It's a little cooler in late August, and the nights are a little longer. But those final weeks of summer, when most people are packing up and heading back to their normal routines, might be the best part of the whole season. "The days are long, the water is warm; businesses are still open," says Trish Lyman, manager of the Boneyard Surf Shop in Martha's Vineyard.
It's not just the Vineyard. In early September, you can hike the Grand Canyon or mountain-bike in Moab without battling big crowds or risking heat stroke. In Denali National Park, in Alaska, the mosquitoes are all but gone, campsites are readily available, and the tundra explodes in astonishing golds and reds, creating fall foliage that rivals anything in Vermont. And at night, you'll have a chance at catching the aurora borealis. Further south, around Glacier Bay, summer's end is the best time to watch bears and eagles compete for salmon. "The wildlife is just going off like crazy," says Eli Fierer, of Alaska Mountain Guides.
Late summer is also a great time to chase warmer climes. Conventional wisdom, for instance, tells you to avoid the Caribbean during hurricane season, roughly from June to November. Instead, buy some trip insurance and hit, say, Mexico's Mayan Riviera or Belize. Rooms are cheap and plentiful, and the vibe is way more chill than it will be in a few months. While the rest of the world is at work, you'll be sitting on an empty beach, staring at the impossibly blue water, drinking a beer.... Now that's what we call a perfect way to savor the last days of a perfect summer.