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dszc/E+ via Getty Images
dszc/E+ via Getty Images
Don’t let the fall season pass you by without squeezing in some safe, socially distanced fun. Before the weather turns, you’ll want to spend as much time outdoors enjoying the crisp fall air as you can. You may not have an entire weekend at your disposal for a full weekend getaway, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of everything fall has to offer. Whether it’s with the family, by yourself or with your romantic partner, head out on the best fall day trip in your state.
The 85-acre nature conservatory at Dismals Canyon, located in northwest Alabama, features a diverse landscape of craggy rocks, green grottos, flowing waterfalls and colorful trails for an adventurous day trip. Visitors can also take a guided tour to marvel at caverns of bioluminescent creatures called dismalites, also known as glowworms. The creatures are a rare find, only native to a couple of other habitats around the world.
October in Alaska can get pretty chilly, but don’t let the weather prevent you from enjoying the fall season. You can warm up by soaking in the Chena Hot Springs. The resort offers day trip packages year-round that include a scenic 60-mile ride to natural hot springs, where you can sit and soak for hours in the therapeutic waters.
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If you’re a fan of craft beer or bratwurst, this train ride is a must. Every train day from Sept. 17 through October, Verde Canyon Railroad offers Ales on Rails — a daylong, Oktoberfest-themed excursion on foliage-lined train tracks. Arizona’s best craft beer is served along with pretzels, strudel, potato salad, bratwursts and wieners. Eat and drink to your heart’s content while watching the season’s prettiest views rush past, either in a comfortable seat indoors or in the open-air viewing car.
Courtesy of Peebles Farm Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze
Peebles Farm is an Arkansas attraction that has managed to pack a vast amount of fall activities into one farm. However, due to COVID-19, the availability of some attractions is limited so it’s best to check online before you go. In addition to a 16-acre corn maze, the farm features a 60-acre pumpkin patch, a 4-acre cotton patch, a barnyard full of animals, hayrides, a horse and wagon, and a zip line.
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The town of Temecula is located in California wine country, and fall is one of the best times to visit. The town boasts more than 50 wineries, and the old-timey boardwalks of historic Old Town are even more special in the autumn hues. Visitors can shop at the Promenade Temecula or the many local farmers markets. If you have the time, you can take a hot air balloon ride over the rolling hills to view the ripe grapes and cascading leaves from the skies. It’s a view you won’t forget.
Colorado is a state known for its scenery, and there’s no wrong time to get out into nature and experience the sights. Kenosha Pass is a leisurely hike you can easily complete in a day, and fall is the best time to do it. The Colorado Trail is 500 miles long, but Kenosha Pass is one of its most frequented segments. The trail attracts leaf peepers from far and wide who travel to see the gorgeous yellows and oranges drifting through the air and covering the hilly forest ground between light-colored aspen tree bark.
The landscape of the northeast United States completely transforms come autumn, and one of the most quintessential activities of the season is to go apple picking at an apple orchard. Beardsley’s Cider Mill & Orchard in Shelton, Connecticut, is a two-in-one stop, making it one of the best apple orchards in the U.S. In addition to apple and peach picking, the location makes hard cider on-site. Keep in mind that face masks are required to enter the farm store and to enter the orchard.
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Rehoboth Beach is Delaware’s most-visited city, and it’s easy to see why. This coastal town is as gorgeous in the fall as it is during summer. Stroll down the mile-long boardwalk in the cool autumn air while stopping in eclectic shops and quaint restaurants with a view. While you’re there, be sure to make a pit stop at Dogfish Head Brewing and Eats — the famous brewpub has Dogfish’s seasonal Pumpkin Ale on tap throughout the season.
There’s so much more to do in Florida than just visit Disney. In the fall, you can spend all day lounging under the sun in the coastal beach town of Siesta Key. Since it is Florida, you should also treat yourself to a slice of Key lime pie.
Germany is a long way to travel for Oktoberfest. If you can’t get all the way there, Helen, Georgia, is the next best thing. The town is inspired by the villages of Bavaria, including the building style of its downtown shops and restaurants.
