Fall. For many, the word conjures up images of colorful leaves, pumpkin patches, and sipping hot apple cider while wearing sweaters and boots.
But fall means different things in different parts of the country. Whether it’s trick-or-treating on the beach, paddling in a huge hollowed-out gourd, or going on a haunted pub crawl, each of the 10 vacation destinations below have their own unique spin on what it means to celebrate fall.
In most destinations, fall is the best time to travel as it means fewer tourists, lower prices, and cooler temperatures in some of your favorite vacation destinations. So if you’re ready to go, check out the best fall destinations below. Some you may have considered before, but others may surprise you.
Related Read: Where to View the Best Fall Foliage in New England
1. Flagstaff, Arizona
Why you should go: Peep fall colors by day and constellations by night in this Dark Sky Community.
Surrounded by national forests, monuments, and parks, Flagstaff is the ideal location to soak up all things fall in Northern Arizona. Mild weather and smaller crowds mixed with the changing colors make fall the perfect time to day trip to the nearby Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest national parks, as well as the Wupatki National Monument, which offers guided ranger hikes through ancient pueblo sites and past petroglyphs. Closer to town, hop on the chairlift at the Arizona Snowbowl for impressive views of the contrast between the golden aspens and evergreen fir trees below.
Did you know Flagstaff was the first community to earn a dark sky designation? Ever? To celebrate, the city throws the annual Flagstaff Star Party, a weekend where the public can enjoy astronomy talks, guided tours of the night sky, and have access to telescopes hosted by local astronomers. Do everything you can to visit during that weekend.
Related Read: 7 Spectacular Places to See Arizona’s Fall Colors
2. Portland, Maine
Why you should go: Lobster rolls, breaching whales, and stunning fall foliage as a backdrop.
Portland (Maine, not Oregon), has everything you could want from a fall vacation. Trees lining the Portland Harbor show off brilliant hues of crimson, burnt orange, and golden yellow, and you can spend your days enjoying the sweeping views of the fall foliage and ocean by climbing to the top of the Portland Observatory. Or perhaps you’d rather grab a coffee to go an immerse yourself in a canopy of color on a morning stroll along the Eastern Promenade, a tree-lined waterfront trail.
Later that day, continue your leaf-peeping adventures just north of town at the state’s oldest operating lighthouse, the Portland Head Light. It’s one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country and has nearby hiking trails, a small beach, a children’s garden, and epic views of the Atlantic Ocean. Oh, and a heads up: most wildlife tours in the area run through mid-October, so be sure to take a boat ride to see the whales before they migrate south. It’s mostly humpbacks in the area, but you also are likely to see sharks, dolphins, and turtles.
In fall, Portland showcases the best of its culinary delights at the Harvest on the Harbor festival. You’ll enjoy dishes from local eateries and farmers as well as drinks from local breweries and distilleries. You can also sign up for gin tastings and coffee-mixing classes, and be sure to make an evening reservation to get your fill of fresh seafood with multi-course, lobster-heavy meals.
3. Sun Valley, Idaho
Why you should go: Experience an ol’ fashioned roundup and autumn in the beautiful Wild West.
Have you ever considered attending the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain? If so, Sun Valley has a much less dangerous and probably closer-to-home option for you: the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. Herders drive local sheep from their mountainous summer grounds south to their winter desert home. And it just happens to pass through Ketchum’s main street. People line the street to witness the 1,500 sheep parading down the main drag. There’s also sheep dog trials, a culinary tour, live performances, and sheep cooking classes (yum?)
Once the parade passes through town, assuming you’ve had your fill of sheep-related fun, you’re still in Sun Valley and have outdoor recreation aplenty at your doorstep. There are hundreds of miles of exquisite mountain biking trails, ample crystal-clear waters for fly fishing or paddling, and gorgeous fall colors dominating the landscape. Oh, and Sun Valley is most popular in the summer, which means you’ll have a fraction of the normal crowds come fall.
Related Read: The 14 Best Places to Visit in October in the U.S.
4. Thousand Islands, New York
Why you should go: Medieval catapults, wineries, and shipwrecks – oh my!
In the St. Lawrence River between New York and southeastern Ontario, the Thousand Islands region is a unique place to visit and fall is the best time to go. You’ll get to enjoy all 1,864 islands from on land and water without the crowds, moving between two different countries (bring your passport!)
