With fall rapidly approaching, New Englanders are starting to think about cool temperatures, warm apple cider, pumpkins, vibrant leaves and, of course, the upcoming ski season.
But for some, autumn means one thing: adventure. As the leaves begin to change, the leaf-peeping crowds take over many of New England’s small towns, making it more desirable to head off the beaten path in search of solitude and excitement. And with the departure of summer’s hot temperatures, the weather is perfect for long days and nights spent outside.
Whether you are looking to try out a new extreme sport such as downhill mountain biking or experience the fall colors in a way you haven’t before, there is no better time than fall to go on an adventure in New England.
Take a guided rock climbing trip
Due largely in part to films such as “Free Solo” and “The Dawn Wall,” coupled with the increasing popularity of climbing gyms, rock climbing has been launched into the mainstream in recent years. And while many associate outdoor climbing with the big walls of Yosemite, New England — New Hampshire, in particular — has some of the best climbing in the country.
North Conway, N.H., is home to the iconic sheer granite faces of Cathedral and Whitehorse ledges, both of which draw climbers from up and down the East Coast and beyond. There are countless additional cliffs and areas popular for rock climbing throughout the state, including Rumney, a world-class sport climbing destination near Plymouth, N.H.
For those looking to move their gym experience to the outdoors, expand upon their existing outdoor climbing experience or even try climbing for the first time, there are a number of outfitters that offer a variety of climbing experiences, from introductory trips to advanced traditional lead-climbing courses. The Mount Washington Valley-based Cathedral Mountain Guides and International Mountain Climbing School offer trips to some of the regions best climbing destinations.
Go mountain biking
New England has a growing mountain bike scene, with a variety of trails from beginner to advanced, ranging from rolling cross-country to extreme downhill.
Located in East Burke, Vt., Kingdom Trails is one of New England’s most popular mountain biking-specific trail systems, and rightfully so. The area consists of almost 80 miles of trails, many of which are machine-built, resulting in smooth, fast and fun riding for all skill levels. A $15 day pass is required to ride at Kingdom Trails, and there are a few shops in the area that offer bike rentals.
Of course, there are plenty of riding destinations throughout New England that don’t require a fee. The growing Carrabassett Valley Trails, near Sugarloaf Mountain, has almost 80 miles of trails, some of which offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. The Allspeed Cyclery is a great resource for bike rentals, maps and general information on riding in the area. In New Hampshire, North Conway is making a name for itself with the recent addition of multiple hand- and machine-built trails in the region, with plans for more.
If you’re seeking lift-access downhill riding, head to Highland Bike Park in Northfield, N.H. Highland offers a variety of downhill trails and jump parks, as well as camps, skills courses and races. Killington and Suicide Six mountains in Vermont also offer lift-access downhill riding.
While it is an adventurous activity, you don’t have to be an extreme athlete (or really an athlete at all) to enjoy the foliage while zipping across a deep New England valley. Usually, zipline adventures are offered in the form of tours, in which guests will go from one zipline to the next, enjoying panoramic views and the simultaneous thrill of weightlessness.
Stowe Mountain Resort in Stowe, Vt., offers a zipline tour from just below the summit of Mount Mansfield, the state’s highest peak. The ziplines range from a training line at 150 feet long and 10 feet high to the Nosedive Zip, which spans a length of 4,462 feet and reaches a height of 180 feet. At 4,969 feet long and 250 feet high, Attitash Mountain Resort, in Bartlett, N.H, claims to have the longest zipline in the contiguous U.S., reaching speeds in excess of 65 mph. Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Massachusetts offers three different zipline tours on some of North America’s longest ziplines.
Rappel off a cliff
For those who might not be ready to take on rock climbing but would like to experience the world of vertical exploration, rappelling is a great option.
Rappelling, which is a useful skill for descending cliffs when climbing, caving, or canyoneering, can be a fun adventure in itself. The experience, in which you will be dangling from a rope, lowering yourself down a sheer cliff using a specific “belay” device, often with a scenic background, can be inspiring and confidence inducing.
REI’s first experience center — which officially will open in North Conway, New Hampshire this September — is currently offering a scenic rappelling adventure in the White Mountains. The Franconia Notch based North Ridge Mountain Guides offers a waterfall rappelling adventure.
Take a wilderness survival course
Learning primitive skills necessary for survival in an extreme backcountry situation can be helpful in both the wilderness and the frontcountry. While at first glance it seems like wilderness survival courses are useful only if you are Bear Grylls, they actually teach useful skills like basic first aid, how to start a fire without matches or a lighter, water purification techniques, and the value of staying calm in high-stress situations.
