.

Eve West, the park’s chief of interpretation and visitor services, says: “We are considered one of the most botanically diverse river systems in the central and southern Appalachians. We have phenomenal fall colours, [but] when the leaves start dropping from the trees, it’s a great time to see things normally hidden by the foliage. You can spot the foundations of coal camps, hospitals, houses… cultural sites that you could walk right by in the summer now stand out.”

Eve West poses alongside a canon (Eve West)

Eve West poses alongside a canon (Eve West)

Wildlife also comes out of hiding as the heat subsides and the crowds thin. “New River is one of the best birding parks in the US, and the fall warblers will be migrating through at this time.”

There are guided, themed hikes during Hidden History weekend in September, and in the following month, you can watch base jumpers leap 276m off the New River Gorge Bridge as thousands of people cheer them on.

Rebecca Toy

Paddle under the aurora borealis
in the Yukon

Paddling under the northern lights (Mike Hynes)

Paddling under the northern lights (Mike Hynes)

Amid the extreme environment of Canada’s Yukon, you have to grab opportunities while you can. Autumn is a great time – before the ice sets in at the end of October – to kayak across Lake Laberge, as the aurora borealis fills the sky and reflected green, purple and blue lights bounce off the water.

Making the most of that weather window is key, according to Dan Sams, owner of Terra Riders in territory capital Whitehorse, which runs canoe tours on the lake. He says: “We have a campfire with hot drinks and marshmallows. If you end up with no [aurora] display, you still get to see uninhabited wilderness and a night sky with zero light pollution, followed by a paddle back under the stars.”

Dan Sams kitted up for the cold

Dan Sams kitted up for the cold

Locals make the most of the pre-winter weather too, and there are a host of events to take part in. The Mount Lorne Mis-adventure Trail Race, Dark Sky Festival, Gravel Growler bike event and Yukon Beer Festival all take place in September and October, bringing this small but tight-knit community together.

– Cristina Slattery

Ride the rails in New Hampshire

Conway Scenic Railroad’s Mountaineer train (Brian Soloman)

Conway Scenic Railroad’s Mountaineer train (Brian Soloman)

Tourism is nothing new in the rocky peaks of the White Mountains, which have been drawing travellers for centuries to their forested slopes, swathed in red maple and American beech trees. The woodlands are ablaze with fiery colours come fall, and a ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad’s Mountaineer train puts this on full view, all while recapturing an era of travel that has long since passed, thanks to its 1950s Budd Vista-Dome carriages and Art-Deco-style dining cars.

“It’s a heritage railroad with heritage equipment. The train lends an experience to the journey that you just don’t get from a car,” says railway enthusiast and author Brian Solomon.

Brian Soloman beside the Conway Scenic Railroad train (Kris Soloman)

Brian Soloman beside the Conway Scenic Railroad train (Kris Soloman)

“You start your journey at a Victorian station, which was built in 1874. It has retained its classic architecture in the waiting room, old ticket office and high ceilings. After that, you work your way west.

“The most impressive view is when approaching Crawford Notch, as you come across the Willey Brook Bridge, past the site of the old Mount Willard section house that sits isolated on the cliffside. You get a stunning view across the Saco River valley, and if it’s been raining, there are several waterfalls that cascade down the mountains. There are views up there that you’d never see from the road.”

– Katie McGonagle

Go apple picking in the orchards of Québec

Quebec reveals striking colours in the fall (Alamy)

Quebec reveals striking colours in the fall (Alamy)

Autumn in Canada’s Laurentian Mountains brings with it a sensory feast, says Nathalie Labonté, owner of Labonté de la pomme in the small Québec village of Oka. “All seasons are beautiful in the Laurentians, but fall is particularly stunning in the orchard, as it‘s the season of harvest and a lively time for fruit picking.”

Nathalie Labonté and Sylvain Mercier of Labonté de la pommeand

Nathalie Labonté and Sylvain Mercier of Labonté de la pommeand

This sugar shack is a beacon of Québec‘s apple-growing prowess, even by the standards of this region‘s bountiful farmlands. “The weather cools down and our fruit trees gradually change colour, just as the wood oven heats up and allows visitors to taste delicious dishes from the apple shack. We have nearly 20 different varieties of apples,“ she adds.

This annual, authentic autumnal experience invites visitors to indulge in the region‘s rich agricultural heritage and savour its most fruitful season.