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that’s the highest point of elevation in Hawaii. In addition to the views of the surrounding beaches and landscape, the peak of Mauna Kea offers an astounding look at outer space. Visitors of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve can stargaze from the 33,000-foot summit at what’s known as one of the best sites for astronomical observation in the world. Tours are held at one or more of the observatories every night, and telescopes are available for public viewing.
In central Idaho just northeast of Twin Falls is Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve. This natural park features 600 square miles of basalt lava fields dotted with craters and magma-formed plateaus. Though it’s been more than 200 years since the last eruption took place on the volcanic land, geologists predict that more magma will erupt from the ground in the future, this time spewing more than 1 cubic mile of lava.
At Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard in Pingree Grove, Illinois, you can do more than just pick apples. The fall festivities also include a straw maze, a pumpkin express train and a giant pumpkin slide. After you pay for the Fall Festival admission, you can purchase apple bags and pick different varieties as you please.
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South Bend, Indiana, is fun to visit any time of year, but especially in the fall, when there’s no shortage of things to do. Stroll through the South Bend Farmers Market, one of the largest in the state, and pick up some of the season’s best local produce. Then get up close and personal with stunning fall foliage by vaulting and climbing your way through the trees at the Rum Village Aerial Adventure Park. And if you can squeeze it in, take a tour of South Bend Chocolate Company to end the day with a treat the whole family will enjoy.
Near Des Moines, Iowa, is Center Grove Orchard, a fall retreat chock full of hayrides, farm animals, pedal tractors, a corn maze and more weekend activities. You can pick your own apples and find the perfect pumpkin — is there anything better in fall?
At Cider Hill Family Orchard in Kansas, there are 38 acres worth of fun to be had. The farm is covered with 1,500 apple trees of 18 different kinds of apples. After apple picking, guests can also pick out their favorite pumpkin from the patch, fish in one of five ponds or simply relax under a giant tree enjoying fresh cinnamon-cider doughnuts. No matter what activity you choose, it’s going to look, smell and taste like fall.
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky features the world’s longest-known cave system. Its interior is filled with craggy rock faces and bold stalactites along a complex maze of tiny walkways and cavernous chambers. During fall, the park offers activities above ground too, including canoeing down the Green River and hiking through one of the best American parks for viewing fall foliage. Per recommendations from the National Park Service, visitors should check the park website to determine what’s open and what’s not during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Lake D’Arbonne is one of the most scenic lakes in north Louisiana with forests, rolling hills, canyons and camping grounds. There are more than 15,000 acres of outdoor space to enjoy while safely social distancing.
Fall foliage in Maine is truly breathtaking, so no matter where you drive for your day trip, you can expect great views. But for a relaxed, cultured day out in Maine, you should take a drive down the Maine Antique Trail. The trail consists of 18 participating antique shops, though you’ll likely pass by more on your way down the recommended path. Tucked away in old houses and barns, the antique shops have unique small-town charm. You’re bound to find a few hidden gems and eclectic items to take home with you when your day is done.
Located in the rolling hills in Mt. Airy, Maryland, Gaver’s Farm is pure fall family fun. Between September and November, visitors can pick their own pumpkins and sunflowers and take part in Fall Fun Days, which is a mix of more than 50 attractions and activities that include giant slides, jumping pillows, duck races and more. Separate tickets are required for Fall Fun Days admission, but if you’re visiting the farm for U-pick, hayrides, food stands or to grab some produce at the Farm Market, an admission ticket is not needed.
During any other time of year, Salem, Massachusetts is just another underrated small town. But during fall, the winding streets and quaint shoreline completely transform into a spooky, Halloween-themed wonderland. Salem is where the infamous witch trials took place, and the town takes its spellbound history very seriously. While most of the town is running as usual with a mandatory mask mandate in place, some businesses are closed due to the pandemic. Just check before you go, and while you’re there, be sure to stop by Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, which claims to be America’s oldest candy company.
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Traverse City, Michigan, is an ideal fall destination for its gorgeous foliage alone. Whether by foot, car or bike, you can enjoy the pier at Clinch Park Marina and catch a fiery sunset over the lake before heading home.
Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours/Yelp
Wild Mountain & Taylors Falls Recreation, located in Taylors Falls, Minnesota, is a recreational center that offers everything from skiing to canoeing, depending on the season. But during fall, you won’t want to miss embarking on a scenic boat ride through the St. Croix River Valley. The tours are either 45 or 80 minutes and allow tourists to witness a rainbow of leaves and incredible natural rock faces from the still waters below.
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The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile stretch of road with more sights to see than just about any other highway but Route 66. And while some locations along the way are closed due to COVID-19, you can still go for a scenic drive. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are opportunities to go biking, horseback riding and camping all along the parkway as well.
Located inside Ha Ha Tonka State Park, the Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins look like a scene straight out of a history book. The castle ruins located in the middle of Missouri are actually the remains of a mansion belonging to Robert Snyder, a wealthy man who greatly admired European architecture. He began construction on his dream home in 1905 but died tragically in a car crash just one year later. The building was never completed, and the remnants have been left to rot for over a century, during which time it has suffered weather damage and a destructive fire. The site has been absorbed by the state park and is now government-owned, meaning it is open for visitors to see and walk through year-round. The stone castle overlooks both the Lake of the Ozarks and Ha Ha Tonka Spring.
Philipsburg is one of America’s most underrated small towns for a quick getaway. The charming locale was a 19th-century mining town, and the area is still rich with gem and mineral deposits as well as pristine lakes and hikeable mountains. Sapphire and silver mining are still popular attractions as well. Walk down the vintage streets lined with century-old buildings and stop in quaint jewelry stores. Depending on COVID-19 restrictions, check out some local breweries and peruse the many antique shops in town.
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The National Forest at Halsey in Nebraska is surrounded by the Nebraska Sandhills. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “the Sandhills region is one of the largest contiguous and least-disturbed prairies in all of the United States.” You can spend a considerable amount of a crisp fall day spotting the large population of wildlife, including birds, bugs, reptiles and mammals.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in the U.S. and easily one of the best lake towns in the country. Visitors can go swimming, fishing or boating on the water and traverse woodlands full of exquisite fall foliage on a lakeside hike. You can easily spend a full day simply taking in the crystal clear blue waters, relaxing under the trees and more.
It’s true what they say: Fall in New England is a must-see. And to experience it to the fullest, take a day trip to Hanover, New Hampshire, located in the scenic Upper Valley along the Connecticut River. You can enjoy kayaking and canoeing on the river, take a tour of the Hood Museum and stop by Dartmouth College, one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country. You can also hike the popular Appalachian Trail, which will be studded with colorful autumn foliage.
New Jersey’s Great Pumpkin Train is the perfect fall-themed excursion to ring in the season on a fair-weather day. Throughout the month of October, the train rides through crisp fall air on tracks lined with foliage, all of which can be seen from the interior of the wide-windowed train cars. The train makes a stop at a nearby pumpkin patch, where every child on board is allowed to pick their own pumpkin. For an extra small fee, passengers can opt to wander through a corn maze and experience the Susquehanna Mine, where visitors can pan for gemstones that they then get to take home. Face masks are required and visitors are encouraged to check out the COVID-19 policy online before visiting.
Taos, New Mexico, is one of the prettiest mountain towns in America, and autumn only enhances its beauty. Column-lined streets littered with sand create a desert small-town aesthetic, and the colorful roads are truly a sight like no other. The town may be small, but it has a wealth of culture and activities. Before you leave, be sure to stop by the Taos Pueblo, a 1,000-year-old community about a mile outside Taos. The Native American village is a historic landmark and one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the country.
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Avoid the bustle of New York City and instead take a trip upstate to Millbrook. Here, you’ll find Innisfree Garden, a nonprofit and public 150-acre garden world-recognized for its beauty. Work on the garden began in the 1920s and took more than 50 years to complete. The garden creates a peaceful and artistic environment composed of rock, water, wood and sky that you won’t mind wandering through for hours, especially while the weather and air is cool and clear.
North Carolina has no shortage of mountain towns and beautiful forests, but if you haven’t visited Black Mountain, you should definitely add it to your travel bucket list. Just 20 minutes outside of Asheville, Black Mountain has all the art, culture and quaintness you could ever want. The town is filled with craft stores, art galleries, gift shops and more and is home to a bustling restaurant scene with outdoor seating and quality views. Since Lake Eden and Lake Tomahawk are located in Black Mountain, various water-based recreational activities are available as well.
