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Contrary to what your Instagram feed may lead you to believe, you don’t actually have to leave the country for an awe-inducing vacation. And while summer may be the most popular time to travel, we’d argue that fall is the best season for planning a trip—especially in the United States. With the cooler, crisper air comes chunky sweaters, hot cider and feelings of nostalgia that have us all wanting to shop for new textbooks and pretend we’re heading back to school.
As the seasons change, travel costs take a dip, crowds start to thin in popular tourist destinations and the fall foliage makes any location more beautiful. Whether you’re looking for a classic fall family weekend of apple picking, cider donuts and hayrides, or a cozy, romantic destination to curl up by the fire, this list of the best fall vacations in the U.S. has you covered.
Best Destinations for Unparalleled Leaf-Watching
City people flock to these destinations for leaf-watching and fresh air.
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Located in Pennsylvania, the Pocono Mountains are known for their beautiful lakes, valleys and forested peaks that *literally* light up in the fall. Head to the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania to visit the Delaware Water Gap and surround yourself with gorgeous, cascading falls and the most breathtaking views. For peak colors, visit in mid-to-late-October.
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With fewer crowds and incredible foliage, fall is the absolute best time to visit Acadia, Maine. If you’re feeling adventurous, hike the popular Beehive Loop trail, which leads you up a bit of a rock scramble that is well worth it for the panoramic views you will get at the top. Once you’re finished taking in the jaw dropping scenery, you can explore Bar Harbor’s downtown area, stop in local coffee shops and treat yourself to a well-deserved lobster roll (trust us, it’s basically a requirement while in Maine).
As the heat dies down, Maryland’s Eastern Shore becomes a magical and vibrant travel destination, with all the crimson, gold and yellow leaves you can imagine. Come for the foliage but stay for the cozy vibes and rich history. You can also take a trip to the Chesapeake Wine Trail to taste local wines and take part in one of the many seasonal events.
For an entire town that looks like a postcard, plan a fall trip to Woodstock, Vermont. Not only is the foliage unmatched, but you’ll feel like you stepped back in time when you stroll through historic Woodstock Village, the most charming neighborhood in downtown Woodstock. While you’re down there, pop into any of the local country shops, restaurants and cafes. Woodstock is home to some beautiful farms, too. Play a round of pumpkin bowling at Billings Farm, sample local cheeses at Sugarbush Farm or head to a local orchard to pick your own apples.
Best for Hiking and Adventuring
Sedona is breathtaking any time of year, but the fall colors and cooler temperatures take this prime hiking and adventuring destination to a whole other level. There are hikes and trails for all experience levels and desires, but we recommend heading to one of the famous Sedona vortexes for an experience you can’t get anywhere else. If you want to get off your feet, there are a ton of scenic drives with views that are just as great. You can even sign up for a Sedona Pink Jeep tour for an off-road adventure to the most popular Sedona sites.
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With fewer tourists and your pick of trails, Yosemite is the perfect destination to visit in the fall. October in particular has spectacular hiking conditions and more options for accommodations. Most of the trees are evergreen and won’t change color, but if you do visit in October you’ll likely catch some glimpse of fall colors on the neighboring trees. Colors aside, Yosemite is a must-visit.
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- Getting There: Fly into Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE)
- Why We Recommend It: Mountains, ideal weather, excellent hiking
- Where to Stay: Viceroy Snowmass (from $271/night), W Aspen (from $649/night), Limelight Hotel (from $314/night)
For a mountainous vacation that does have plenty of fall foliage, plan a trip to Aspen, Colorado, where you can take in the vivid colors, snowcapped mountains and cooler temperatures, while taking advantage of thinner crowds and lower costs. Unlike some parts of the Northeast, Aspen’s colors tend to peak in mid-September, so plan for an early fall trip for the most beautiful scenery.
Best For Wine-Lovers
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Peak harvest season (or should we say grape stomping season), colorful fall foliage and a plethora of vineyards and festivals make Napa Valley a must-visit destination in the fall months, particularly for wine enthusiasts. Harvest season runs from late August to late October, but the beautiful fall colors tend to last through November. And most importantly, the wine never runs out.
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The North Fork of Long Island is a wine-lover’s dream, and harvest season alone is enough reason to plan a trip this fall. But even if you’re traveling with children—or not everyone in your group is a wino—there are a ton of activities for everyone enjoy. You can head to an orchard or farm for your classic apple picking, pumpkin picking or, of course, cider donuts. Visit in late September or October for peak foliage, and make sure to take in a sunset on the beach while you’re there.
Destinations That Are Way Less Crowded in the Fall
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If you want to avoid sweltering heat and heavy crowds, do *not* go to the Grand Canyon in the Summer. June, July and August bring extreme heat and a ton of tourists, and in September, monsoon season means heavy rainfall and less-than-ideal hiking conditions. For the most enjoyable trip, visit in the fall months when kids have gone back to school, crowds are much lighter and the air is a bit cooler. The hiking conditions are perfect in the fall, but keep in mind you will want to stick to the South Rim trails as the North Rim closes in mid-October.
