If your idea of heaven is an open trail (instead of spas and shopping), nothing is more romantic than Yosemite in the fall. This trip is a great choice for those on a tight budget.
First, snag a campsite at Camp 4, beneath Yosemite Falls. One of few campgrounds open year-round, and a walk-in to boot, Camp 4 is often populated with other outdoors enthusiasts. A hike up the Mist Trail and along Panorama Trail to Glacier Point will help you break a sweat and take in the views of the valley. In the evening, consider splurging on a drink at the Ahwahnee, but don’t forget to take a night walk through the El Capitan Meadow after the stars have come out and everyone else has retreated indoors.
The next day, hit the Tioga Pass. The scenery is spectacular and you’ll likely have the space to yourself, as few visitors make it outside the valley. Picnic at Tuolumne Meadows, take a short hike out to the grove of giant sequoias, and then press on to Mono Lake. Oddly enough, the alkaline water, giant tuffas, bone dry air, and perfect serenity of the place is a potent reminder of the strange beauty of this world.