Smell that? Pumpkin spice is in the air!
Not literally, of course, unless the Starbucks syrup factory is on fire. But indeed, autumn-flavored lattes will soon be rolling out, which means just one thing: After a long and sweaty summer, it’s finally time to get your outdoorsy on.
You could head outta town to connect with nature, but that often requires a car. A tent. Gas money.
Instead, we here at Wanderu sought to find the very best cities — big, easy-to-get-to urban areas with free and/or cheap outside activities — where you can truly immerse yourself in fall. Using a very scientific Methodology, these rankings are based on aggregate data for each of the 50 most populous cities in the U.S., including:
- the number, quality and acreage of each city’s parks,
- the number of urban hikes per capita,
- the number of bike rental locations per capita,
- the average volume of rainfall in autumn,
- and the average fall temperature in relation to 55 degrees (what we deem “sweater weather”).
So when nature calls, you best listen: Here are the top 25 cities for autumn outdoor activities.
Sorry, SF: While Cali is well-represented across the board, it’s The Town across the Bay (no, not Sausalito) that takes top honors.
For a city of its size, Oakland is rich with affordable outdoor activities — in fact, it has more hikes within its city limits than any other in this study. And despite laying claim to the Splash Brothers (🏀🗑️💦), the total precipitation in autumn averages just 1.5 inches, making Oakland a beautiful, balanced destination.
Long Beach lounges at #2, thanks largely to its well-kept parks and easy access to bicycles, on which you can ride around said parks. Because really, what’s better than a bike path with an ocean view? (The answer is a train ride with an ocean view, but that’s a different article.)
Rounding out the top three is The Mile High City. It should come as no surprise that hikes and bikes are plentiful in D-Town, but did you know that Denver sees less than an inch of average autumn rainfall? As the saying goes, “I like my men how I like my fall outdoors cities: crisp, active, and with minimal precipitation.” (Our fact checker informs us this is not an actual saying.)
The Best Fall Outdoors Cities by Region
Gazing at the top 25 scattered across the U.S. can be a bit overwhelming. Besides, there’s a good chance you’re stranded nowhere near a top-ranking city. Don’t you deserve to enjoy fall in your own (literal) neck of the woods?
For that reason, we broke down our rankings into regions, featuring the top five from each:
See how your own locale holds up by clicking one of the links above.
(Side note: For even more region-specific travel recos, check out our analysis of the cheapest cities for concert tickets in the U.S.)
The Northeast’s heavy hitters are all here, with Washington, D.C., leading the way. Thank the District’s incredibly lush and well-cared-for parks system (you haven’t truly done D.C. till you see foliage on the Mall), or maybe its fall-perfect climate, sitting pretty at 57.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beantown slides into second position because, if you haven’t biked around Boston Common among the turning trees, have you ever really experienced fall at all? 🍂🤔
The only representative from Florida, Tampa, stands second in the Southeast.
Sure, carving a pumpkin while sipping cider on a 75-degree beach sounds a bit dissonant at first. But Tampa’s leaves change in late November, and by then the humidity has backed off enough to truly enjoy a Florida hike or bike ride. (Cap the day with a drink — Tampa is the #3 cheapest drinking city in the entire U.S.)
Meanwhile, the ATL stands strong at #1 in this region, earning a high ranking for it’s comfortable temps and perfect parks. (We hear Piedmont Park is the place to be for pristine views of the city skyline.)
One caution in planning travel throughout the Southeast: The average rainfall is high this time of year, so keep an eye on the doppler and, if need be, pack your poncho.
To illustrate what a wonderful place Minneapolis makes for an autumn expedition, we ask that you close your eyes.
Picture yourself in a fleece pullover on a brisk, sunny day, hoofing it through the woodlands near a Twin Cities lake. If that visual doesn’t put the taste of fall in your mouth (which, contrary to popular belief, is maple), then you might as well skip the season altogether.
An alternative, just 5 hours east, Milwaukee matches Minneapolis in hikes and bikes, with a warmer average temperature.
Colorado’s two biggest cities deserve a shout out in the Southwest, sure. But let’s take a moment to acknowledge the autumnal underdog that is Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Most don’t think desert when they think fall. (Though they might think dessert. 🥧) But sagebrush wears autumn well, rain is rare, and the mesa cools to a comfortable 57 degrees.
