The Best Extreme Fall-Foliage Vacations

Looking at falling leaves is nice, but biking through them is even better. (Photo: Blend Images - Mike Kemp/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

The changing leaves of autumn are pretty, but you don’t have to settle for sitting like a mushroom on a log and passively staring at the trees when there are so many fun ways to enjoy the fall foliage. Do something above and beyond the slow car ride, the picnic at the park bench, or the view from your B & B, and get out amid the trees and enjoy the thrill of aging chlorophyll as you hike, bike, fly, or climb among the oranges, yellows, and reds of autumn.

Horse Drive, Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

mammoth lakes
mammoth lakes

Mammoth Lakes (Photo: Albert de Bruijn/Flickr)

The Mammoth Lakes area in California is well-known for its fall foliage, and there are a ton of active adventures for visitors, including hiking, kayaking, fishing, and even catching helicopter rides above the colorful mountain landscape. But the most unique of the activities are the fall horse drives, in which you can make like a cowboy and join a pack horse group on a nearly weeklong trip to herd their horses and mules and bring them to their winter pastures near groves of vibrant aspen and cottonwood trees.

Related: Fall Foliage Destinations: 10 Best Places to Go Leaf Peeping (and When!)

Downhill Mountain BikingMoab, Utah

bike riding utah
bike riding utah

Head to Moab for some extreme mountain biking. (Photo: Tim McGrath/Flickr)

Moab is known as the world capital for extreme mountain biking, with absolutely insane rock routes and cliff faces for bikers to attempt. For a less extreme but still great adventure with fall foliage, try the Whole Enchilada bike path, which drops 7,000 feet from the peaks of the La Sal Mountains to the Colorado River. In between, you’ll twist and turn through colorful groves of aspen trees, although you may want to keep your eyes on the trail ahead of you. 

Cliff Climbing Via Ferrata, Telluride, Colo.

via ferrata climbing
via ferrata climbing

The Via Ferrata route will give you a different perspective on leaf peeping. (Courtesy: Telluride Tourism Board)

You can enjoy some fine fall foliage in southern Colorado simply by taking in the view from the valley town of Telluride or by riding a gondola up to a nearby mountaintop. But for something a little more extreme, how about looking down on the leaves hundreds of feet below you as you hang precariously from a cable on a cliff face doing the Via Ferrata route? Take a guided trip along the iron rings and cables to get a bird’s-eye view of Telluride’s foliage — if you dare to look down.

Related: The Results Are in, and You Don’t Want to Miss Out: The Best Trips to Take This Fall

Foliage-by-DronePictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Mich.

Taking travel videos via a flying drone-mounted camera is the thing to do now, so get your rig and zigzag through the trees like a butterfly to capture a different view of a fall forest. If you have the right kit, you can even wear linked video goggles, which offer a first-person view from your drone as if you were really a bird in the trees. The overlooked Midwest has some of the best fall foliage in the country, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior combines the bright fall colors with spectacular rock formations and shimmering waters.

Hang Gliding, Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Hang-gliding over Lookout Mountain (Photo: Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding/Facebook)

New England and the U.S. Northeast may claim to be the world epicenter of leaf-viewing, but the South has its share of outstanding fall foliage as well. If you want to get a glimpse of some changing leaves there, check out Lookout Mountain in Georgia. Get tucked in like a hot dog in a pouch on a tandem hang-glider, launch off of an intimidating cliff-top concrete ramp with your pilot, and soar like an eagle over the colorful forests below.

Related: Smaller Crowds, Cheaper Fares: the Five Best Fall Cruises

Go Climb a Tree, Western Massachusets

western massachusetts
western massachusetts

You can’t get closer to the leaves than this.  (Courtesy:Wildcat Tree Climbing)

If you want to get up close and personal with some fall foliage, then there’s no better way than to climb up a tree and say hello to the little yellow leaves. The Wildcat Tree Climbing company is part of a network of recreational tree-climbing groups in the Northeast, offering training, safety equipment, and guided expeditions into the forests and right up the trees. If you really enjoy your day, you can stick around for more training and get certified as an arborist.

Glider Rides: Mad River Valley, Vt.

sugarbush glide ride
sugarbush glide ride

Gliding in Vermont (Photo: Sugarbush Soaring)

Silently soaring above spectacular fall colors in the mountains of Vermont may be the ultimate in high-speed leaf-peeping. Join a pilot at Sugarbush in a two-seat glider and swirl in thermal up-currents for a 30-minute scenic ride, swooping through mountain passes back into the valley. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see the Adirondacks to the west and Mt. Washington and the White Mountains to the east.

ATV Offroad Tours, Alaska


How about an ATV ride past some bears in Alaska?  (Photo: Sankar Salvady/Moment Open/Getty Images)

Get a head start on leaf-peeping season by heading to the extreme north, all the way to Anchorage, Alaska, where a short but dramatic autumn offers some great viewing opportunities. Take a bumpy and scenic half-day trip on four-wheel ATVs up to alpine meadows with temperate forests bursting with color. But leaves are likely not all you’ll see: Add in spawning salmon, bald eagles, moose, and perhaps some bears, and your heart rate will climb faster than a speeding ATV.   

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