Your friends here at Kelty HQ loooove us some shoulder season. That’s the term travel buffs use to describe off-peak times, when the weather and/or adventuring conditions may not be QUITE as ideal—but when modest crowds and lower prices offer a pretty sweet trade-off.
But even though the late fall through early winter is OUR favorite time to live that #roadielife, we realize that there are as many kinds of road trip as there are varieties of traveler! So we’ve decided to try our hand at travel matchmaking, with four fantastic fall road trips curated for a few types we know and love…plus our expert suggestions for road trip gear to bring along.
1. The Stargazer
While our native Colorado is no slouch in the star department, Utah boasts an impressive nine International Dark Sky Parks, making it the most stellar state in the union…literally. What’s more, the Beehive State’s unique (and uniquely colorful) topography means that there’s no shortage of things to see and do during the daytime, either—making it the perfect area for fall/winter road trips with stargazing as the goal.
Of course, Moab is a worthy destination in its own right! But for our purposes, it’s merely a gateway to the glory of the night skies—Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park are all within easy reach, each offering a wealth of starry-eyed surprises. Hit them all if you can, but if you have to choose just one, make it Dead Horse Park. Rangers are often on hand with telescopes and interpretive talks, and you can’t beat the location: a wide-open plateau overlooking the Colorado River as it snakes along below.
Next, take your trip south to Natural Bridges National Monument, the first (and one might argue, the best) International Dark Sky Park out there. Make sure you have plenty of daylight for the not-to-be-missed scenic drive, which is nine miles of pure, painted-desert bliss—then assume your position on the Owachomo Bridge for unparalleled celestial views.
The final stop on your fall road trip is Bryce Canyon National Park, where the ranger-led astronomy program will give you a new appreciation for the Milky Way. Trust us when we say that the eponymous galaxy is nothing but an idea until you see it spread out before you!
ROAD TRIP GEAR TIP: You’ll definitely want a stellar seat for hanging out under the banner of heaven. Be sure to bring along a couple of Mesh Lowdown Chairs on your road trip—they don’t take up much room, and the low profile and relaxed geometry are ideal for this pursuit. Planning to sleep under the stars? The desert is chilly this time of year, so be prepared (and perfectly on theme) with a customer favorite: the Cosmic Down 0.
2. The Powderhound
You don’t have to tell *US* that November/December is on the early side for pre-season powder—particularly when Colorado is having the warmest November in recent memory. That’s why we’re headed for Canada’s legendary Powder Highway. You definitely won’t get peak conditions, but even a “bad day” at most of these mountains can still be a Best Day Ever.
The FULL fall/winter road trip itinerary will give you at least two weeks to experience some of Canada’s most iconic ski resorts: Red Mountain, Whitewater, Fernie, Kimberley, Panorama, Kicking Horse and Revelstoke. We’re covering the first half, which should take about a week. Hot tip, though: regardless of which version you choose, this Canadian fall road trip won’t break the bank—at least not in comparison to a similar adventure stateside! All resorts on the Powder Highway are about 40% less than their American counterparts, both for lift tickets and lodging, and together they get an average of about 33 feet of snow per year. Not bad.
From Spokane, you’ll take US 395 to Red Mountain, enjoying panoramic views of the Kootenay Rockies for most of the journey. There’s a lot here to write home about, but the resort’s primary claim to fame is its comprehensive snowcat service—and unlike most, the Big Red Cats can accommodate intermediate skiers as well as advanced. If you’ve been waiting to blast those quads on untracked backcountry powder, this is the place to do it.
From Red Mountain, you’ll head up Route 22 to Whitewater Ski Resort, just outside Nelson, B.C.—recently voted one of North America’s Best Ski Towns by National Geographic. You’ll definitely need your fatties here to make the most of the resort’s laid-back, out-of-bounds vibes. Next up is Kimberley Alpine Resort, where British Columbia’s best tree skiing beckons. Blast through the Black Forest by day, then retire to town for authentic Bavarian fare!
