The weather experts say that today should be the last day of 2012's Indian summer.
Although that means the end of some outdoor activities, it also heralds the beginning of a season that offers a variety of other great outdoor pursuits.
Local fall colors should be brilliant within just a few days. Fall is the perfect time to enjoy walking or riding Merced's Bear Creek bikeway, especially the section between McKee Road and R Street.
From the end of November through February, tens of thousands of waterfowl and birds inhabit the Merced and San Luis National Wildlife Refuges. You can explore these vast parklands on hiking trails and auto tour routes. Tule elk can be seen at the San Luis Refuge and the new visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. With frequent morning fog, late afternoon and evening can often be the best time for observation.
November through April is the best time to enjoy hiking trails on the floor of the San Joaquin Valley and in the adjacent foothills. Expect cool and crisp days in the fall, damp and cloudy days in the winter, and wildflowers in the spring. As long as it hasn't rained for a couple of days, most trails can be hiked during the winter.
Wear layered clothing and bring a waterproof jacket or poncho in case the weather changes.
Local foothill and San Joaquin Valley trails include:
New Melones Reservoir: Peoria Mountain and Table Mountain
Lake Don Pedro: Shoreline Trail
San Luis Reservoir: Lone Oak Trail
Pacheco State Park: Spike's Peak
Eastman Lake: Lakeview Trail
Hensley Lake: Buck Ridge Trail
Great Valley Grasslands: Grasslands Loop
San Luis National Wildlife Refuge: Souza, Winton, and Chester Trails
Merced National Wildlife Refuge: Kestrel, Meadowlark, and Bittern Marsh Trails
Most trails along the coast also are open and enjoyable during the fall, winter, and spring. Most campgrounds throughout the valley, Sierra foothills, Coast Range, and central coast are open and enjoyable as long as you have plenty of firewood, warm clothes, and warm bedding. California's desert parklands -- Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks, Mojave National Preserve, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park -- are also best enjoyed in the cooler months.
As soon as we have a major snowfall, downhill skiing can be enjoyed at:
Dodge Ridge (along Highway 108)
Badger Pass (Yosemite)
Bear Valley (Highway 4)
China Peak (Highway 168)
With a pair of snowshoes, you can learn to hike in the snow.
Although this is the fastest-growing winter sport in the United States, you still will find solitude on most trails. Some of the easiest trails can be found around local ski resorts, in Yosemite National Park, and at Lake Tahoe. Snowshoes can be rented at local downhill ski resorts, REI in Fresno and Stockton, Herb Bauer Sporting Goods in Fresno, and at Badger Pass and Curry Village in Yosemite National Park.
They sell new for $100 to $200. All snowshoes are adjustable and can be fitted to just about any size of waterproof boots.
Ice skating is offered in Yosemite Valley and at the Long Barn Ice Rink in Long Barn (Highway 108).
Although many natural lakes and rivers close to fishing during the winter months, most reservoirs remain open. These include McSwain, McClure, Don Pedro, San Luis, O'Neill Forebay, Eastman, Hensley, and New Melones. The Merced River also is open between the east end of Lake McClure and Yosemite National Park. Check with the California Department of Fish and game for current rules and regulations: www.dfg.ca.gov.
The winter can also be a great time for getting out on a road trip. If you don't mind cold and wet weather, you may get the chance to see California landscapes in beautiful ways you've never seen them before -- without the crowds. I've had great trips all the way up the coast to Crescent City and down to San Diego in the cool months. You can head out to the desert or even up to Mt. Shasta and the Cascade Range of northeastern California. Most paved highways are open, though all or part of highways 4, 89, 108, 120, 158, 168, and 180 are closed through the winter.
Check current conditions at www.caltrans.ca.gov.
Adam Blauert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.