– Nathalie Katinakis

Explore an eco-success story in Ohio

Beaver Marsh in Cuyahoga Valley National Park amid autumn colours (Shutterstock)

Beaver Marsh in Cuyahoga Valley National Park amid autumn colours (Shutterstock)

A sea of shining sugar maples, dogwoods and red oaks blanket the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in north-eastern Ohio. Yet, when taking in the wide valley views from Ledges Overlook, it’s hard to imagine this park was born out of one of the worst environmental failures in US history.

The Cuyahoga River that runs through the park, emptying into Lake Erie, was once so polluted by factories that it would catch fire. In 1970, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water Act to address pollution in America‘s natural spaces, and Cleveland and the Cuyahoga River became its poster-children. A clean-up of land around the city created a new recreation area in 1974, which became the national park in 2000 – an incredible rewilding victory for Ohio.

Park ranger Rebecca Macko’s favourite season is autumn (Elena DeMarco)

Park ranger Rebecca Macko’s favourite season is autumn (Elena DeMarco)

Now it’s one of the most acclaimed national parks in the country, with forests, wetlands and prairies that are home to more than 250 bird species, coyotes, foxes, bats, white-tailed deer, beavers, otters and turtles, as well as eight impressive waterfalls, including the 18m-high Brandywine Falls.

“Autumn is my favourite time, as the valley turns golden and gets that bit cooler,” explains park ranger Rebecca Macko. “The scurry of animals, the crisp air, the fall flowers and the leaves underfoot make this a spectacular season to visit.

“Fall rains usually mean the waterfalls are in good flow. Weekends in October can be crowded, so consider midweek, late September or early November. The trees put on their finest colours, proving that it’s beautiful to let things go.”

– Brandom Withrow

See the northern lights in Alberta

View the northern lights from Alberta (Alamy)

View the northern lights from Alberta (Alamy)

“Métis people are intimately tied to the land,” explains Juanita Marois, chief executive of Métis Crossing, an interpretive centre outside Smoky Lake, Alberta. Through guided activities and riverside accommodation, it explores the history and culture of this Canadian Indigenous group.

“In the past, fall was when communities across the Prairies gathered for the buffalo hunt, which would sustain us for the winter months. These gatherings also helped build the Métis Nation – our democratic and judicial systems are based on the laws of the buffalo hunt,” says Juanita.

Métis communities used to gather for an annual Buffalo hunt in Alberta (Alamy)

Métis communities used to gather for an annual Buffalo hunt in Alberta (Alamy)

“Today, it’s when elk and bison get into the rut and demonstrate breeding behaviours. It’s still warm during the day, but at night the skies are clear and dark enough to see the northern lights.”

In June, Métis Crossing added sky-watching domes with a transparent roof to allow for night-sky viewing deep into the colder months.

Juanita Marois, chief executive of Métis Crossing

Juanita Marois, chief executive of Métis Crossing

“We’re also building partnerships with the Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory, which specialises in studying the aurora borealis in northern Alberta, to develop a new programme blending Western science with Métis stories,” adds Juanita. “The sky was used by the Métis as a clock and as a calendar; it provided critical instructions for understanding when to plant, hunt and work the land.”

– Jessica Wynne Lockhart

Try boating in New York’s Adirondack region

Adirondacks region is a protected area in New York State (Alamy)

Adirondacks region is a protected area in New York State (Alamy)

The Adirondacks region in northern New York State is a vast protected expanse, spread over 2.5 million hectares of mountain peaks and pristine lakes. Just a few hours‘ drive along the scenic Adirondack Northway from Albany, wildlife wanders freely, streams teem with anglers casting their lines and bucolic mountains are dotted with hikers on lush green trails.

Boat builder Joe Moore, renowned for crafting the region’s finest pack canoes (open-top kayaks where paddlers sit on angled seats), says the village of Lake Placid is “truly spectacular” at this time of year.

Joe Moore is renowned for his fine boat building (Butch Braun)

Joe Moore is renowned for his fine boat building (Butch Braun)

“The reflections of autumnal colours and mountains mirrored on the crystal-clear, glassy lake are what fall looks like in the Adirondacks, as boating enthusiasts relish the cooling waters and the end of the summer hustle.

“Our boats glide the waters, transporting us to the time of [19th-century boat-builder] Henry Rushton by using a primordial mode of transportation – the pack canoe. Whether you enjoy hiking the peaks or boating, fall allows outdoor enthusiasts to venture into pockets that cars just can’t access.”

– Vikki Moran

Go bear spotting in British Columbia

A bear and her cubs in British Columbia (Shutterstock)

A bear and her cubs in British Columbia (Shutterstock)

“As soon as bears sense the return of the chum salmon in the late summer, they start making their way down to the river valley,” says Randy Louie, cultural interpreter and grizzly bear guide at Klahoose Wilderness Resort, on the edge of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia.

