As far as I’m concerned fall is the best season for traveling in the United States. The air is a little cooler, summer’s crowds have died down and trees are set ablaze in gold, russet and burgundy. Fall also brings forth a host of festivals and seasonal culinary delights. I asked a few of my fellow travel bloggers to share their favorite fall travel destinations in the United States; with destinations from New England to California this list will surely have you packing your scarf and hiking boots to plan your next fall trip.
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Acadia National Park, Maine
Nowhere does fall’s splendor quite as brilliantly as New England . Maine’s Acadia National Park is the crown jewel of the Atlantic coast. Granite peaks transition into dramatic cliffs and rock strewn shores and the trees are a dazzling show of crimson, amber and gold. Climb to the top of Cadillac Mountain to catch the sunrise, these are the first rays to hit the US each morning. Want to break free from the crowds near Bar Harbor? Head to the western side of Somes Sound which is know to locals as “The Quiet Side”; the southern loop of Acadia offers up spectacular hiking with a bit of solitude.
Yours Truly- The Casual Travelist
Fall is a magical time in the Eastern US, but perhaps there’s no place better for fall color than Chattanooga Tennessee. Why? It’s the southern tip of the great eastern deciduous forests before the start of Georgia pines and conveniently accessed by a host of Interstate Highways. It’s also where autumn leaves peak right before Halloween. It’s like you have two holidays in one. Autumn leaves and Halloween are like peanut butter and jelly. They just go together.
Towering above Chattanooga is Lookout Mountain, where it’s rumored that you can see seven states from the summit. There’s no better vantage point to soak in the rolling hills of amber leaves. A thousand feet underneath the mountain, there is a different kind of celebration of color. The 145′ tall Ruby Falls, America’s largest underground waterfall splashed down to a synchronized light show. Ruby Falls also hosts Dread Hollow, a bone-chilling haunt experience. From mountain high to cavern low, Chattanooga knows how to celebrate the season.
Jenn and Ed Coleman -Coleman Concierge
Burlington, Vermont is one of the best destinations in New England, and if you’re looking for fall foliage and a fun city—it’s the ideal fall destination, too.
Burlington is the “largest” city in Vermont, but compared with other urban spots, it is practically a tiny hamlet. Full of arts, nature, craft beer, and all things Vermonty, Burlington has so many things to do. It’s a college town, with UVM right nearby, which means you can expect a town with a lot going on. And set right on the edge of Lake Champlain, the city boasts commanding lake views. There’s lots of beauty here.
In the fall, the views over Lake Champlain are at their best, with the colorful Adirondack Mountains in the distance. The weather is lovely this time of year, and visitors may want to rent bikes and go cycling along the miles-long bike path that fringes the shores of Lake Champlain.
Don’t miss Church street, a pedestrian-only walkway filled with great shops, restaurants, and lively buskers. And of course, the local craft beer (and cider!) is a must. There are countless places downtown to grab a good brew.
Head away from the Lake for some excellent hiking that can be reached within 20 minutes-1 hour away from Burlington. The Green Mountains are one of the most beautiful places to go for a fall hike.
Amy and Nathan Hartle – Two Drifters
White Mountains, New Hampshire
New England is known worldwide for amazing fall foliage. One of our favorite places to experience fall foliage at it’s finest is the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The mountains are the perfect place to highlight the oranges, reds and, yellows with nothing but the blue sky behind those bright trees. With less man-made structures in the White Mountains nature is showcased beautifully. Take a hike on one of the many trails in New Hampshire to get right in with the foliage and if you are inclined above the trees! Another great place in the White Mountains to fully appreciate the autumn leaves is near water, the leaves turn faster at water’s edge so be on the lookout for streams, ponds, and lakes. Be prepared the foliage takes a little longer to turn up north in the White Mountains due to the cooler temperatures. Check local foliage guides to see when peak is for your visits. A tip from us: some of the major routes can be busy with leaf peepers but take a side road and enjoy the foliage without the crowds.
