Now that summer crowds have dissipated, it’s the perfect time to get a jump on fall. Across the United States, red and gold leaves herald the changing season, while food, drink, and cultural dance festivals abound. Here are four ways to kick off autumn.
Leaf-peeping by train
The best way to see fall colors? From the comfort of a train. In Colorado, fall can arrive as early as mid-September, when aspen leaves turn gold with the cooling temperatures. Rocky Mountaineer’s Rockies to the Red Rocks trip weaves through Denver’s aspen forests on a two-day route connecting to the crimson canyons of Moab, Utah. On the East Coast, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (WMSR) rolls out a restored vintage steam train (there are also diesel trains) that takes passengers on three-hour round-trip journeys through the lush Allegheny mountains, where leaves start to change color later in the month.
Responsible travel tip: Minimize your carbon emissions (and maximize your caloric output) by combining a WMSR train trip with a Tracks and Yaks rail biking excursion. Pedal four-wheel reclined “bikes” from the Frostburg Depot along the Great Allegheny Passage rail corridor to the Historic Western Maryland Railway Cumberland Station, where you can hop a train back to Frostburg.
‘Slow food’ deep dive on an island
Located off the beaten track in the heart of Puget Sound, Washington’s Whidbey Island is a natural wonderland of serene beaches, forest-backed trails, and thriving wildlife. It’s the first island in the state to be part of a National Scenic Byway. During Eat Local Month, you can tour generations-old farms, shop farmers markets, learn about slow food, and pick your own fruit and vegetables. (Nectarines, pears, and corn are just some of the season’s highlights). In town, the eclectic community bustles with locally owned shops, restaurants, and art galleries.
Responsible travel tip: Whidbey Island has a chapter of Slow Food USA, part of the global grassroots group founded in 1989 to preserve local food cultures. On September 15, you can join the island outpost for any amount between $1 and $100, giving you access to local events and discounts on Slow Food programs across the country.
Best place to celebrate Hispanic heritage
There may be no better place to celebrate Hispanic heritage than in Miami, Florida, where more than 72 percent of Miami-Dade County’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino. On September 16, travelers can spin and dip on the dance floor at Miami Beach Salsa Fest, the city’s official kickoff to Hispanic Heritage Month. As in the past, this year’s showcase has Melina Almodovar, an orchestra, and dancers getting the crowd going at the iconic Miami Beach Bandshell, a modernist architectural icon listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The free festival is organized by Ayuda Miami, which serves at-risk children and families in South Florida.
Largest Oktoberfest in the country
Oktoberfest Zinzinnati has been celebrating German culture since 1976, drawing nearly 700,000 attendees (and dishing up 3,600 pounds of sauerkraut) each year. The festivities kick off September 14-17, when downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, transforms into a lively Bavarian village with oompa tunes, bratwurst, and of course, steins of beer. This free event is open to all ages (lederhosen optional).
Responsible travel tip: Located about 35 miles north of Cincinnati, historic Hamilton’s German Village preserves the area’s cultural roots. It was the first residential development built outside of Fort Hamilton, founded in 1791, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tour the nine-block district’s well-preserved architectural styles (Queen Anne, Italianate, Gothic Revival) and learn more about the neighborhood’s history at places like the Butler County Historical Society.