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The Redwoods are always breathtaking, but doubly so in September, when you’ll find ideal temperatures and fewer people. You’ll want to pack some light layers, but that’s one of the best parts of the fall season, right? Rainy season begins in October, so this one is best for an early fall trip when you can skip the crowds and take advantage of the temperatures in the 60s to 70s. The redwoods don’t change colors, but the surrounding trees do, which makes for some seriously beautiful scenery.
Destinations That Are Perfect for Families (& Literally Everyone)
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When it comes to picking a family-friendly vacation destination, you need to find a place with a lot to do. In the fall, that means apple picking, pumpkin patches, hayrides, leaf-watching and all the seasonal fall foods. New Paltz checks every one of these boxes, plus it has the quintessential small-town feel, crisp fall weather and endless trails for hiking and adventuring. Stay at Mohonk Mountain House for an extra special treat and the most spectacular views, take a picnic basket to Minnewaska State Park and don’t sleep on the apple cider donuts from Wallkill View Farm, where you’ll also find a corn maze, hayrides and a pick-your-own pumpkin patch.
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Orlando in the summer is going to be a no for us. Orlando in the fall? Sign us (and the whole family) up. Fall in Orlando is still warm enough to enjoy full days at the pool, but not so hot that you’ll be dripping sweat waiting in line for the newest ride at Disney. There will still be crowds, but they will be much more manageable, and you’ll be way less uncomfortable. There’s something for everyone at Disney, and fall brings a whole extra slew of activities like haunted houses, horror nights and more.
Best Scenic Drives for When You Don’t Want to Get Out of the Car
There are a number of scenic drives in Salt Lake City that will give you a front row seat to jaw dropping fall colors without needing to break a sweat. But if you do decide to get out of the car, the weather is ideal in the fall, the trails (and the whole city) are significantly less crowded and you can get great deals on hotel rooms. One must-experience drive is the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway, which is packed with vibrant colors, waterfalls, canyons and even some wildlife. There are plenty of hiking trails, too, in case the scenery brings out your adventurous side.
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Also known as the M-22 Color Tour, this popular drive through Michigan’s Benzie and Leelanau counties is home to some of the most stunning fall views you’ll ever see. The road runs for more than 100 miles from Traverse City to Northport, but any portion of it will give you an extreme dose of fall foliage. There are plenty of stops you can make along the way, whether you’re in the mood for some hot chocolate, a fall-inspired snack or for a full afternoon of apple picking and activities at one of the many Michigan farms.
Best Cities to Visit in the Fall
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We’re likely to include NYC on any travel list, but there’s something about New York City in the fall that just hits differently. After months of summer, the air finally loses its heaviness and gains the perfect level of crispness that has us all reaching for a pumpkin spice latte. You might be surprised by the amount of fall colors you can find in New York City, and there’s obviously no shortage of things to do. Stroll through Central Park, go on a walking food tour in downtown Manhattan, head to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens or visit during late October and check out the famous Halloween decorations on West 69th street on the Upper West Side.
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- Getting There: Fly into O’Hare International Airport (ORD) or Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)
- Why We Recommend It: Walkable, excellent cultural scene, laid-back vibe
- Where to Stay: The Drake (from $146/night), Waldorf Astoria Chicago (from $411/night), Viceroy Chicago (from $340/night)
We know Chicagoans live for the summer months, but don’t miss out on fall in Chicago either. It may be brief, but it makes the winter months worth it. The weather can be hit or miss, but visit during September or October and you’re bound to get at least one beautiful fall day. The city is walkable, making it perfect for a quick weekend getaway without a car. Immerse yourself in Chicago culture with a visit to one of the many museums or galleries or by hopping on the famous architecture boat tour. After a long day of walking, indulge in a deep-dish pizza or some of the best Italian food you’ll ever have at Monteverde in the West Loop. If you do have a car, there are a ton of great fall activities in neighboring suburbs, too.
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For a city full of outdoor farmers markets, gardens, museums, breweries and, yes, coffee houses, head to Seattle. The fall brings sunny skies, perfect crisp temperatures and minimal rain, making it perfect for a weekend of exploring. Check out a local brewery for the best selection of pumpkin beer or take in the fall colors at the Japanese Gardens or Washington Park Arboretum. If you’re a sports fan (or even if you’re not), catch a Seahawks game for another classic fall pastime.
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Spend a fall weekend in San Francisco and enjoy days filled with farmer’s markets, street fairs and football games. Fall is also the best time of year to cross the Golden Gate Bridge off your bucket list, since the fog—and the crowds—has cleared. From beaches to parks to an annual Greek food festival, you’ll have no shortage of things.