“That’s when I take visitors to the viewing platforms. You’ve seen pictures, but it‘s more memorable when you see bears in person. You hear them breathing and see the moment they spot the salmon. Sometimes it’s a mama bear [and] I’ll explain how she teaches her cubs. It’s such fun watching them splash around trying to catch fish.”

Randy Louie of Klahoose Wilderness Resort (Chase Teron)

Randy Louie of Klahoose Wilderness Resort (Chase Teron)

In 2017, thanks to pressure from Indigenous Nations and British Columbia’s guides, the government announced it would end all trophy hunting of grizzly bears. It has proved a boon for visitors in particular.

“People learn how seeing bears in our territory brought jobs and helped protect the land,” adds Randy, who is seeing a real impact on the local wildlife. “More and more, the grizzly bears are coming back.”

– Diane Selkirk

Set your sights on Shenandoah in Virginia

Shenandoah Valley in autumn (Alamy)

Shenandoah Valley in autumn (Alamy)

From its sweeping national park to its grand fall festivals, the Shenandoah Valley is a prime spot to soak up “serenity and adventure”, says Raquel Montez, deputy superintendent of Shenandoah NP.
The park boasts 75 scenic viewpoints and 800km of hiking trails, including a 162km portion of the Appalachian Trail. It is also home to one of the most extraordinary drives in the country: the 169km Skyline Drive. And adjacent to the valley is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which stretches 755km through Virginia and North Carolina and has access to hiking trails, historic sites and scenic lookouts, including a kilometre-high overlook with magnificent views over the local foliage.

Raquel Montez is deputy superintendent of Shenandoah NP (Neal Lewis)

Raquel Montez is deputy superintendent of Shenandoah NP (Neal Lewis)

“The cooler temperatures of the season make it ideal for hiking, camping and picnicking,” says Raquel. “As the trees showcase their kaleidoscope of colours, visitors can enjoy the scents of fall, the soothing sounds of leaves crunching underfoot and pristine views via hiking trails and numerous overlooks along Skyline Drive.”

Adding to the valley’s allure are several cultural festivals, including the Fall Foliage Bike Festival, Shenandoah Valley Apple Harvest Festival and Shenandoah AutumnFest, which features a log-splitting contest in tribute to the role of the axe in shaping the American landscape.

– Taryn White

Drive the wilds of central Idaho

Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains offer wonderful natural colours on an autumn road trip (Shutterstock)

Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains offer wonderful natural colours on an autumn road trip (Shutterstock)

Forests of blushing aspen and golden cottonwood fur the foothills of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. By autumn, says Steve Botti, mayor of Stanley, their colours make for thrilling road trips alongside the Salmon and Snake rivers.

“In Sawtooth Valley, near Stanley, the aspens turn red, gold and yellow between late September and late October. To see them, drive the Fourth of July Creek Road or make a stop at Redfish Lake, which has the largest groves.”

Steve Botti is the mayor of Stanley

Steve Botti is the mayor of Stanley

“The Sawtooth Scenic Byway also runs through here, from Stanley to Shoshone. The view as you come over Galena Summit is spectacular before you drop down to a landscape of old lava fields. Another good driving route is the Salmon River Scenic Byway, north-east of Stanley. There used to be a lot of mining in this area, and miles of golden cottonwood trees take over as you head downriver, past ghost towns such as Bayhorse.

“Look out too for the Trailing of the Sheep festival in Ketchum in early October, as herders move their flocks out of the valley for winter, marching them through the city streets.”

– Gareth Clark

Enjoy birds and bikes in Rhode Island

Come autumn, the maple-heavy forests and marshes of Rhode Island turn a dizzying array of purples, oranges, yellows and reds, but even on the coast this is a colourful time of year, says Kim Calcagno of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

“The George Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge has one of the largest trail systems in the Audubon Society’s reserves. The foliage is amazing in fall and you can see all sorts of woodland birds, from tanagers to wild turkeys, as well as coyotes and fishers – a land-based otter that’s about a metre long.

Kim Calcagno of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island

Kim Calcagno of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island

“In fall, Block Island becomes a vital migration stopover point for birds blown in by the weather. Get the ferry, rent a bicycle and pedal the island to see them for yourself, or join the Audubon Society tour. We have run overnight birding trips there in late September for the past 50 years.

“If I had to pick one area for coastal birding, it’d be Sachuest Point. In the colder weather of the later months, you can see raptors such as snowy, barn and short-eared owls – the kind found on dunes rather than in trees. Around the coast you can also spot harlequin, ring-neck and eider ducks.”

