5 Top Reasons to Travel to the West Coast in the Fall

There are plenty of reasons to travel to the West Coast in the fall. Fresh hop beer, huckleberry picking, Seahawks football, and, to a much lesser extent, San Francisco 49ers football, all could have made our list. But these are the best of the best. The top reasons to hop off your couch, don your best fleece, and let the leaves crunch beneath your feet!

Salmon Runs on the Olympic Peninsula

Beginning in September, Pacific salmon leave the ocean and return to rivers to swim furiously up stream, spawn, and die. It’s a selfless act that extends benefits beyond their new offspring. Nutrients are limited in mountain ecosystems, and like shimmering bags of fertilizer, the salmon leave nitrogen and other important elements in their wake. In fact, bears will typically eat just the head and roe of the salmon, discarding the carcass to feed fungi and enrich surrounding plants and trees.

While many rivers in Washington are teeming with determined salmon through mid-November, they can be difficult to spot without a good vantage point. The Sol Duc River on the Olympic Peninsula is one prime locale to watch the race unfold. Along their route up the river, salmon are forced to fling themselves up an intense waterfall at the aptly-named “Salmon Cascades”. Scurry down the rocks and see if you can snap a photo while they’re mid-air!

 

Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth faced an uncertain future after its logging industry was decimated by a change in the rail line. And in response to the adversity, the town went in a bold new direction. The village remade itself in the likeness of a German alpine community, complete with bier gardens, sausage shops, and even a nutcracker museum. Strolling along the quaint main street, encircled by the Cascade Mountains, you may have to blink to remind yourself you’re not in Bavaria.

Leavenworth is at its most German during the three weekends of Oktoberfest. The streets close down and the lederhosen come out as revelers stuff themselves with sauerkraut and mugs of beer. There are also four entertainment stages where polka bands oompah the crowds through traditional dances and rousing sing-a-longs. If you tire of marzens and dunkels, head to Icicle Brewing Company. Their Dark Persuasion beer is probably the only German Chocolate Cake Ale we’ve ever seen.

 

Oktoberfest in Leavenworth by Parker Knight
Oktoberfest by Parker Knight via FLICKR

Fall Foliage in Oregon

The Northeast gets all the attention but “leaf peepers” are missing out on the brilliant displays of the Pacific Northwest. Oregon sports some of the best colors and there’s even a Fall Foliage Hotline (800-547-5445) and blog dedicated to tracking their progress.

Take in the changing seasons with a bike or drive along the Cottage Grove Covered Bridges route. This 30-mile loop through rural Oregon showcases a burst of pigments as you ride through historical covered bridges built in the early-to-mid 1900s. The yellows, oranges, and reds of the leaves pop against the backdrop of evergreen forests, meadows, and lakes in this quiet setting.

 

Covered Bridge on McKenzie River by Sally Via FLICKR
Covered Bridge on McKenzie River by Sally via FLICKR

 

Monarch Butterfly Migration on the Central California Coast

Delicate monarchs flutter up to 900 miles to winter and mate along the central California Coast. The migration begins mid-October, and the butterflies hunker down in eucalyptus and pine trees until after they’ve procreated in late February. But like Southern Californians, they’re not crazy about the cold. In fact, temperatures below 57°F render monarchs unable to fly. Visiting the coast in late-October or November, when the average temperatures are slightly higher than the winter months, gives you a better chance of seeing them hover in a fall-like flurry of orange and black.

Just outside of Monterey, the town of Pacific Grove is known as “Butterfly Town, USA.” Migrate over to its Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary to pay your respects to the regal insects. Alternatively, head further south to Pismo Beach, which typically attracts the largest colonies and plenty of sun.

 

Photo of Monarch Butterflies by Allan Hack via FLICKR
Monarch Butterflies by Allan Hack via FLICKR

 

Harvest Time in Sonoma County

The golden palettes of fall are all the sweeter when they yield velvety red wines. Lucky for us then, that autumn means harvest time on the West Coast. First, wine makers pluck bins upon bins of grapes off the vines. Then the grapes are crushed into smithereens, a sacrifice to the wine gods. Finally, they’re left to ferment with the promise of a future vintage.

Don’t wait years for those grapes to end up as a finished product. The Sonoma County Harvest Fair has 300+ wines ready for the drinking. And if you want to work off those liquid calories, you can enter the grape stomp competition to get your feet moving!

Sonoma Wine Country

Contact us to plan your travel to the West Coast in the Fall! And get 20% on all small-group tours from Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, departing from Sep 15 – Oct 31.