Destinations with Fall Festivals That Are Straight Out of an Episode of Gilmore Girls
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- Getting There: Fly into Charleston International Airport (CHS)
- Why We Recommend It: Romantic vibes, fall festivals, walkable
- Where to Stay: The Spectator Hotel (from $322/night), The Dewberry Charleston (from $314/night), Emeline (from $256/night)
While it doesn’t have the same fall foliage as some of the other destinations on this list, Charleston is full of charm, and there’s a slight crispness to the air that makes it perfect for a fall weekend trip. Most importantly, the fall festivals will give you all the cozy feels. You may be eating southern BBQ instead of cider donuts, but if you’re craving a traditional fall experience, you can join a pub tour or take your own walking tour, and you’re bound to fall in love with this city.
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You might have an idea that New Mexico is known for its red and green chiles, but did you know fall is actually chile roasting season? You’ll find green roasted chiles on the menu at nearly every local restaurant in the fall, and *trust us* they are delicious. Aside from the excellent food scene, the fall festivals in Albuquerque are giving major Gilmore Girls vibes—notably, the largest hot air balloon festival in the world, where thousands of balloons of all shapes and sizes lift into flight for all to watch.
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Speaking of festivals in New Mexico, Santa Fe is home to a ton of fall activities, including the Wine & Chile Fiesta in September, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Weekend Celebration in October and plenty more. The weather is great and there are activities for everyone to enjoy, whether you’re a foodie, an art-lover, an outdoor adventurer or you just want to spend a weekend relaxing.
Best for a Romantic Fall Getaway
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If you want a romantic fall weekend with your partner, look no further than Savannah, where the weather is perfect, the crowds are lighter and the Southern charm cannot be beat. Stroll through the Victorian District or the Starland Districts, take in the sights and pop into some of the local shops, galleries and incredible restaurants. Pick up some food and lounge in Forsyth Park for a picnic or dine at the famous (and oh-so-romantic) Old Pink House.
The Most Charming & Historic Fall Vacation Destinations
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Locals love Boston in the fall for its cooler (but not yet frigid) temps, beautiful colors, lighter crowds and quintessential fall activities, like cider donuts, football games and brewery tours. Book a trip this fall and experience the rich history and charm Boston has to offer. The weather is perfect for strolling the Freedom Trail or the Boston Public Garden or meandering down the cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill with a cup of hot cider in your favorite chunky sweater.
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While we’re on the subject of history and charm, Williamsburg, Virginia needs to be on the top of your travel list this fall. Known as the largest living history museum in the U.S., Colonial Williamsburg is the highlight of this city, which is also home to the historic College of William & Mary, Freedom Park and the Williamsburg Tasting Trail, with a selection of breweries, wineries and distilleries. In the fall, you can join in on the fun at any of the many festivals, market days and spooky shows or haunted houses around Halloween.
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- Getting There: 40-minute drive from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
- Why We Recommend It: Excellent cultural scene, laid-back vibe, historic
- Where to Stay: Hawthorne Hotel (from $193/night), The Coach House (from $322/night), The Merchant (from $519/night)
Speaking of spooky vibes, head to Salem, Massachusetts and immerse yourself in all that this witchy town has to offer. Best known as the site of the Salem Witch Trials, Salem commemorates this history with museums, events and tours—especially during Halloween season. If you’re a fan of all things spooky, Salem is a must-visit. Bonus points for fall foliage, too.
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Yes, Sleepy Hollow is a real place. TBD on whether it’s *actually* haunted, though, but you can plan a visit to the charming town this fall and find out for yourself. Don your favorite fall boots and scarf and spend your days strolling through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery or visiting the Lighthouse or Philipsburg Manor. No matter how you spend your time, you’ll definitely feel all the spooky fall energy.
Vacation Spots to Extend Your Summer
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There’s never a bad time for a warm-weather vacation, and fall in Scottsdale is perfect for days at the pool, hiking or outdoor dining. There are also a ton of festivals and farmer’s markets this time of year, and you’ll have no trouble filling your time.
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If you’re looking for straight-up beach vacation, Key West is the spot for you this fall. The weather is still warmer than it is in the rest of the U.S., but cool enough that you can spend your full day outside without getting uncomfortable. This is the ultimate fall relaxation getaway for couples or families.
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Want equal parts beach and adventure? There’s no better place for that than Kauai. Fall is shoulder season (the time between peak travel seasons), so you’ll catch fewer crowds and better deals but won’t be stuck in all-day rainstorms. Enjoy the fresh island food, lounge on one of the beautiful beaches or take an ATV tour to let your adventurous side shine. You’re not going to be leaf-watching or eating cider donuts, but you will have an amazing vacation nonetheless.
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It’s no secret people flock to Montauk in the summer—but the true traveler hack is visiting in the fall, when the crowds begin to thin but the weather is still optimal. Beach lovers and wellness fanatics alike will love the array of activities, such as fitness classes, shopping, public and private beaches, and hiking trails. Drink beer at the Montauk Brewing Company, plan a self-care day at Gurney’s Spa, or visit the Montauk Lighthouse. However you spend your time, Montauk is the perfect relaxing getaway with plenty of fall foliage to enjoy.