– Gareth Clark

Watch bears piling on the pounds on Kodiak Island, Alaska

Bears hunting for salmon on Kodiak Island (Alamy)

Bears hunting for salmon on Kodiak Island (Alamy)

Alaska’s Kodiak Island is known for its record-sized bears, and when fall arrives, the ones that have hunted in these lakes, rivers and mountains all summer slow down to gorge themselves on the spawning salmon.

Stacey Simmons, operations director for the Kodiak Brown Bear Center and Lodge, is Sugpiaq/Alutiiq and a tribal member of the Native Village of Afognak. She often watches Kodiak bears – the largest species of brown bear – from her office at the lodge.

“The bears are fat, happy and slow in fall. By the time we close, they’re like fluffy roly-polies. They‘ll just watch you fish – like you‘re amusing them because there‘s so much to eat.

“You get deer walking next to you on the trails at this time, plus the gorgeous turning of the seasons as the fireweed goes from pink to red. The sides of mountains look so red that they’re almost purple, and that sweet berry smell in fall sweeps the land. It’s my favourite season.”

It is also harvest time, a necessity when the island’s grocery deliveries are at the mercy of the Alaskan winter.

“Whether it’s elk hunting or getting fish ready – smoking and freezing it for your family – it’s what I grew up on. In my village we’d start school in fall and take the entire class up to Big Creek in Old Harbor. We’d fish for salmon all day, clean it, pack it and give it to the elders in our community.”

– Rebecca Toy

Explore remote isles and tree tunnels on Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan

Brockway Mountain Drive in autumn (Alamy)

Brockway Mountain Drive in autumn (Alamy)

All summer long, Lake Superior soaks up the sunshine, creating a unique microclimate around Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts deep into its waters. Because of this, even the leaves turn in reverse order here (south to north), with the state’s northernmost town, Copper Harbor, the last to feel the change, say Nancy and Bill Leonard of the Michigan Nature Association.

Driving Brockway Mountain Drive – the highest paved point between the Rockies and the Alleghenies – is a fine way to get a glimpse of the changing fall foliage. “You can even look down and see the tops of eagles flying by,” says Bill.

Nancy and Bill Leonard of the Michigan Nature Association

Nancy and Bill Leonard of the Michigan Nature Association

It also has plenty of scenic stops, adds Nancy: “Brockway is wrapped by stone-built walls, created as part of a public works project in the 1930s; just pull off beside any of these and gaze over the colourful hillside. Another good route is the Covered Drive, which is famous for a tree tunnel that arcs over the road. The colour is spectacular in fall as the leaves shave the tarmac.”

Autumn is also your last chance to visit Isle Royale National Park (closes 31 Oct), an island 90km off the peninsula. By then, the mosquitoes and blackflies are gone and the moose have started rutting. Ferries and seaplanes stop running at the start of October, but you can still hire a boat to get there, and even a short hike can make you “feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness,” says Nancy, “and the colours are incredible”.

– Gareth Clark

Take in the view in Vail, Colorado

The golden views in Vail Valley (Dr Jon Kedrowski)

The golden views in Vail Valley (Dr Jon Kedrowski)

Before Vail gets its white winter blanket, its ski resort is covered in a patchwork quilt of shimmering golden aspens, making it an ideal time for hikers and bikers to snag great deals on accommodation. Mountain guide, skier and author Dr Jon Kedrowski, who has summited Everest three times, grew up in the Vail Valley and can’t get enough of it in autumn.

“When the first snow dusts the high peaks and the air gets crisp, ski season is just around the corner. You can catch fall colours from mid-September to mid-October, and for the avid hiker, the 14km Missouri Lakes Fancy Pass Loop trail is awesome,” he says.

Vail is also close to one of Colorado’s best fall drives. Highway 24 goes from the quaint town of Minturn to Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, one of America’s newest national monuments. Built during the Second World War, Camp Hale was a training facility for the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division of elite alpine soldiers.

Dr Jon Kedrowski

Dr Jon Kedrowski

Surrounded by the impressive Tenmile Range, the Army’s first and only mountain infantry division trained in warfare techniques at Camp Hale, then fought the Nazis in Italy’s roughest mountain terrain. Look out for the Tennessee Pass Memorial on the Continental Divide.

“There are so many wonderful places to see brilliant fall colours and enjoy bluebird skies in and near Vail,” says Jon. Add a short drive to Piney River Ranch for panoramic views, or visit the free Betty Ford Alpine Gardens to see a palette of autumnal hues.

– Jennifer Broome