LOVE IT AND LEAF IT
Between the brilliant autumn foliage on display, intriguing festivals, and restaurants serving up creations culled from seasonal harvests, fall is a wonderful time to squeeze in a weekend getaway — and doesn't have to cost a fortune. With insight from travel industry leaders at GoSeek, Travelzoo, and more, as well as our own research, we found enough appealing places across the country that there's likely to be one within driving distance. Some destinations are romantic and some are family-oriented, but all offer welcome break before the onset of winter, with low prices as of late August.
Ideal for those who love history and the outdoors, Williamsburg has free activities including hiking the Greensprings Interpretive Trail, biking the 52-mile Virginia Capital Trail, and visiting the York County Historical Museum, which features 400 years of artifacts. Self-guided tours of the College of William and Mary (the second-oldest in the country and Thomas Jefferson's alma mater) are free. The Best Western Historic Area offers a Colonial Williamsburg getaway with rates starting at $99 a night.
SNOW MOUNTAIN RANCH, COLORADO
Fall fest weekends at the ranch feature hayrides, leaf-peeping hikes, campfires (with s'mores), and square dancing. There's also hiking, mountain biking, zip lining, and archery. Nearly all activities are free with the cost of lodging. Yurt rentals at the ranch start at $179 a night and can sleep up to six people.
TAOS, NEW MEXICO
Stunning Taos offers arts and outdoor activities amid a backdrop of multicolored aspens. Hiking toward the 13,161-foot summit of Wheeler Peak via the Bull of the Woods or Williams Lake trails shows the beauty of the mountains and occasional wildlife. The free Taos Arts Festival showcases performance, installation, and projection art among historic adobe buildings. Rooms at the Sagebrush Inn & Suites, a historic landmark opened in 1931, start at $90.
Ohiopyle, in the Youghiogheny River Valley of the Alleghenies just an hour southeast of Pittsburgh, is an outdoor paradise with camping, whitewater rafting, biking on rail trails, and hiking. Yurts within Ohiopyle State Park — Pennsylvania's largest — rent for $35 and up per night. Log cabins that sleep five are also available at Benner's Meadow Run starting at $189 a night.
THE CATSKILLS, NEW YORK
Autumn in the Catskills is legendary, says Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie. The region is bursting with fall festivals, harvest events, and antiquing. Drive winding roadways through mountain towns and river valleys, following the historic routes of the Hudson River to the four-weekend Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest, which is free and features a variety of beers and food. Rooms at the Inn at Lake Joseph, which dates back to the 1890s, start at around $215 a night, including breakfast.
WHITE MOUNTAINS, NEW HAMPSHIRE
The 100-mile White Mountains Trail passes through a 800,000-acre national forest and past many of the region's attractions, including Windy Ridge Orchard, where you can pick blueberries and 18 types of apples, sample wine, and pet farm animals. Rooms at the charming Woodwards Resort & Inn in Lincoln, New Hampshire, start at $115 a night online but may be lower if booked through the resort.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is renowned for its diversity of plants and animals — and is free. Autumn leaf season is several weeks long and makes for good hiking, including on kid-friendly trails. The Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail is an eight-mile loop of shops, galleries, and cafes dating back to 1937. Rooms downtown at Greystone's Lodge on the River average $120 nightly and include breakfast.
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA
Columbia is an ideal base for exploring fall festivals, parks, and more. The free Palmetto Peanut Boil and Irmo Okra Strut both attract thousands with food (including an okra eating contest), live music, rides, and kids' entertainment. Skip the crowds at Congaree National Park with peak foliage viewing in October and November. The Baymont Inn & Suites offers rooms for about $90 a night, including breakfast.
Plymouth is associated with the first Pilgrim settlement and first Thanksgiving, so there's no better time to visit. Plimoth Plantation ($28 for adults, $16 for children) is a living history museum that brings the story of Thanksgiving to life. Every September and October brings King Richard's Faire, showcasing medieval life and entertainment such as acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, and minstrels, to nearby Carver. Rooms at By the Sea Bed & Breakfast, the only private home overlooking Plymouth Harbor, start at $150 a night.
COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK
Best known for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown also offers arts, culture, and culinary offerings in the heart of apple country. In addition to pick-your-own apples and leaf-peeping, Cooperstown village hosts the Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmers' Museum, one of the oldest U.S. rural life museums. The Cooper Inn's "Fall for the Inn Special" includes 30 percent discounts off standard room rates, bringing the nightly cost to $149.
In addition to being home to the famous battlefield, Gettysburg has thousands of acres of apple orchards, dozens of farm markets, and an emerging hard apple cider scene. The first two weekends in October, Gettysburg hosts the National Apple Harvest Festival ($10 for adults, free for children 12 and under), with apple butter, apple pancakes, apple jelly, even apple pizza. There are also tractor rides through orchards and vendors selling crafts. Rooms at the Raphael Inn Bed & Breakfast start at $149 a night.
Kentucky's vast expanses of forest are a spectacular place to view the fiery colors of fall. Lexington has horse farms, a burgeoning culinary scene, and famous sites including the Mary Todd Lincoln House, the childhood home of Abraham Lincoln's wife ($12 for adults, $5 for children), and Ashland, the 19th-century mansion built by politician Henry Clay. The Campbell House Inn, which recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation, has rooms for about $119 a night.
Alpharetta hosts festivals including a European Market, Scarecrow Harvest (when downtown is lined by more than 120 scarecrows), and Alpharetta Brew Moon Fest. It is also home to numerous music and entertainment venues, including the 12,000-seat Verizon Amphitheater, which hosts the Grammy-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from April through November, and during the day there's crow-cornhole to play, along with hayrides. Rooms at the Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta start at around $85 a night.
BEECH MOUNTAIN, NORTH CAROLINA
The town with the highest elevation east of the Rockies, Beech Mountain offers hiking, mountain biking, and fall foliage along the seven-mile Emerald Outback adventure trail system — and some superior wine tastings. Also not to be missed: sipping a cocktail at the 5506' Skybar, a glass roundhouse named for its location above sea level. The Beech Mountain Visitors Center's $199 Hike & Wine Getaway special includes two nights of lodging and a wine tasting for two through Nov. 12.
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
It may not be Vermont, but there's plenty of stunning foliage amid Texas Hill Country's live music and stellar wine offerings. (The area was named one of the "Ten Best Wine Travel Destinations" by Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2014.) Top locations for leaf peeping include Lost Maples State Natural Area and Garner State Park, recommended by GoSeek CEO Clem Bason. Rooms at the Peach Tree Inn & Suites in Fredericksburg can be had for $89 a night.
IBERIA PARISH, LOUISIANA
Cajun country in September and October hosts a slew of food festivals, including the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival, World Championship Gumbo Cookoff, Lydia Cajun Food Fest, and the Southern Soul Food Showdown. Some are free; others charge a nominal fee for food tickets. Rooms at the Hampton Inn & Suites in New Iberia start at around $89 a night.
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
This city of Gilded Age "summer cottages" built by some of this country's wealthiest families also has simple pleasures, including apple picking, hayrides, and festivals showcasing food, wine, and seafood, such as the Harvest Fair at Norman Bird Sanctuary ($6 for adults, $3 for children). The free Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile path, showcases coastline and century-old mansions. Rooms at the Mainstay Hotel & Conference Center, near the Naval War College Museum, are available for about $79.
CANAAN VALLEY, WEST VIRGINIA
Canaan Valley, 3,200 feet above sea level in West Virginia's Alleghenies, is awash in shades of red, orange, and yellow in autumn. Take it in at Canaan Valley Resort State Park, where there's hiking, biking, geocaching, and golf. A Leaf Peepers Festival includes a parade, craft fair, car show, live music, and golf tournament. Canaan Valley Resort & Conference Center offers a two-night Mountain Getaway with rooms starting at $79, two days of breakfast, and a free chairlift ride.