Divers can go underwater on several shipwrecks in the clear and usually unseasonably warm freshwater. Not a diver? Charter a boat to try your luck fishing for trout, salmon, bass, and pike. Or sit back and enjoy a narrated boat tour past fall colors, cruising by mansions and castles left from the area’s early 20th-century heyday. History tours are generally quite fascinating and include background on the area’s history of skirmishes, pirates, and bootleggers. If you’d rather stay on land, you’ll have no shortage of breweries, distilleries, and wineries to choose from.
In mid-October, head to the Clayton waterfront park for the annual Punkin’ Chuckin’ festival and barbecue contest. Kids and adults alike compete to see who can sling a pumpkin the furthest into the river using massive trebuchets. It’s ridiculous in the best way possible.
Related Read: 12 Best Spots to See New York’s Fall Foliage
5. Portland, Oregon
Why you should go: Enjoy quirky fall festivals and huge celebrations at the other Portland.
True to form, Portland has some of the most eclectic ways to celebrate fall. If you plan to visit in mid-October, venture to Tualatin for the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta. Held at the Lake of the Commons, members of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers Club hollow out their most impressive gourds and paddle them across the lake (while wearing costumes, naturally).
The city of St. Helens (45 minutes north of Portland) completely transforms into a haven for spooky delights for the entire month of October. The Spirit of Halloweentown Festival is a nod to the B-movie “Halloweentown,” partially filmed in the town. Don’t miss the lighting of the Great Pumpkin ceremony in the city plaza the first Saturday of October, which officially kicks off the celebration. Weekends in the Spirit of Halloweentown are filled with haunted tours, ghost talks, face painting, scavenger hunts, pumpkin art walks, and costume contests.
For a more traditional fall experience, head north to Sauvie Island, one of the largest river islands in the country. It has sandy beaches, ample fall colors, and a multitude of farms with pumpkin picking and corn mazes. Or head 45 minutes east of Portland to access the Fruit Loop, a 35-mile scenic drive from the Columbia River to the Hood River and back past farms, produce stands, wineries, and breweries. Pick apples and pears, visit pumpkin patches, and sip on cider while enjoying the perfect fall road trip.
6. Chicago, Illinois
Why you should go: For brisk walks by the lake, gorgeous fall foliage, and a history of haunts.
Fall is the perfect time to visit the Windy City. You can do all the touristy things without the crowds (hello, museums!) and enjoy all the unique ways the city celebrates the changing of seasons.
Northside neighborhood Lincoln Park was built on top of Chicago’s original cemetery, making it a great place to head for everything haunted. A popular way to explore Chicago’s dark past is on a ghost tour. Chicago has several choices for ghost tours: self-guided, walking, by kayak, via segway, or even a pub crawl tour of Chicago’s most haunted bars.
The National Museum of Mexican Art hosts its annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Xicágo celebration. Explore ofrendas (homemade altar-type offerings) made by community members, try traditional foods and drinks, and enjoy musical performances and art activities for kids and adults.
Prefer plants? The Chicago Botanical Garden hosts the Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns. Grab your sweaters, scarves, and pumpkin-spiced lattes (with or without whiskey, your choice!) for an evening stroll past thousands of carved pumpkins while enjoying live entertainment and pumpkin-carving demonstrations. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance as it usually sells out.
For a wilder time (think marching bands, elaborate costumes, and fire performers), head to the Northalsted neighborhood for the Haunted Halsted Halloween Parade on Halloween night.
7. Broken Bow, Oklahoma
Why you should go: A central, super affordable town for fall foliage and fun festivals.
Make Broken Bow your home base for adventure in the Ouachita Mountains this fall. Located in southeastern Oklahoma, the town hosts a state park, a lake, and a river, making it the perfect place to view fall foliage on foot, by car, or on the water.
A mere 20-minute drive west will take you to the Wright City Lumberjax Festival, which celebrates all-things-forestry every October (think axe throwing and sawing competitions). If you plan to visit the area in mid-November, you can still catch the leaves in full color and stop by the Beavers Bend Folk Festival. Expect candle-making and craft demonstrations, Celtic and folk music performances, and a huge food area with everything from beer to pretzels to candy and baked goods.
