25 Spots for a Cheap Fall Weekend Getaway
Low gas prices and a lineup of holiday weekends scattered throughout the fall provide the perfect excuse for a quick getaway. There's no better time to take advantage of reduced rates on lodging while checking out the profusion of fall festivals, partaking in cool-weather activities, and gazing at the visual delights of a changing landscape. Some destinations are romantic, and some are family-oriented, but all offer welcome break before the onset of winter.
Nothing says fall quite like pumpkins. And Johnson's Giant Pumpkin Farm in Saginaw, Michigan, features a day's worth of inexpensive fall-themed fun. Parking and admission are free, as are most of the activities, including the petting zoo and trebuchet, which lofts pumpkins weighing up to 80 pounds high into the air. Others come with minimal fees: $5 for a horse ride, $2 for a child's ride on the barrel train, $1 for the soybean maze. The priciest is the 13-acre corn maze, which costs $6 a person and is free for kids under 4. Take a pumpkin home -- prices range from 50 cents to $20 -- and cook up a storm or carve a funny face. The farm and festivities are open Sept. 9 through Oct. 31.
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 -- especially the moonshine runs. During Prohibition, 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 Oct. 27-29 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. 3-12.
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 $35 or $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, AR
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. 14-16. All the music is free, except the Saturday night show, which costs $55 for an adult ticket. The town also hosts the Ozark Folk Festival, which runs Nov. 2-4. This is the festival's 70th year, and it's the longest continuously running folk extravaganza in the nation.
Beech Mountain, NC
This resort town in the Blue Ridge Mountains is big on romance. Couples can take advantage of a $169 hike and wine package, which includes two nights of lodging for two, a wine tasting for two at a nearby winery, maps to more than 30 miles of hiking trails, and two passes to the town's recreation center. Fall is especially beautiful as the leaves change colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many of the trails have panoramic views of the North Carolina high country. Plenty of restaurants and ample nightlife add to Beech Mountain's appeal.
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. Atop the museum sits the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, which was brought to the U.S. from England stone by stone in the mid-1960s. The town is just 25 minutes from the state capital, Jefferson City, and 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 Country Fair in Maine offers a tasty and colorful diversion. It runs Sept. 22-24 and draws about 60,000 visitors. Admission is $15 for adults at the gate or $10 in advance, with discounts for those 65 and older; children 12 and under enter for free. For those who want to forgo a hotel, there are several campsites and guesthouses located near the fairgrounds.
Richmond, Indiana, is an antique-lover's dream -- there's a reason the area 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. One of the routes features 36 different stores and the other passes by 29. The area is also home to an Amish community, and there's an Amish market in nearby Fountain City.
Hampshire County, MA
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 $10 for cars with out-of-state plates. Weekend road warriors with a taste for culture could visit Amherst, the home of poet Emily Dickinson. The area also lays claim to a vibrant art scene with exhibits and museums.
Glendale, Wisconsin, is home to the oldest Oktoberfest in the Midwest. It's just minutes from downtown Milwaukee, and Lake Michigan isn't far. Festival entertainment includes brass bands, folk dancing, and yodeling, and there's no shortage of authentic German food. This year the event runs Sept. 8-9, 15-16, 22-23, Sept. 29-30, and Oct. 6-7.
West Portsmouth, OH
Venture into the thick forests, rolling hills, and farmland of the 63,000-acre region that brings together Shawnee State Forest and Shawnee State Park, better known as Ohio's Little Smokies. Spectacular fall colors set the scene for scoping out wild turkeys and forest songbirds. Forty-two miles of trails make an ideal setting for quiet strolls together. A romance package at the Shawnee Lodge & Conference Center, which includes a lodge room, bottle of champagne, and two souvenir glasses, starts at $130 a night.
Park City, UT
Park City is best known as a ski destination, but visitors in the fall will find no shortage of activities. Hikers and mountain bikers have more than 400 miles to explore, with some resorts providing lift service for those who prefer to go only down the mountain. Zip lining gives thrill seekers a chance to fly a hundred feet in the air at speeds of about 40 mph. Affordable accommodations are easy to find in the off-season. The Canyons Grand Summit Hotel, for example, offers room rates from $162 a night for a late-September weekend stay.