CHINCOTEAGUE ISLANDS, VIRGINIA
Calling all oyster lovers: Each October these picturesque islands host an Oyster Festival ($45), with the namesake food served every way imaginable. The Gables Victorian Mansion Bed and Breakfast Inn, built by a prosperous fisherman in 1914, offers rooms starting at about $87 a night.
ESTES PARK, COLORADO
Mid-September to the beginning of October is a stunning time in Denver-adjacent Estes Park, GoSeek's Bason says. Events include the free Autumn Gold and Pumpkin and Pilsners festivals and the Whiskey Summit ($50 for tasting tickets). The Blue Door Inn receives rave reviews by TripAdvisor users; rooms start around $77 a night.
Southerners get off the grid in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Clayton. Travelzoo's Saglie recommends a weekend at the Kingwood country club and resort, surrounded by more than 148,600 acres of national forest. Kingwood offers golf, tennis, a luxe European spa, fishing, whitewater rafting, hiking, and fine dining. Rooms start around $119 a night.
Minneapolis offers an artsy autumn escape of fall weekends biking around the city, gallery hopping, and taking in the latest shows. Shows at the Acme Comedy Co. are free every Monday night. Stay at the stylish W Minneapolis — The Foshay, in an iconic 1920s Art Deco building, just minutes from theaters. Rooms start at about $187 a night.
Visitors can immerse themselves in all things Cardinals with a day at Saint Louis Ballpark Village, a dining and entertainment district next to Busch Stadium that includes the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum. For a more outdoorsy experience, Forest Park is a sprawling, 1,300-acre green space considered one of the nation's greatest urban parks — museums and a zoo included. In this sports, culinary, and cultural smorgasbord, accommodation costs are well under the national average. The Central West End Bed & Breakfast offers rooms for around $100 a night.
CAPE MAY, NEW JERSEY
The biggest crowds come in summer, but fall is magical in Cape May, with monarch butterflies descending for a few weeks during their annual migration, shops open along Washington Street, and cool bike rides to Beach Plum Farm, a 62-acre working farm with a market and kitchen featuring more than 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The Star Inn, less than a block from the ocean, has rooms in October starting at $85 a night.
Dawson County is home to the Mountain Moonshine Festival. The fest provides a glimpse into the Prohibition- and Depression-era history of the Georgia foothills — particularly the moonshine runs. Legend has it that men transporting moonshine would drive their cars at top speeds, often racing each other. That heady competition eventually evolved into Nascar racing. Understandably, cars are a big part of the festival. The event runs the fourth weekend in October and includes a parade, a swap meet, live entertainment, and a car show featuring moonshine-hauling and vintage race cars.
As fall arrives in this Northern California coastal town, so do the rains, producing a bumper crop of mushrooms (some of which grow only on the Mendocino Coast). Some believe the mushrooms have amatory qualities, making this an ideal destination for couples. But don't go picking on your own. Go on an edible wild mushroom tour or check out the annual Mendocino Mushroom, Wine, and Beer Festival slated for Nov. 2-11.
Bask in the sun with a golf deal at CasaBlanca Resort. A one-night stay for two and 18 holes of golf for one cost $99. Another $55 (depending on the date) entitles the second person to try out the links. That brings the total cost of lodging and a day of outdoor activity to less than $155.
EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS
For a fun weekend getaway, Arkansas locals recommend Eureka Springs. The central downtown area, full of Victorian buildings and lots of shops, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Jazz lovers should aim to arrive for Jazz Eureka Weekend Sept. 14-15. All the music is free, except the Saturday night show, which costs $30 to $60 for a ticket. The town also hosts the Ozark Folk Festival, which runs Nov. 9-11. It's the longest continuously running folk extravaganza in the nation.