Cathy Merrifield – Nothing but New England
Oak Glen, California
When people think of Southern California images of beaches and awing palm trees come to mind…Not exactly a destination to experience autumn. but just inland there is a community nestled in the foothills of the the San Bernadino Mountains is the amazing and unexpected community of Oak Glen. Whole hill sides are apple orchards and pumpkin patches. What isn’t farmed is riddled with parks and a conservancy full of sunflowers and oak trees to hike around and get lost in.
This Family makes the trek there every year to keep our traditions of picking apples for our homemade apple butter and choose the perfect pumpkin for our front entryway. (Who am I kidding-we usually get four) Oak Glen keeps American history alive throughout with different properties that specialize in bringing the Old West or Colonial time periods to life. There’s even an old schoolhouse made of stone that you can tour from the early 1900’s.
Pumpkins and history aren’t enough to sway you to jump in the car right now? I have two words APPLE CIDER. Seriously!! What’s better than homemade apple cider? (The correct answer, in fall anyway, is nothing) You can watch it be pressed or press it yourself the old fashioned way! There are hard cider varieties as well so truly something for everyone!
Jen Tousey – This Family Blog
Western North Carolina
“Turn right at the stop sign, stay left at the place where there’s kind of a fork in the road, don’t drive off of the winding mountain path for 1-2 miles, turn left at the Christmas tree farm, park along the dirt road, unplug the electric cow fence, climb over the barbed wire, and viola! You’ll be in the high vineyard.” That was the advice given to us by our innkeeper in Banner Elk, a small town set amongst the mountains of western North Carolina, touting itself as the “Ski Capital of the South.”But my husband and I weren’t there for the skiing – we were there for the leaves! “Ooookay,” we responded, unsure of what we were getting ourselves into. But when we reached the high vineyard to soak in the views and the gorgeous 75-degree temperatures just one week before the colors would be blotted out by a blanket of icy snow, our skepticism exploded all over the inside of our practical 4-door sedan. We were celebrating his return from Afghanistan, and viewing the vivid fall colors from atop the secluded mountain was the perfect “Welcome Home.”
From there, the drive to Asheville was visually spectacular. Asheville is rife with affordable B&Bs, and we snagged one within walking distance to town to enjoy the fresh autumn mountain air and spectacular colors – and so we could both partake in those glorious craft cocktails for which foodie towns are famous and make lots of new friends. For romance, restaurants, and maybe a chance rendezvous with fun local swing band, the mountains of western North Carolina will forever remain, in my mind, a top fall travel destination.
Katie Gard – Domestiphobia
Estes Park, Colorado
While there are plenty of fun activities all year round in Estes Park, Colorado it is especially unique to visit in the fall. September through October is mating season for elk, so you are just about guaranteed to see a few of these majestic animals roaming around town. In fact, locals even refer to the month of October as “Elktober”! In honor of the season and to educate visitors about the elk, Estes Park holds an annual Elk Fest celebration. It was certainly a different type of fest than I have ever been to before, but it’s one that is worth attending! They have Native American music, elk-inspired arts and crafts, dancing and storytelling, self-guided elk tours, a craft beer garden, and more! During this season you’ll also notice the very distinct sound of elk bugling, whether it’s from the actual elk or just the people participating in the Elk Fest Bugling Competition. Between the elk and the beautiful fall colors with the Rocky Mountains backdrop, I don’t think you can go wrong with Estes Park as your fall travel destination!
Marissa Sutera- Little Things Travel
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, straddling the line dividing North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains is the most popular of all the US National Parks, attracting around 9 millions visitors each year. The park’s gorgeous mountain landscapes deserve every bit of attention they get and boast a diverse array of wildlife species, including Deer, around 1,600 Black Bears, and lots of birds. But the most noteworthy animal you can see in the park is its ever-expanding herd of Elk. These huge herbivores once roamed these hills in the thousands, but they were killed off by hunters in the 1700s. There are now more than 150 in the park thanks to a reintroduction program started in 2001, and Cataloochee Valley (which is surrounded by stunning 6000-foot mountains) is the perfect place to see them. Autumn (especially October) is the best time to visit, because the herd’s males will be in full rut and the leaves will be reaching their jaw-dropping crescendo of color. Helpful park volunteers will gladly tell you all about these animals, including where the herd was spotted last. But we found a number of them on our own while wandering along a lovely hiking trail next to a popular trout-fishing stream. The trail also takes you past several historic buildings, including a 19th century schoolhouse, barn, and a home that visitors are welcome to explore.