We’re not the only ones who recognize Albuquerque’s full fall potential. Every October, the city hosts the largest hot-air balloon festival in the world: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
The West Coast
The California love is clear in this region: Oakland, Long Beach and San Francisco all do autumn right. With weather and outdoor opportunities in their favor, you just can’t go wrong. (Point in fact: To make the most of SF’s cycle scene, study up on our Ultimate Guide to Biking San Francisco.)
But don’t sleep on Portland or Seattle either. Yeah, the rain is real, but so are the ideal fall temperatures and the plethora of parks. Bike them, hike them, or simply sit back and enjoy them with a craft brew in hand. 🍻
The Best Fall Outdoors Cities by Category
It’s that time of year when pasty city-dwellers peer out from their air-conditioned apartments and — if they don’t see their shadow sizzling on the sidewalk — officially put on a cardigan, marking the first day of autumn. (OK, we may be confusing this with a different holiday.)
The factors that make up a “good” city for outdoors activities fall (pun intended) into two overarching categories: climate (temperature and precipitation) and activities (parks, hikes, bike rentals). Below, we take a deep dive into individual sub-categories and the rankings for each.
Cities With the Best Parkscore
|1. Washington, D.C.||83.8|
|2. Minneapolis, MN||81.8|
|3. Portland, OR||79.7|
|4. San Francisco, CA||79|
|5. New York, NY||76|
|6. Chicago, IL||75.4|
|7. Seattle, WA||73.4|
|8. Boston, MA||71.4|
|9. San Diego, CA||68.6|
|10. Long Beach, CA||67|
Every year, the Trust for Public Land ranks the 100 largest U.S. cities based on things like the quality, accessibility, amenities and funding of their local parks system. The not-for-profit’s grades on these individual factors come together to form each city’s “Parkscore.”
Like Stacy’s mom, D.C. and Minneapolis have got it goin’ on — that much we’ve already established. 🔥
But let’s take a moment to call out Portland, Oregon. According to tpl.org, Portland has 325 total parks, 89% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and the Rose City ranks in the 99th percentile when it comes to dog parks. That means instead of kenneling her, Chewbarka can come along on your outdoors excursion.
Cities With the Most Urban Hikes
|City||# of Urban Hikes|
|1. Oakland, CA||11|
|2. Long Beach, CA||8|
|2. Denver, CO||8|
|4. San Jose, CA||7|
|4. Los Angeles, CA||7|
|6. Seattle, WA||6|
|6. Colorado Springs, CO||6|
|8. San Francisco||5|
|8. Portland, OR||5|
|8. Washington, D.C.||5|
- For final rankings, we calculated the total per capita to determine which cities had the most hikes in relation to their total population.
Sure, seeking out a backwoods hike can be a grand adventure, but sometimes a terrific tromp can be found in your own metropolitan backyard. (Bonus: You don’t have to waste time driving out to BFE. 🙅♂️🚗)
The places that headline this chart have multiple hiking trails within or just beyond their city limits, some offering spectacular views of the skyline. 🌇 We’ve already waxed poetic on the top three (coincidentally, they’re our top three cities overall), but San Jose and Los Angeles also deserve major attention.
Cities With the Most Bike Rental Locations
|City||# of Bike Rental Locations|
|1. Los Angeles, CA||80|
|2. New York, NY||74|
|3. San Diego, CA||46|
|4. San Francisco, CA||40|
|5. Long Beach, CA||32|
|5. Baltimore, MD||32|
|7. Oakland, CA||30|
|8. Denver, CO||29|
|9. Seattle, WA||28|
|10. Phoenix, AZ||24|
- For final rankings, we calculated the total per capita to determine which cities had the most bike rentals in relation to their total population.
Freddie Mercury wanted to ride his bicycle (Bicycle! Bicycle!), and so should you.
Pedaling through the streets with an autumn breeze in your face is the absolute best way to experience a city. (Sure, you may get helmet hair, but we promise that alfalfa is worth it.) Better than a walking tour, you can cover more territory on two wheels. And unlike a bus tour, you’re actually immersed in the elements, with the freedom to divert down a park path or pop into a café.
No surprise that New York and L.A. rank first for most bike rental locations, but sunny San Diego is a surprise at #3, outpacing San Francisco. Another underdog, Baltimore shines with bikes aplenty to ride the Inner Harbor.
