Next Weekend: Golden Days
Your map to autumn exploration of hiking, kayaking, exploring, and more.
Text by Jim Gorman Photograph by Harrison Shull
||RED ROVER: Prime leaf-peeping, in North Carolina's Balsam Range
Paddle a Northern Swamp, Maryland All knock-kneed and wide-bottomed, the bald cypress is an ungainly emblem of Dixieland and—trivia time!—Maryland. To view the Old Line State's swampworthy stands, maneuver a canoe or kayak down the pekoe-hued Pocomoke River from Porters Crossing, on the eastern shore. After paddling a 13-mile (20-kilometer)run beneath a canopy of golden cypress, make camp at Milburn Landing ($20; www.dnr.state.md.us). In the morning retrace your strokes seven miles to the mouth of Nassawango Creek and paddle upstream to the Nature Conservancy's peaceful Nassawango Creek Preserve. Pocomoke River Canoe Company rents boats ($40 a day; 800-258-0905) and provides shuttles ($40).
Fine-Tune Fall, North Carolina
The secret to the best leaf-peeping in the Blue Ridge Mountains: an altitude adjustment. At 3,500 feet (1,067 meters), prime foliage arrives in early November. At the same elevation, the Balsam Mountain Inn ($135; 800-224-9498) sports hundred-foot decks overlooking the 6,000-foot (1,829-meter) Balsam Range. Enjoy the show, then peep a little closer along the nearby eight-mile (13-kilometer) Haywood GapBuckeye Gap loop trail, which winds through the Middle Prong Wilderness (find the trailhead between mileposts 426 and 427 on the Blue Ridge Parkway).
Pedal With Personality, South Carolina
Braking is optional on the bike trails in Manchester State Forest, near Sumter. No roots, rocks, or brush impedes riders as they cruise up and over sand dunes and through a dense pine forest. The riding here routinely rates among the state's best, due in large part to the personality of each trail: The Campbell Pond Trail's long climbs get your heart rate up, Hardcore challenges your bike-handling skills, and Killer 3 Trail entices you to drop the hammer. Set up base camp at Poinsett State Park, but be aware that until December 30 trails are only open on Sundays, due to deer hunting.
Reach the Ozarks' Upside, Arkansas
While climbing areas coast-to-coast shrink due to legal snafus, the scene in the tiny Ozark Mountains town of Jasper is officially booming. "Draw a 20-mile (32-mile) circle around the town and inside it there's a ton of climbing. It's like an untapped West Virginia," says John Campbell, owner of New Heights Rock Gym in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Campbell leads a weekend Basic Guiding course ($125; www.newheightsgym.com) to Sams Throne, a three-mile-long (5-kilometer-long) sandstone cliff with more than 500 routes.
Kayak Across the Gulf, Mississippi
Of the seven barrier islands that make up Gulf Islands National Seashore, Cat Island is the best option for a weekend stay: Its dunes are higher, its forests of scrub oak and slash pine deeper, and its clear lakes and bayous bigger than those on any nearby island. Wolf River Canoe & Kayak leads expert sea kayakers on an eight-mile (13-kilometer) crossing to Cat, where paddlers establish a base camp on the beach ($495 for the three-day trip; www.wolfrivercanoes.com). Novice kayakers can opt to be ferried to the island, along with their boats, for the three-day tour ($595).
Explore Earthquake Lake, Tennessee
When a series of powerful earthquakes convulsed the Mississippi Valley in the winter of 1811-12, an entire lowland forest sunk by as much as ten feet (3 meters). Within months the depression filled with water to form Reelfoot Lake (http://state.tn.us), today one of the richest aquatic environments in the South. In autumn, paddlers can steal close to immense flocks of migrating waterfowl and nesting bald eagles. And since motorboats generally stick to the open water, the tight passages through 500-year-old bald cypresses are left to the self-propelled. Use the boat dock on Caney Island, site of an ancient Indian mound, to stage a foray up Donaldson Ditch to the old-growth forest at Cranetown.
Get Off-Road and Off the Map, Idaho
The southwest corner of Idaho appears on most maps as a large blank spot devoid of paved roads or towns. In other words: the perfect setting for an off-asphalt ramble. The gravel Owyhee Uplands Back Country Byway, or the Mud Flat Road Loop, travels for 103 miles (166 kilometers) through the heart of the Owyhee Uplands—a high desert of immense plateaus, deep canyons, and utter silence—and can be negotiated by any vehicle (weather permitting). At the end of day one, camp at Three Forks and soak in the nearby hot spring. Other roadside attractions on the three-day route include hiking at Nickel Creek and Big and Little Jacks Creek Canyons and beaver-watching at Stoneman Creek. Contact the BLM office in Marsing (www.id.blm.gov) for byway details, and visit www.hikeidaho.com for suggested detours along the drive.
Ride Frictionless Moab, Utah
Unlike Aspen or Jackson Hole, Moab has not yet entered a stage of self-parody. It still has grit-o-plenty and an indecent share of the planet's best mountain biking. "In Moab, rednecks and hippies live in harmony, and outside the Moab Brewery, on South Main Street, you might see more than a hundred thousand dollars' worth of mountain bikes parked and left unattended," says Escape Adventures (EA) biking guide Chad Undis. On a three-day, inn-based Moab Weekend with EA, November 3-5 ($825; www.escapeadventures.com), you'll cruise the town by night and sample the area's top rides by day, including a section of local favorite Slickrock 101 and world-famous Porcupine Rim Trail.
Hide Out in a Backwoods Bungalow, California
Shoulder season at Sorensen's Resort ($95; www.sorensensresort .com), in the Sierra Nevada, is about as predictable as Dave Chappelle's next career move. If the weather is balmy, stick with Plan A: Mountain bike or hike the surrounding national forest land. The roller-coaster Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is optimal for bikers; the ascent to 10,880-foot (3,316-meter) Freel Peak is best for hikers. Should snow fly, put Plan B into action: Ski the resort's cross-country trail network or drive down the road to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which opens in mid-November.
Hike a Collision Course, Oregon
Everybody loves a good smashup. Nature's most reliable demolition show occurs each year at Cape Lookout, where autumn tempests hurl huge swells at the 500-foot-high (152-foot-high) cape. For a front-row seat, hike the two-and-a-half-mile Cape Lookout trail through groves of ancient 250-foot-tall (76-meter-tall) spruce and hemlock to the tip of the point. On the park's prominent feature—the large, sandy spot by Nester's Bay—there's no telling what a storm will wash up, from glass floats to boxes of made-in-China sneakers. Pitch a tent at the park campground ($12) or reserve a heated yurt ($27; www.oregonstateparks.org).
Roll With the Duke, Washington
With winter closing in fast, load some overnight gear into a pair of bike panniers and vault to the dry side of the Cascade Mountains. Your escape route: the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, which eases its way for 109 miles (175 kilometers) from North Bend, east of Seattle, up and over Snoqualmie Pass to Vantage, alongside the Columbia River. The trail follows an abandoned railroad bed, so the climb is a relative breeze. Aaron's Bicycle Repair, in Seattle, rents bikes ($55; www.rideyourbike .com) and BOB trailers ($45) for the weekend. Contact Lake Easton State park for a free map (509-656-2586).
Our November 2006 issue features the best new adventure travel trips; an exclusive look inside Iran; a Greenland global warming report; backcountry spas; digital cameras; travel Web sites; weekend getaways; and more.
Subscribe now and save!