Where to get your fall fix
Be prepared for short days, snow creeping ever lower down the peaks, and grizzlies wallowing in the lowbush cranberries.
Pinnell Mountain National Recreation Trail, 27.3 miles long, follows a chain of alpine ridges northeast of Fairbanks. The trailheads can be reached at Twelvemile Summit (milepost 85.6 on the Alaska Highway) and Eagle Summit (milepost 107.3) on the Steese Highway. Contact: Bureau of Land Management, Steese/White Mountains District, 1150 University Ave., Fairbanks, AK 99708-3844; (907) 474-2200; http://aurora.ak.blm.gov/ Steese/PMT.html.
Thompson Pass offers sweeping vistas 35 miles from Valdez on the Richardson Highway. The tundra is trail-less but easy traveling by Alaska standards. A campground is available at the nearby Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site for $12 per night. Contact: Alaska Department of Natural Resources Public Information Center, 3601 C St., Suite 200, Anchorage, AK 99503-5929; (907) 269-8400; www.dnr.state.ak.us.
Brooks Mountain Range presents almost limitless hiking opportunities from the Dalton Highway, which follows the Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Livengood (83 miles north of Fairbanks) to Prudhoe Bay. The best routes are in higher elevations and along river drainages. Stop at the Coldfoot Interagency Visitor Center for advice. Contact: Bureau of Land Management, 1150 University Ave., Fairbanks, AK 99708-3899; (800) 437-7021; http://aurora.ak.blm.gov/arcticinfo/.
Wind River Range, Wyoming
Shivering gold aspen adorn the mountains midslope, while higher up, alpine larch glow reddish gold before shedding their needles entirely.
Middle Fork (of the Popo Agie River) Trail is the major access route into the Popo Agie Wilderness in Shoshone National Forest. Once you’re in, numerous five-day or longer loop hikes lead high into alpine lake country and provide astonishing views of the panoramic peaks. The high point of the trip is Wind River Peak, a 13,192-foot nontechnical but challenging climb.
Contact: The Popo Agie Wilderness is administered by the Washakie Ranger District of Shoshone N.F., headquartered on the southeast corner of US 287 and WY 789. Contact: Washakie Ranger District, 333 Highway 789 S; Lander, WY 82520; (307) 332-5460.
Fitzpatrick Wilderness Area lies farther north, still on the east side of the range and within Shoshone National Forest. Glacier Trail (#801) runs 25.4 miles along numerous high ridges between forest and meadow, and is dotted with alpine lakes. Contact: Fitzpatrick Wilderness Area is administered by the Wind River Ranger District, 1403 W. Ramshorn, Dubois, WY 82513; (307) 455-2466.
Bridger-Teton National Forest’s 3.4 million acres encompass the entire western slope of the Wind River Range. Lakes and streams abound here on the wetter side of the mountains. The Bridger Wilderness has more than 600 miles of trails and contains a section of the Continental Divide Trail (via Lester Pass and Hat Pass to Big Sandy Opening). Contact: The Bridger Wilderness is administered by the Pinedale Ranger District, 29 E. Fremont Lake Rd., P.O. Box 220, Pinedale, WY 82941; (307) 367-4326. Or contact the Continental Divide Trail Alliance at P.O. Box 628, Pine, CO 80470; (303) 838-3760 or (888) 909-CDTA.
Resource: Hiking Wyoming’s Wind River Range, by Ron Adkison (1996; Falcon Publishing; 800-582-2665; $16.95).
Warm days and crisp nights, blazing displays of hardwood foliage, and no blackflies. Just be prepared for wintry weather starting in September.
Kennebec River drains out of Moosehead Lake and runs all the way to the ocean at Bath. Much of the lower river has been dammed for hydropower (hence the landlocked salmon) and contains mainly smooth water that’s navigable all season. The stretch from just below The Forks, where the Dead River adds its flow, to the tiny town of Caratunk is 9 miles long and has flat water, as well as Class I-II rapids suitable for the less experienced paddler. Contact: Maine Forest Service, Department of Conservation, State House Station 22, Augusta, ME 04333; (207) 287-4990 or (800) 367-0223 (within Maine only).
Moose River, also a part of the Kennebec watershed, rises in the mountains along Maine’s border with Canada, then flows east to Moosehead Lake. The three-day Moose River Bow Trip can be done anytime after ice-out and is a circuit trip, so no car shuttle is required. It is a popular trip, however, so you may want to time your visit for midweek, especially during peak leaf color. The lake and the river’s flat water and Class I rapids are navigable all season. Contact: Obtain fire permits from any Maine Forest Service Ranger Station. The Maine Forest Service (see “Kennebec River” above) can point you to other ranger stations and provide general information.
The East Branch of the Penobscot offers a fairly accessible paddling trip with a true wilderness feel. The East Branch drains the area north and east of Mt. Katahdin and is dam controlled, making it possible to canoe this river much of the season. Henry David Thoreau paddled this river as part of his formative Maine travels, and many parts don’t look much different than they did in his day. Contact: For dam-release information, check the Bangor Hydro-Electric Company Web site: www.bhe.com. For general information and more details about dam releases and water levels: Matagamon Wilderness Campground, P.O. Box 220, Patten, ME 04765; (207) 528-2448.
Resource: The AMC River Guide: Maine, edited by Katherine Yates and Carey Philips (1991; Appalachian Mountain Club Books; 800-262-4455; www.outdoors.org/publications; $11.95) is the best single reference for the state.