Cities With the Lowest Avg. Rainfall in Autumn
|City||Avg. Precipitation in Fall|
|1. Las Vegas, NV||0.29 inches|
|2. San Diego, CA||0.58 inches|
|3. Long Beach, CA||0.60 inches|
|4. Phoenix, AZ||0.63 inches|
|5. Fresno, CA||0.72 inches|
|6. Los Angeles, CA||0.84 inches|
|6. Mesa, AZ||0.84 inches|
|8. Denver, CO||0.85 inches|
|8. El Paso, TX||0.85 inches|
|10. Albuquerque, NM||0.88 inches|
Rain on your wedding day may be ironic, but rain on your vacation just plain sucks. As a general rule, leaf peeping is far more fun when you’re not caught in a downpour. That’s why we tallied the average precipitation in the 50 largest U.S. cities through September, October and November, and included it as a key factor in our overall rankings.
To dry out this fall, consider destinations in the southern half of the U.S. (Except for Florida, where sudden storms may leave you soaked and sulking.) Spots in Arizona — Phoenix and Mesa — deserve a specific shout out, where orange and auburn foliage blend beautifully with the sandstone.
Cities With the Best Fall Temperature
|City||Avg. Fall Temp Vs. 55°F|
|1. Columbus, OH||54.83°F|
|1. Indianapolis, IN||55.17°F|
|3. Portland, OR||55.33°F|
|4. Boston, MA||54.33°F|
|5. Chicago, IL||53.83°F|
|6. Seattle, WA||53.33°F|
|7. Albuquerque, NM||57.33°F|
|8. Washington, D.C.||57.50°F|
|9. New York, NY||57.83°F|
|10. Philadelphia, PA||58.00°F|
|10. Kansas City, MO||58.00°F|
Instead of giving the most weight to the warmest cities in September, October and November, we ranked this category by those with an average temperature closest to 55 degrees Fahrenheit — what The Weather Channel defines as “sweater weather.”
Why? Well, no one wants to sweat their facepaint off on Halloween. Besides, after the hottest summer on record (reminder that bus and train are the most eco-friendly way to travel), a little cool autumn air comes as a relief.
To that end, major props to the Midwest: Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis, Indiana, are deliciously refreshing this time of year.
City-to-City With Wanderu
Whether you have a foliage fetish or just like the crunch of leaves beneath your feet, our rankings provide droves of potential destinations for you to fall (👀) into.
Live in L.A.? Escape for a few hours with a cheap bus ticket to Long Beach, or a weekend in San Diego. In the Northeast, Washington, D.C. is a very affordable skip and jump from both New York City and Philly. And don’t discount Minneapolis, where an autumn expedition from Chicago is well within reach.
Whatever region you reside in, the cheap travel opportunities are endless with Wanderu. Compare routes, schedules and prices on bus and train fares across the country, and book your tickets on a single platform without paying a premium. Just download the Wanderu app or visit Wanderu.com to start your search.
We analyzed the following categories to determine the Best Cities for Fall Outdoors Activities:
- Number, quality and acreage of parks systems
- Number of urban hikes per capita
- Number of bike rental locations per capita
- Average precipitation in autumn
- Average fall temperature in relation to 55 degrees
- For population, we pulled the 50 most populous cities in the U.S. from the 2019 World Population Review based on recent U.S. census estimates.
- For the number, quality and acreage of each city’s parks system, we used the Parkscore Index from The Trust for Public Land.
- For the number of urban hikes, we pulled the total number of “Hiking” locations on Yelp within each city. With that number, we calculated the total per capita to determine which cities had the most hikes in relation to their total population.
- For number of bike rental locations, we pulled the total number of “Bike Rentals” on Yelp within each city. With that number, we calculated the total per capita to determine which cities had the most bike rentals in relation to their total population.
- For average precipitation in autumn, we analyzed U.S. Climate Data, calculating the total average rainfall in September, October and November for each city.
- For the average fall temperature, we analyzed U.S. Climate Data, calculating the total average temperature in September, October and November for each city. We then ranked those temperatures by proximity to 55 degrees, what The Weather Channel defines as “sweater weather.”
- Finally, we normalized each category, combining the numbers into an overall score for each of the 50 cities.
You are welcome to use the information and graphics on this page, crediting Wanderu. If you do so, please link back to this page, so that autumn aficionados around the world can see all the data and find out how we came up with the rankings.