Fun Fall Activities Across the National Marine Sanctuary System

Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Kate Thompson/NOAA.

As the days grow shorter and summer nears its end, many of us might be envisioning sweaters, hot cocoa, and changing leaves. However, fall can be the best time of year to enjoy some of what America’s National Marine Sanctuary System has to offer. Here are some of our recommendations for fantastic fall activities: 


Photo: NOAA

Exploring tidepools in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. As temperatures cool off and lying on the beach becomes less enjoyable, you can still enjoy being near the waters of Washington State – but in a different way. Easily observed by beach walkers during low tides, intertidal areas of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuaries provide the opportunity to see some of the wondrous creatures that call the sanctuary home up close. Timing is the key to really enjoyable tidepooling and makes the activity that much more rewarding. Animals you can see in tide pools include anemones, sea stars, sand dollars, mollusks and more. If you do choose to explore the ocean through tide pools, please remember your tide pool etiquette


Photo: Kendra Chan

Camping near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Keep your summer going as the cooler but still enjoyably warm weather, calmer winds, and favorable seas make early fall the perfect time of year for kayaking, snorkeling, and diving – especially as underwater visibility can be as clear as 100 feet or more. The conditions are also perfect for camping and enjoying breathtaking views of the Santa Barbara coast from the Channel Islands. A ferry takes you to and from the islands and you can experience the rich island ecosystems on foot before setting up camp and enjoying some quiet time in nature. 


Photo: Kayla Do Couto/NOAA

Hiking near Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. In Southern Maryland, the end of summer means relief from high heat and humidity. The cooler weather and drier air provide the perfect opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary, the newest site in the National Marine Sanctuary System, on a hiking trip. Tour the area on a sign-guided tour or forge your own path. Whether you’re interested in seeing the largest single collection of historic shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere or the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s diverse wildlife like birds, turtles, and beavers, there is something for everyone to see when hiking the trails near this national treasure.


Photo: NOAA/WCNE under NOAA Fisheries permit #605-1904

Watching whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Off the coast of Massachusetts, humpback whales gather to take advantage of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary’s productive waters. The migrating whales begin to arrive in April and stay until October. The end of the summer season is a great time to see these whales and learn about their behavior and ecology as they feed and prepare for their long voyage to the Dominican Republic where they spend the winter. Just a short ride from Boston, there are plenty of whale watching tour operators that offer excursions to the sanctuary to see whales, dolphins, sea birds, and other marine life.