We’ve reached that point of summer where you suddenly realize fall is right around the corner. If you also suddenly realize you totally forgot to make vacation plans, not to worry — we’ve got ideas for making the most of these last, lazy summer days, no matter what your favorite activity is.
9 Great “Get Out and Enjoy the Last of Summer” Vacation Ideas
If you like to kayak:
San Juan Islands, Washington
This archipelago off the northwestern corner of Washington state is made up of 176 named islands and hundreds other islets, reefs, and pinnacles. Thickly forested and thinly populated but for a few quaint towns, the San Juans are surrounded by cold tidal waters that teem with marine life, including orcas, otters, porpoises, and humpback whales. Eleven of the islands are designated as state marine parks, accessible only by kayak or boat.
Kayakers can choose an easy paddle along the rocky shores of one of the main islands, or take a 3- to 5-day guided excursion and camp out on a remote, uninhabited island. May through September offers the best chance to see orcas.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
For something a bit warmer but just as remote, head to Cumberland, the largest of Georgia’s barrier islands and one of its most unspoiled. Kayakers can explore a maze of tidal marshes and paddle beneath a vast maritime forest of palmetto plants and live oaks draped in Spanish moss. Keep your eyes open for sea turtles, dolphins, wild horses, and armadillos.
The only way to reach Cumberland Island is by ferry, private boat, or kayak. No kayaks are allowed on the ferry, but you can paddle over from Amelia Island or Crooked River State Park (since the tides can be strong and the weather unpredictable, it’s a good idea to arrange a guided tour).
If you like to bike:
Peak to Peak Highway, Front Range, Colorado
For experienced riders who like a challenge, the 55-mile Peak to Peak Highway between Estes Park and Black Hawk offers a combination of hills and elevation (an average of 9,000 feet) that’ll put your legs and lungs to the test. Your reward: epic views of jagged peaks, alpine meadows, and crystal-blue lakes. And if you want to stretch your definition of “summer vacation,” the aspen trees turn golden in mid-to-late September.
Slickrock Trail, Moab, Utah
Located in the Sand Flats Recreation Area near the adventure capital of Moab, this most quintessential of mountain bike trails climbs and dips like a roller coaster over hills of rugged sandstone. But don’t let the name “Slickrock” intimidate you — the surface of the rock is actually fairly coarse. Nonetheless, the trail can get technical and is best for intermediate to experienced riders. You might consider doing the (still challenging) 1.7 mile Practice Loop first before tackling the full 10.5 mile loop. Expect the ride to take 3 to 4 hours — including stops to gape at the spectacular desert scenery — and be sure to bring plenty of water.
Great Allegheny Passage Trail and Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath, Pittsburgh, PA, to Washington, DC
Looking for a family-friendly ride on a car-free trail? This route stretches for 335 scenic miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. The Allegheny Passage Trail is built atop the routes of former railroads, following the banks of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny Rivers and crossing the Eastern Continental Divide. Though it passes through mountain landscapes, the average grade of the trail is less than one percent. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath follows the Potomac River from Cumberland, MD, to the Georgetown district of DC and offers plenty of history along with beautiful river views.
If you like to hike:
Appalachian Trail, various eastern states
Every year, some 1,800 “through hikers” attempt to complete the trek along this famous trail that stretches 2,180 miles from Maine to Georgia. Many other “section hikers” choose to do a portion of the trail, overnighting at the various campsites and shelters along the way. (The movie version of travel writer Bill Bryson’s Appalachian Trail hike, A Walk in the Woods, is scheduled for release this September.) Both types of excursion require advance planning and, ideally, some training. But fear not — you can still experience the beauty, ruggedness, and serenity of this trail on a day hike. This link offers short hikes of varying degrees of difficulty in all 14 states that feature the trail.
Point Reyes National Seashore, West Marin County, California
Covering 100 square miles along the rugged Northern California coast, this pristine peninsula was almost turned into a tourist development in the 1960s. Fortunately, conservationists stepped in and it was declared a National Seashore in 1962. The park features nearly 150 miles of hiking trails, from the 0.6-mile Earthquake Trail, which shares the geological history of the 1906 earthquake that leveled nearby San Francisco, to the 9.5 mile Tomales Point Trail, which passes alongside dramatic ocean cliffs and through a Tule Elk Reserve to the very tip of the Tomales Peninsula. Want a trail that follows a tidal lagoon filled with shorebirds? You’ve got it. One that ends at a deserted beach? It’s here. How about a densely wooded trail straight out of a Tolkien novel? Take your pick. Hike-in, bike-in, and kayak-in campsites are available if you want to stay the night (reservations strongly recommended).
If you like thrills:
Zip-lining might be the most exciting way around to get from point A to point B (unless you’re very afraid of heights, in which case it may be a little too exciting). The first zip line in the U.S. opened in 2002 on Maui’s Haleakala Crater. Since then, dozens have cropped up across the country. It’s a great way to get an adrenaline rush and enjoy nature at the same time. And because zip lines are powered by gravity, they’re eco-friendly too. Here are 2 of the most exceptional options.
Skyrider Zipline Tour, Hunter Mountain, NY
If thrill rides never last long enough for you, you’ll be glad to know that this is the longest zip line in the country, with over 4 miles of cable. (And one of the courses is 3,600 feet long.) It’s also the highest course in North America, with 600 feet between you and the valley floor.
The Gorge Canopy Adventure, Saluda, North Carolina
Got a need for speed? Take the plunge on what may be the world’s steepest zipline, with a drop of 1,100 vertical feet. If you can stop whooping long enough to look around, you’ll enjoy spectacular scenery — mile after mile of old-growth forest and the dramatic Green River Gorge itself.
These ideas are just a beginning. Maybe you’d prefer a weekend of camping or a road trip to see America’s wackiest roadside attrractions. Or maybe you’d rather save your vacation days for one of these phenomenal fall activities. But whatever type of getaway you choose, make sure your roadside emergency kit is stocked and your car insurance is up to date before you hit the highway.