ROAD TRIP GEAR TIP: In the car and especially in the ‘cat, it’s never a bad idea to have a Bestie Blanket! You’ll be driving through the highest of the high country, and it’s nice to have an impromptu extra layer for unexpected vista points. You’ll also want some extra cargo space on the mountain, so bring along our Sunny hip pack for five liters of layers and snacks.
3. The Supersoaker
So, maybe Colorado’s powder isn’t quite up to snuff in November and December. It’s fine…we’re FINE. Because guess what is totally amazing every day of the year, and extra awesome this time of year? Natural hot springs—and we’re proud to be home to quite a few. What’s more, the handy Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop covers 720 miles of the state’s steamiest geothermal features, passing a whopping 19 unique hot springs facilities offering everything from vapor caves to hot pots and, happily, a variety of on-site spa services.
Pandemic regulations being what they are, we strongly suggest you do a little of your own research on this one, as treatments (and indeed worldwide conditions) are subject to change. But we polled our in-house hedonists, and these are the treatments that rose to the top!
Don’t miss the San Juan Essential at the Springs Resort & Spa in Pagosa Springs, which blends moist hot-packs with organic essential oils and natural pain-relieving gel to erase any evidence of that fourteener summit. We are obsessed with the Southwestern Yucca Root Wrap at Cottonwood Hot Springs in Buena Vista—a wonderful way to soothe your shoulders after long hours in the car. And the Watsu (water shiatsu) at Strawberry Park in Steamboat Springs is 50 minutes of buoyant bliss; you’ll enjoy a gentle massage while submerged in a private warm-water pool. It just may be the pinnacle of your fall road trip in Colorado!
ROAD TRIP GEAR TIP: Our Folding Cooler not only keeps track of your snacks—it provides extra cup holders for you co-pilots who might be double-fisting caffeine and adult bevvies.
4. The Chowhound
We’ve all got at least one friend that has to be snoozed this time of year for their tiresome “fall cleanse” or “holiday detox” posts. We cannot stress this enough: those friends are not invited on our final fall road trip recommendation. That’s because we’re taking our appetites on the road—and leaving the rules behind—with a foodie’s tour of Pacific Coast Highway.
The fun thing about coastal California (well, one of ‘em) is that the weather supports road-tripping and car-camping year-round. If you truly want to let your belly drive the bus on this savory sojourn—which you absolutely should—we’d recommend leaving your accommodations up to Hipcamp or another last-minute, off-the-beaten-path app. That way, when some unexpected delicacy calls, you can pull a Ross and PIVOT! The only real consideration is to ensure that your five-star meals are preceded by lodging with showers.
Heading north from Los Angeles to San Francisco, here are some our favorite spots:
TOPANGA CANYON: Froggy’s Topanga Fish Market. Friendly hippie-ish vibes and a fresh-caught menu have made this funky eatery a canyon staple for decades.
SANTA BARBARA: The Andersen’s Bakery. This small, cozy blends traditional Danish pastries and cuisine with an airy “only-in-California” ambiance that is every bit as delicious as the food.
MORRO BAY: Taco Temple. Born a few miles north in the sleepy surf town of Cayucos, this humble shack is indeed a house of worship. Prepare to accept their carnitas as your savior.
CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA: La Bicyclette. Like milk & honey, this oh-so-French eatery puts a Golden State spin on classic European cuisine—a feast for the eyes as well as the tummy!
BIG SUR: Post Ranch Inn. A once-in-a-lifetime meal with an unforgettable view—enjoy five-star cuisine with panoramic view of the blue Pacific, shimmering 12,000 feet below.
SAN FRANCISCO: The Slanted Door. Arrive early for your meal—you’ll want to explore the Ferry Building before having your socks knocked off by world-famous neo-Vietnamese fare.
ROAD TRIP GEAR TIP: If you’ve got a roof box, you’d be surprised at how quickly our Tru.Comfort Doublewide sleeping bag can turn your car into a sleeping pod. Having this option takes ALL the stress out of on-the-fly planning, so you can feel free to stay an extra night when there’s a spot that deserves a second meal…then sleep it off WHEREVER.
Stay tuned for more roadie life tips, with great gear to help you hit the road in style—and be sure to follow @keltybuilt for all kinds of cool road trip content. See you out there!