There’s no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.
American drama critic Alexander Woollcott is known for instituting the Algonquin Round Table, a literary luncheon (held at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan in the 1920s) that hosted such luminaries as comedian Harpo Marx and writer Dorothy Parker. However, Woollcott’s life leading up to that point was remarkable: He went from a childhood in poverty to serving in the First World War to becoming a columnist for The New Yorker magazine. His surviving letters recount anecdotes from his life and the lives of his creative friends. His words here encourage us to see the value in the mundane and to treat each day as part of the rich experience of life.
September always feels like a reset. Summer isn’t technically over until later in the month but unofficially… we feel the shift. The temperatures are cooling and the days are growing shorter.
That doesn’t mean that the excitement of summer travel has to abruptly end. In fact, September is actually the best time to visit many popular destinations especially national parks. The shoulder season brings fewer crowds and lower temps with the more accessibility and, in some cases, a display of early fall colors.
Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in July and August. Also, check out my recommendations from September 2022 and October 2022.
1. Leaf-peeping Vermont
Stowe is a classic New England town at the base of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. It is located on the 138-mile Vermont Route 100, one of the country’s coasting routes for what is referred to locally as leaf-peeping. The season runs from September through late October.
In addition to watching the leaves change, fall means hiking numerous trails, fishing off Lake Champlain, and paddling down the Lamoille River.
Horrid Observation Site offers gorgeous views (despite its name) of the Champlain Valley. Reaching the outlook requires a half-mile uphill hike but the payoff is a vast panorama of the Green Mountain National Forest and Champlain Valley. You can also go hiking with dogs on the trail.
Percy Farm Corn Maze is the perfect fall activity to do in Vermont. It is surrounded by gorgeous countryside creating beautiful views and picture opportunities. The maze is well-designed and the farm area also offers candies and syrups for sale.
2. Applegate Valley wine country
The Applegate Valley wine country is found in the far southern reaches of Oregon running for 50 miles between the towns of Grants Pass and Jacksonville. It is home to some 18 wineries most of which offer wine tastings beside scenic vineyards growing in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains. Wine drinkers will find a lot to enjoy from rich malbacs to smooth chardonnays while everyone should be able to appreciate the stunning views that surround quiet back roads that run through the region.
3. Experience sea turtle season
With its unspoiled beaches, lush maritime forests, and peaceful marshes, Jekyll Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, is a dream getaway for nature lovers and wildlife watchers—especially during sea turtle season.
The best time to see adult sea turtles is during nesting season which begins in May with nests often laid through mid-summer. Jekyll Island is one of the few places where you can experience up-close encounters with sea turtles. These gentle giants can weigh hundreds of pounds and adult females leave their saltwater and estuarine habitats to bring themselves onto the sandy beaches to lay eggs.
Sea turtle hatching season typically happens from August through October and is the best time to potentially witness turtle hatchlings emerge from their nest and scamper their way across the beach and into the ocean.
At the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, take a behind-the-scenes tour into the turtle hospital to learn about sea turtle care and treatment. To spot some sea turtle nests for yourself, head out on the center’s Night and Dawn Patrol programs with a field biologist. You can also take a guided Turtle Walk to learn more.
4. Towering Monument Valley buttes display sunset spectacle
A sunset spectacle featuring two mitten-shaped rock formations plays out at Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation along the Arizona and Utah border. Twice a year, in late March and mid-September, spectators, photographers, and videographers get a visual treat. As the sun sinks, the West Mitten Butte’s shadow crawls across the desert valley floor before climbing up the side of the East Mitten Butte.
The spectacle draws people from around the world to Monument Valley Tribal Park which already is popular with tourists.
TV and movie critic Keith Phipps once described Monument Valley as having “defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West.” It is a frequent filming location including a number of Westerns by the late American film director John Ford as well as the 1994 Oscar-winning film Forest Gump. In the movie, the character played by Tom Hanks is seen running on the road to Monument Valley, the park’s impressive landscape in the background.
5. Cades Cove Loop
The Cades Cove Loop, a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a must-see for history enthusiasts and nature lovers. Visitors pass through an idyllic valley encircled by bears, deer, and wild turkeys, driving around the loop. People can spend time discovering the churches, log houses, and a functional gristmill, among the old structures that have been beautifully conserved.
Visitors can also use the loop’s picnic areas, hiking trails, and bicycle paths while taking in the breathtaking mountain views from the numerous overlooks. The Cades Cove Loop is a fascinating drive presenting an exceptional combination of scenic natural beauty and rich cultural legacy.
6. Kentucky Arboretums
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont (just outside Louisville) is a sprawling natural space with expansive hiking and biking trails. Fishing, bird-watching, and geocaching are also popular within the park.
The Arboretum in Lexington spans 100 gorgeous acres and is operated by the University of Kentucky, with guided tours offered May-September and self-guided tours available year-round.
The Boone County Arboretum was the nation’s first arboretum within an active recreation park setting—the specialized arrangements of plant collections exist along 2.5 miles of paved multi-use trails that wind through nearly 30 collection areas over their 121 acres.
7. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg’s 407-foot Space Needle is its most iconic landmark. You ride a glass elevator to the top for sweeping 360-degree views of the surrounding area. However, that is not all there is to enjoy here. Every fall, Gatlinburg hosts the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival beginning mid-September through November.
The notion that peak color season in the Great Smoky Mountains is in mid-October is a misconception. The colors of fall light up the Smokies for seven weeks or more moving from the peak elevations down to the foothills. The seven-week period generally runs from mid-September through the end of October.
Ober Gatlinburg’s 13th Annual OktOBERfest will be held from September 29–October 30, 2023. During this month-long celebration along with daily shows, the Seasons of Ober Restaurant switches to their OktOBERfest menu. Most of the food is German-inspired and is derived from recipes and cuisine from traditional Bavarian festivals. Offerings include schnitzel, bratwurst, strudel, turkey legs, salted pretzels, and sauerkraut.
8. Woodstock, New York
It is often assumed the Woodstock Music Festival took place in the Catskills town of Woodstock but it took place in Bethel about 1.5 hours away. The 1969 summer festival got its name from the former, though, and Woodstock has since maintained a bohemian art scene.
In general, leaves in the Catskills and northern New York State peak between the last week of September and the first week of October making this an ideal part of the country to enjoy in the fall, especially from behind the wheel of your RV.
Do not miss Tinker Street, Woodstock’s main street, to explore all the independent boutiques, shops, and restaurants.
9. Drink in the wine and sunshine in the Okanagan
Imagine a valley floor filled with a 170-mile-long lake, wildlife including bighorn sheep, cougars, and rattlesnakes, and rainfall of fewer than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards, you can imagine. The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals.
Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley Steam Railway and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.
10. Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival
Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo at Custer State Park in western South Dakota. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, but it is also a critical management tool for maintaining a strong and healthy herd.
The Buffalo Roundup will begin at 9:30 a.m. MT on September 29, 2023, with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Be sure to arrive early if you want to pick your spot. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals.
Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m. Crews will work the remainder of the herd in October.
We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.