A visit to Fulton, Missouri, combines history and small-town charm. The brick streets of downtown are lined with shops and restaurants. The site of Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain speech, Fulton is home to the National Churchill Museum and a piece of the Berlin Wall. Museum admission is free for children under 5, then ranges from $5.50 to $8.50, depending on age. The town is 90 minutes from Ha Ha Tonka State Park, which features hiking trails and castle ruins.
For those who love organic produce and fall foliage, the Common Ground County Fair in Maine offers a tasty and colorful diversion. It runs Sept. 21-23 and draws about 60,000 visitors. Admission is $15 for adults at the gate or $10 in advance, with discounts for seniors 65 and older; children 12 and under get in free. For those who want to forgo a hotel, there are several campsites and guesthouses located near the fairgrounds.
There's a reason why Richmond is locally known as Antique Alley. The town is the starting point for two antique trails that lead buyers and browsers to different shops in the Wayne County area and into parts of west-central Ohio. Each routes features about 30 different stores. The area is also home to an Amish community, and there's an Amish market in nearby Fountain City.
HAMPSHIRE COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS
Western Massachusetts is known for its fall foliage and outdoor recreation, and a quick getaway to Hampshire County is cheaper than a trip to Boston. There are numerous opportunities for biking, hiking, and kayaking. Mount Tom State Reservation in Holyoke boasts 22 miles of trails and views of the Connecticut Valley, Berkshire Mountains, and Pelham hills. Parking is just $5 for Massachusetts vehicles and $6 for cars with out-of-state plates. Weekend warriors with a taste for culture could visit Amherst, the home of poet Emily Dickinson.
A new arena (home to the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks) just opened downtown, and the first event in the plaza outside will be the city's annual Oktoberfest, held the first weekend in October. Brass bands, folk dancing, and yodeling are among the entertainment, and there's no shortage of authentic German food, including a brat-eating contest.
AMANA COLONIES, IOWA
The seven villages of the Amana Colonies offer a break from the bustle of modern life. This National Historic Landmark was originally settled by German Pietists in 1855. Now, tourists visit the town for its historic charm, restaurants, and craft shops. There are several festivals throughout the year, including Oktoberfest, Oct. 5-7. Lodging is available at nearby bed and breakfasts, hotels, campgrounds, and RV parks.
NEW ULM, MINNESOTA
New Ulm, Minnesota, is known for its German heritage and was dubbed "the most German city in America" according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Along with German restaurants and shops, the town is home to a glockenspiel, a tall bell tower with figurines that make an appearance three times every afternoon. Its Oktoberfest has been ranked among the top 10 in the country by several media outlets, including Condé Nast Traveler. This year, the festivities take place the first two weekends in October.
This Western town located near Bighorn National Forest is home to several historic spots and a lot of outdoor recreation. Historic sites in the area include Connor Battlefield, Fort Phil Kearny, and the Trail End State Historic Site, a mansion that gives visitors a window into the lifestyle of a successful rancher and politician during the early decades of the 20th century. King's Saddlery and Museum is full of cowboy memorabilia, and the Sheridan County Museum gives a history of the area. Get a glimpse of buffalo and elk in the wildlife area next to Kendrick Park.
UMATILLA NATIONAL FOREST, OREGON
Avoid the crowds swarming through the national parks and escape into the scenic mountains of Umatilla National Forest. Visitors can stay in a historic Forest Service cabin or fire lookout, each with a unique story. There are traditional camping opportunities, as well. Along with hiking, biking, and fishing, visitors can enjoy several scenic driving routes. The forest also is home to sites for geocaching and letterboxing.
HUMBOLDT COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
Take a weekend day trip through the Avenue of the Giants a 31-mile stretch of old Highway 101. Winding through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, this part of the road boasts some of California's most magnificent redwoods. There are three trees you can actually drive through (for a small fee). Beyond marveling at the enormous redwoods, there are plenty of things to do along the way. Enjoy a picnic, explore a trail, or visit the small-town shops.