Come the day after Labor Day, lots of folks act like the jig is up. Time to get back to work, back to school, back to schlepping the kids to soccer, tennis, gymnastics, cheerleading, football and on and on. Your time at the cabin most likely gets more restricted or slowly disappears altogether as winter sets in. Summer is done and so is all the fun, right? Wrong!
Fall is prime time to hit the hiking trails around your cabin. With everyone else off doing other things, you pretty much have the trails to yourself. And isn’t that the idea of hiking: to get away from it all – to commune with nature, bask in all its glory – and not have to wait in line for a trailhead parking spot just to do it?
Autumn hiking is great for lots of reasons. Fall colors greet hikers with an arresting, eye-popping array of oranges, scarlets, greens, russets and golds that you won’t see any other time of the year. And since you’ll probably feel the need to stop and snap off dozens of photos every 100 yards, fall hiking is a calm, peaceful excursion outdoors.
Also, in September and October, the really hot weather is all but a summer memory, as are bugs such as mosquitoes and those pesky black flies. So you can leave the insect repellent at home. But don’t forget the water. Even though the days are cooler, you still need to stay hydrated.
Here are some other tips to ensure that your fall hiking experiences are enjoyable ones.
- Watch the weather. Be aware that in fall the weather can take a turn for the worse quickly, especially in mountainous regions where winter tends to arrive earlier. Take extra clothes (a rain jacket, a wool shell jacket, rain pants, etc., but nothing made of cotton which gets wet and stays wet) and wear sturdy shoes or boots.
- Know when the sun sets. With the sun setting earlier in fall, have a turnaround time in mind before you head out and stick to it. After the autumnal equinox (usually the third week of September) you’ve got less than 12 hours of daylight each day, and it only diminishes after that. It’s amazing how unfamiliar trails become in the dark. And it’s no fun being stranded overnight on one. Just in case you do get stranded, make sure a flashlight, waterproof matches and snacks are among the essentials in your pack (see “Gear Up For Hiking” in the April 2008 issue).
- Bring extra layers. Because of those fewer hours of sunlight, get an early start on your hiking. It’ll be chilly when you firsthit the trail but that’s easily dealt with. Wear a hat, and/or a pair of gloves that can be stowed when you warm up.
- Keep an eye out for wildlife. Fall hiking is a great opportunity to observe wildlife that you might not see at other times of year. Birds, ducks, geese, eagles and other raptors can be spotted along their long migratory routes as they return to their wintering grounds.
- Forage wisely. It’s a great time for picking blueberries too. But before you start grabbing handfuls of this delicious fruit, remember that blueberries are also a favorite of black bears, who eat them by the barrelful as they fatten up for winter. In the overwhelming majority of incidents, bears won’t bother you. Still it’s a good idea not to startle them. If you’re picking, make frequent, loud noises so you’re no surprise.
Mike McQuaide is a freelance writer in Bellingham, Wash., and author of five books including “Day Hike! North Cascades” and “Day Hike! Central Cascades” (Sasquatch Books)