You can also head north an hour or so to the Talimena National Scenic Byway at Big Cedar. Take it either west to Talihina or cross the Arkansas border to the byway’s eastern terminus in Mena. This 54-mile stretch of highway through the Ouachitas is the best way to view the colorful leaves (usually peaking from October to early November). The byway has 15 scenic vistas and zero gas stations, so be sure to fill up before you leave Broken Bow.
Related Read: 12 Best National Parks to Visit in October
8. Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Why you should go: Not all fall adventures involve spiced drinks and sweaters.
Why not mix things up a bit for your fall escape? Take a break from your regularly scheduled pumpkins, corn mazes, and apple picking to enjoy salty ocean air, sunshine, and coffee beans straight from the source. Hawaii is the perfect place to squeeze in a few more days of summer before the transition to winter is complete.
During the first week of November, the Big Island hosts the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. The festival includes coffee farm tours, cultural activities, art exhibits, and even chances to pick your own coffee beans. While in Kona, you can also visit an octopus farm, seahorse farm, or parrot sanctuary.
Of course, you’ll want to make time to lounge on the beach and snorkel over the coral reefs in Kealakekua Bay, considered one of the best snorkeling spots on all of Hawai’i. You can also dive with manta rays. Tours bring bright lights to attract the plankton the rays feed on, giving divers a front row seat for watching their open-mouthed feasting.
By the way: Is it Hawaii or Hawai’i? Well, it’s both: the official spelling of the state in the US is Hawaii (no apostrophe), but the name of the island is Hawai’i (which is how native Hawaiians have spelled it since the earliest days).
9. Telluride, Colorado
Why you should go: To enjoy slasher films paired with bluebird skies, golden aspen leaves, and sweet singletrack.
Calling all fans of horror films: this may come as a shock, but Telluride is the place to visit this fall to quench your thirst for blood…oh, and fall colors and crisp mountain air. During the second weekend of October, the city hosts the Telluride Horror Show, Colorado’s first and longest-running horror film festival. Attendees can mingle with writers and producers and view films from around the world at three classic theaters, all within walking distance of downtown Telluride.
If horror’s not your thing (or if you have time to spare between films), find a way to experience fall beauty in the San Juan Mountains. Hop on the gondola for 360-degree views, get in a few miles on a valley hiking trail, or rent a mountain bike and pedal through fall foliage on one of the area’s many singletrack trails. And if you know what you’re doing on a full suspension, head to the Mountain Village Downhill Park. Prefer to have a safety line when you climb? Make your way across Telluride’s Via Ferrata.
10. Williamsburg, Virginia
Why visit: Spooky entertainment for all ages, from roller coasters to historical ghost tours.
Colonial Williamsburg (the world’s largest living history museum), puts a spooky twist on history during the fall with its candle-lit ghost tours, during which costumed storytellers guide guests through historical sites and recount ghost stories from the 18th century to present day.
An exhilarating destination year round, Busch Gardens fully embraces Halloween in the month of October. After 6 p.m. the park goes dark, transforming into Howl-O-Scream. Explore the different “Terror-tories” of the park as you make your way through haunted houses and scare zones, while jumping on the immersive rides along the way. During the day, the park teams up with Sesame Street to celebrate with “The Count’s Spooktacular,” which includes trick-or-treating, costume parties, themed shows, and programming for younger kids who may not be ready for something more scary.
Once your kids recover from the adventure to Busch Gardens, consider taking a late-season trip to the beach. Neighboring Jamestown hosts its annual “Boo Bash at the Beach.” If it’s warm enough attendees wear swimsuits, costumes, or both while trick-or-treating and pumpkin decorating.
For a more laid back experience, attend one of the many fall festivals in the Williamsburg area. A favorite is the Yorktown Fall Festival, held the second Saturday in October. Peruse waterfront shops and visit the farmers market where vendors sell seasonal favorites like caramel apples, mums, and gourds, as well as fall-themed crafts. There’s plenty for kids, too, including pumpkin painting, hay rides, a maze, and a petting zoo.
Explore More Fall Colors
Sign up for the Weekend Wanderer to join thousands of readers getting epic travel ideas every week.