Northcamp Wilderness Survival School in southwest Connecticut offers a variety of courses, from basic daylong wilderness skills to multi-day survival skills classes and wilderness medicine courses. Raven Wilderness School, located in Massachusetts, also has plenty of valuable courses such as knots and lashings, knife and axe techniques, tarp shelters and others.
Depending on your goals and the experience you would like to have, there is no shortage of programs and courses offered throughout New England.
Climb Mount Washington
At 6,288 feet above sea level, Mount Washington is the tallest and one of the most rugged mountains in the Northeast. Mountaineers from around the East Coast use Washington and the other high peaks of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range as training grounds to tackle larger peaks like Denali and even achieve technical ascents of bigger peaks in the Andes and Himalayas.
While many might scoff at Mount Washington due to its height with relation to some of the larger peaks out west, summitting it by foot is a huge accomplishment. No technical skills are needed to ascend via the major hiking routes like the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Lions Head Route or Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, but it is important to remember that the hike is a serious undertaking and weather at higher elevations can be extreme, even during the summer months.
If you are not comfortable with a big day deep in the heart of the Northeast’s most challenging mountains, there are a number of guiding services that lead trips to the summit. Northeast Mountaineering, located in Glen, N.H., offers a variety of Washington trips, including sunrise and winter ascents.
Go sea kayaking
With 473 miles of some of the country’s most beautiful coastline, New England has plenty of opportunity for embarking on a sea kayaking adventure. The region’s rich cultural history, steeped in a long-lived economy based on fishing and lobstering, creates an authentic dynamic across its coastal towns. Like walking the streets, sleeping in the family-owned inns and eating locally caught seafood, paddling the coastline is a must-do experience.
Whether you are looking to paddle the rougher, rocky coastlines of Maine, or along the sandy and marshy coastlines of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, there are endless options. Cape Kayaking hosts tours in the Cape Cod area, ranging from full moon/sunset to bird watching and clamming tours. For a coastal experience reminiscent of what you might find in the Pacific Northwest, head to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park in Maine. In addition to guided tours, Acadia Outfitters offers kayak rentals.
Paddle Maine’s lakes and rivers
Maine is home to some of the most scenic and wild lakes and rivers in the Northeast. The Allagash River, which drains into the Saint John River after flowing 65 miles from the Maine North Woods north of Mount Katahdin, is Maine’s only designated Wild and Scenic River and one of the most popular destinations for overnight paddling trips.
Because the area is remote, it is recommended that those with less paddling experience hire a guide service, like Allagash Guide Service. For those who feel confident heading into the wilderness alone, Allagash also offers canoe rentals and transportation services.
Maine also has a number of remote lakes, where moose, bald eagle and other wildlife sightings are not uncommon. Lake Richardson, Umbagog and Mooselookmeguntic Lakes, all located in northwest Maine near the border of New Hampshire (except Umbagog, which straddles the border), are great options for multi-day paddling trips. Tent sites are available at different points around the lakes but require reservations in advance.
And if you are looking for a faster-paced water adventure, Northeast Whitewater offers whitewater and overnight rafting trips on different rivers throughout the state.
Road bike the Kancamagus Highway
At 34 miles long and a maximum elevation of almost 3,000 feet, the Kancamagus Highway or “Kanc,” as the locals call it, is one of the most scenic roads in New England.
Starting in Conway, the road gradually climbs to its pinnacle, offering sweeping vistas, views of the Swift River and even a handful of camping options if you’d like to spend a night under the stars. The descent is also consistent, offering more views and a hairpin turn before entering civilization again in Lincoln.
There are a number of restaurants and breweries in town, like One Love Brewing and Woodstock Brewing, perfect for celebrating a strenuous, yet rewarding ride.
Complete a Presidential traverse
One of the most sought-after hikes in New England, a presidential traverse encompasses the summits of 10 of the Northeast’s tallest and most rugged peaks over the course of 23 miles.
Much of the hike is above treeline, offering spectacular panoramic views throughout its duration, but also exposure, potentially making for a dangerous hike in a mountain range renowned for having the worst weather in the world.
Many start the hike at the Appalachia Trailhead on the northern edge of the ridge, allowing them to get the majority of the elevation gain out of the way at the beginning. The traverse ends at the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch.
While some opt to complete the hike in a single day, often starting at dawn and finishing after dark, there are plenty of huts, tent sites and shelters along the way, making it possible to complete the hike in multiple days.
Josh Laskin is a freelance writer and photographer based in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. After 10 years in Philadelphia and a desk job or two, he ran north to find snow, fish and granite. When he’s not playing outside, he likely can be found sampling the state’s cheesesteak selection and debating whether or not it’s acceptable to call it a “steak and cheese.”