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. They were seeking an isolated place to practice and live their beliefs, and they maintained a self-sufficient communal lifestyle until the 1930s. Now, tourists visit the town for its historic charm, restaurants, and craft shops. There are several festivals throughout the year, including Oktoberfest from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. Lodging is available at nearby bed and breakfasts, hotels, campgrounds, and RV parks.
New Ulm, MN
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. New Ulm also knows how to celebrate, laying claim to several festivals throughout the year. 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 Oct. 6-7 and 13-14.
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.
Avoid the crowds swarming through the national parks and escape into the scenic mountains of Umatilla National Forest. For prices ranging between $40 and $100 a night, 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.
The crowds leave this scenic beach town on Long Island soon after Labor Day, and quiet returns. The weather's still plenty warm enough to sail, bike, and winery hop at the popular Channing Daughters Winery, Wölffer Estate Vineyards, and more. Enjoy a romantic dinner of Southern-inspired cuisine at the Montauk Yacht Club Resort & Marina, or at one of the legendary local eateries.
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 to drive through -- Klamath, Shrine, and Chandelier -- with a small fee attached to each for the thrill of doing so. 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 shops in the small towns.
Plan a foodie road trip in the Phoenix area with a tour of the Queen Creek Olive Mill, which features a market and eatery, or Hayden Flour Mills, where visitors can take pasta-making and bread-baking classes. Schnepf Farms, Arizona's largest peach grower, hosts an annual Pumpkin and Chili Party in October. Sample local ice cream and cheese at Superstition Dairy Farms. Mesa, Arizona, may not be as desirable a destination as neighboring Phoenix or Scottsdale, but budget-minded folk will find more affordable accommodations and the same easy access to area attractions.
Bar Harbor, ME
Imagine lobster dinners paired with fine wines, coastal fall foliage views, and luxurious hotels for less. Rates in Bar Harbor drop nearly $100 a night when fall begins, and restaurant options range from lobster shacks to fine dining. Drive along Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park, bike the carriage roads, or hike to the summit of a mountain or along the ocean. To get closer still to the water, kayak or canoe on Frenchman Bay. A week pass into Acadia National Park costs $25 a vehicle, and bike rentals run about $25 a day at Acadia Bike or Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop.
Allegheny Mountains, WV
John Denver described West Virginia as "almost heaven," so why not put Canaan Valley State Park Resort on the bucket list? The bed and breakfast package for two is $128 a night Sunday through Thursday ($148 a night on Friday and Saturday) and includes access to the fitness center and pool. A scenic chairlift at the ski area ($7) takes visitors to an elevation of 4,280 feet in a region with more than 200 species of birds and other wildlife, including turkeys, black bears, and deer. Visitors can golf or hike through the wilderness areas of the park. Seek out the nearby towns of Thomas and Davis for galleries, shops, and restaurants with live music.
Gulf Coast, MS
On the Gulf Coast, take a sunset sail with North Star Sailing Charters through the Mississippi Sound, which is home to the highest concentration of bottlenose dolphins in the U.S. Or take a more active approach and kayak or paddleboard through the waterways. Enjoy a massage at one of several spas in the area and further stimulate your senses by taking in the art at numerous museums. Popular places to stay include Bay Town Inn in Bay St. Louis, Hard Rock Biloxi, and the Inn at Ocean Springs.
Prince William County, VA
Couples can reconnect and reignite that romantic spark while walking the quaint downtown main streets of Manassas, which feature wineries, breweries, and an annual fall festival. Situated 30 miles west of Washington, the city is best known as the home of Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of two Civil War battles. Plan a picnic at the Winery at La Grange or check out historic Occoquan, which hosts more than 60 shops and restaurants. Several area bed and breakfasts provide reasonably priced accommodations.
Pismo Beach, CA
Situated between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the California coast, the little town of Pismo Beach is just right for a seaside rendezvous. The beaches, downtown wine tasting rooms, seafood galore, and laidback locals make for a chill vibe and a pleasant stay for any couple. Explore the coastline, paddleboard, kiteboard, or kayak. Just be sure to watch the sunset on the 1,370-foot-long Pismo Beach Pier.