There’s no other season quite like fall in all its cozy, pumpkin-filled glory. But with the COVID-19 pandemic still very much a thing right now, does that mean you have to miss out on the autumnal goodness this year?
Not at all, says Hsuan Hsuan Dai, a mental health therapist at Hall Health Center on the University of Washington campus. In fact, she reasons, it’s more important than ever to keep up your fall traditions.
“Maintaining some level of normalcy can be essential when we’ve experienced so much loss, distress and fear of not knowing,” Dai explains. “Practicing traditions gives us a sense of purpose and meaning. It reminds us of things within our control and helps us find a sense of stability and familiarity.”
So with that in mind, break out your comfiest sweater, put on that mask and prepare to get your gourd on with these physically distanced fall activities.
Drive or hike to see autumn leaves
Washington may be the land of evergreen trees, but deciduous ones get their turn to shine, too. As the seasons shift, leaves trade their various shades of green for reds, oranges and yellows to make for one colorful autumnal display.
If you have access to a car, a safe way to take in the fall foliage is from the road.
Favorite leaf-viewing drives include coastline-hugging Chuckanut Drive (State Route 11) between Burlington and Bellingham as well as the North Cascades Scenic Highway (State Route 20) from Burlington to Twisp.
From late September through late October, both scenic byways offer mountainous vistas and ample views of maples, aspen and alders in full color.
Prefer to soak up the season on a hike? Trek Mount Rainier National Park’s Skyline Trail to see the subalpine meadows awash in lupine, vine maples and huckleberry. Or stick closer to Seattle, where you can stroll through Washington Park Arboretum to spot Japanese maples, witch hazels, oaks and sorrel trees showcasing the best of autumn.
“When we engage with our external environment — whether it’s by going for a walk, exercising or birdwatching — it takes us away from focusing on ourselves,” Dai says. “We can practice staying present in the moment and focus on other things instead of our stressors.”
Wherever you go, just be sure to wear your mask for those times you need to navigate parking lots, public restrooms, crowded walking paths and other areas where you might get close to other people.
Visit a U-pick farm
While certain seasonal traditions will be different this year due to COVID-19, there are still ways you can have fun on the farm this fall.
Many local farms are still inviting visitors in for corn mazes, pumpkin patches and apple picking.
Before you go, check the farm’s website or call to ask what safety measures they’re enforcing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There should be mask requirements, one-way foot traffic — yes, even in the pumpkin patch — and plenty of places to wash or sanitize your hands. If the farm doesn’t have these things in place, skip it and visit one that does.
While you’re there, be sure to clean your hands frequently and keep your distance from other groups. And, yes, you may be outside enjoying that sweater weather the entire time, but you still need to wear a mask.
“There’s a lot of unknown, which naturally provokes fear,” Dai says. “ Try to be realistic and set expectations low. Now we are living under circumstances that have altered our lives in order to keep others and ourselves safe.”
Participate in a remote race
Fall is typically prime time for fun runs and marathons, but alas, tightly packed groups of runners may be a no-go this year.
For that reason, many race organizers are transforming their in-person events into virtual ones. All you have to do is register for a race online, run the set distance on your favorite local route and log your final time at the end.
A few local events include the American Heart Association’s Heart and Stroke Walk (October 10) and Seattle Marathon (November 29).
You can even make your remote race a group affair by inviting your friends to register, too. That way you can train together, compare how you’re all doing and celebrate — virtually, of course — when you each cross the finish line.
“Being outside and exercising produces serotonin and endorphins in our brain, which are chemicals that can be helpful for stabilizing mood and relieving stress and pain,” Dai notes.
Throw a virtual tailgate party
While many college athletics have canceled or postponed their fall seasons, some professional sports leagues are continuing on without fans in the stands, like professional football.
If you and your fellow 12s are missing the game-day experience this year, try instead to recreate the atmosphere virtually.
“Socializing with friends helps us connect with one and other, which cultivates a sense of belonging,” Dai explains. “If we reach out to our community and make caring and compassionate gestures, not only do we cultivate intentional connections, we can also feel happier and more resilient by doing so.”
To do some virtual tailgating, organize a watch party for you and your football buddies. You can each cook up your favorite tailgate foods and catch up on pre-game coverage together.
Sure, it’s not exactly the same as grilling outside CenturyLink Field or Husky Stadium, but it’s a small way for you to participate in this seasonal tradition together.
Plan a fall-themed cooking challenge
If you found your way into the sourdough-baking, Dalgona coffee-making club this pandemic, this next fall activity is for you.
Invite others to make a fall-inspired dish using a special seasonal ingredient, like pumpkin or squash, then have a virtual dinner party. Or you can take turns picking a recipe and making it together in your own kitchens.
Whatever you do, this lets you enjoy some quality time with loved ones and can help you relax with a favorite activity, too.
Watch a scary movie
If cooking isn’t quite your thing, how about a good old scream? While indoor haunted houses and movie theaters are closed due to COVID-19, you can still enjoy a scary movie night.
Drive-in theaters are one option for a physically distanced way to enjoy a terrifyingly good time, especially around Halloween.
But you can also make it an opportunity to hang out with friends by coordinating virtual scary movie nights. Take turns picking a horror flick each weekend and then watch the movie together from the comfort of your own couches.
With enough popcorn — and more than a few sweaty palms — it may help you get one step closer to feeling like good old times.