Bret Love & Mary Gabbett – Green Global Travel
Shenandoah Valley, Virgina
The Shenandoah Valley, which follows the Shenandoah River through western Virginia and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, has always been my favorite fall destination. There are dozens of charming little towns with events and festivals to attend, wineries showcasing some of Virginia’s best wines and picnic spots, and Blue Ridge Mountain trails to hike, but best of all is the fall foliage. From September into November, the abundant leaves on the maples, sumacs, hickories and ashes that prevail in the valley put on a spectacular show of colors.
Meandering along Skyline Drive is the perfect way to see the vibrant colors of the leaves. The drive extends for 105 miles north to south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. If you pull off at some of the overlooks along Skyline Drive, you’ll see varying degrees of brilliant reds, oranges and yellows as the leaves change at different times along the stretch. The valley runs at a much slower pace than the nearby bustling cities, so it’s a good place to retreat for relaxation and quiet, especially in the fall when the year starts to slow down and melt into winter.
Laura Lynch of Savored Journeys
Chicago is such a great city to visit in the fall. There’s a lot to see and do and it’s very easy to get around. I love walk-able cities, and Chicago is definitely one of those. It also has great parks, where during this time of year, you can see the leaves changing color. I would recommend walking through Millennium Park to see the beautiful colors of the foliage. I would also recommend visiting the Navy Pier to visit its many attractions and to get a great view of the downtown skyline. Remember to bring a jacket though! They don’t call it the “Windy City” for nothing.
Vicky Sosa of Buddy the Traveling Monkey
Yellowstone National Park
If you are looking for the perfect fall getaway, look no further than the oldest national park in USA – Yellowstone. From amazing hydrothermal activity to breathtaking canyons, Yellowstone has it all. Of course a trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t be the same without heading off the beaten path and experiencing some of the finest hiking trails, with stunning scenery and landscapes surrounding you.Old Faithful may be the most popular geyser but we would encourage you to checkout alternative hot springs and geysers such as Steamboat and Beehive. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is spectacular with Upper and Lower Falls providing epic adrenalin rushes if you are adventurous enough to hike to the bottom of each. Still not convinced? Don’t worry, the myriad of wildlife and impromptu face-to-face encounters with bison, bears, elk among others will surely convince you that a trip to Yellowstone should be added to your upcoming travel plans.Whether you want to camp inside the park or perhaps stay in Old Faithful lodge (if you choose this option, be sure to plan well in advance as it fills pretty quickly) there is always the option to stay outside in nearby towns such as West Yellowstone, Wyoming and Big Sky, Montana. The fall season is the perfect time to visit Yellowstone as temperatures are a little cooler than the heart of summer yet there is still enough light in the day to maximize your time here.
Chris and Heather Boothman of A Brit and a Southerner
San Francisco, California
The best time to visit San Francisco is the fall. It is our Indian summer and between the warm, mild weather, the activities and the food, you are going to need more than a few days to enjoy it.Many of San Francisco’s “villages” such as Castro and Potrero Hill, hold their annual festivals where you can experience the amazing diversity of the city’s neighborhoods. There are major film festivals in San Francisco and a huge music festival in Treasure Island (which we kind of consider as part of SF). But the biggest party of them all is Fleet Week. It is something to see, with ship visits, air and boat shows and lots of events along San Francisco’s waterfront. Oyster season begins just before autumn starts and goes through the winter, so do not miss out on $1 oyster happy hours that are all over the city. Early November marks the start of Dungeness crab season and plenty of restaurants show off their unique crab dishes through the new year. The best way to sample our famous crab is to get the equally famous Ciopinno and there is no better place to try than San Francisco’s oldest restaurant, Tadich Grill.The kids are back in school, baseball season is nearly over and the holidays season hasn’t quite started yet, the perfect time to check out one of the U.S.’s most iconic cities!
Andi Fisher of Misadventures with Andi
Do you have a favorite fall travel destination? I’d love to hear about it, please share with me in the comments!