Near the town of Medora, North Dakota, is Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a 70,446-acre expanse of land filled with a variety of landscapes. Considered part of the rugged Badlands of North Dakota, the land in the park is a breathtaking blend of color and altitude. Craggy rocks are juxtaposed against plateaus of thick trees that, during fall, turn into a tapestry of warm colors. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of the park’s thriving population of wildlife, including animals such as bison, deer, antelope, prairie dogs and eagles. Make sure to check the park’s website for updated information about COVID-19 regulations before planning your trip.
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The Midwest has many hidden gems, including Summit County in Ohio. You could plan a fall day trip in Summit Metro Parks and do the Fall Hiking Spree, exploring former farms and fields that are now forests. You can’t possibly trek the whole spree in a day, but it’s worth seeing how much of it you can. When you’re ready to switch courses, you can choose from mountain biking, archery, paddling, fishing and more.
If you love nature, you’ll love a trip to Broken Bow. The small city in Oklahoma is home to Beavers Bend State Park, which is gorgeous year-round but especially in the fall when the leaves turn and the air has a slight chill. Visitors can go fishing on Lower Mountain Fork River, boating on Broken Bow Lake or hiking on the David Boren Hiking Trail. You may also want to rent a canoe to float down the river or go horseback riding on one of the park’s many trails. Make sure to stay long enough to see the sunset descend over the lake. Seeing a sunset that beautiful is one of the travel experiences everyone should have at least once in their lifetime.
St. Helens, Oregon, was the filming location for the iconic Disney movie "Halloweentown," and every year, the city celebrates this legacy, making locals and tourists feel like they’ve stepped inside the film. Get spooky this fall with a trip to see the film’s giant pumpkins, haunted mansion and costumed residents. You can participate in the pumpkin lighting ceremony, the Tiny Parade of Pumpkins, haunted tractor rides and pumpkin carving.
Every year in Delaware Valley, residents get psyched for the annual Pumpkinland Festival, a two-month-long autumn extravaganza. Hundreds of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes are on display, and guests are welcome to pick apples, take a hayride, see the jack-o'-lantern exhibit, try their luck at a corn maze and munch on apple cider doughnuts and other seasonal treats. The festival lasts from mid-September to mid-November, but this year, tickets are timed and limited to allow for proper social distancing.
Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, is fun to visit any time of year, but in October it really comes alive. The zoo hosts an annual jack-o’-lantern Spectacular in which the paths of the zoo are lined with a gallery of more than 5,000 artfully carved pumpkins. This year, in light of the pandemic, the event is being turned into a drive-through Jack-O’-Lantern Spectacular. While staying safe inside the car, visitors can enjoy thousands of intricately carved pumpkins.
Caesars Head State Park is located in upstate South Carolina, and it’s one of the state’s prettiest attractions. Here, you’ll find one of the most photogenic spots in the country, a 3,266-foot granite gneiss outcropping with a view of Table Rock that cannot be beat. The view is especially dazzling in the fall, when the surrounding forest comes alive with deep reds and bright yellows from the leaves. Visitors can trek through the paths and stumble upon waterfalls and wildlife.
Located in the Black Hills, the 71,000 acres of Custer State Park are filled with canyons, hills, lakes and granite mountain peaks. Swim in one of the azure lakes or go hiking through the many scenic paths of dark orange and green. Wildlife is everywhere in the massive park, and you may even spot a bison or two during your stay.
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Chattanooga, Tennessee, has a rich history, a great food scene, views and a boatload of activities to try. Fall’s mild temperatures create the perfect environment to enjoy spending time outdoors in this bustling city. Bike or walk down Chattanooga’s beautiful 13-mile Riverwalk along the Tennessee River or spend a day in one of the city’s many parks.
San Antonio, Texas, is a great fall destination for history and culture buffs. A few places to visit on a fall trip: the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Mission Reach heritage site. And you can’t miss the Día de los Muertos celebration — there are more than 20 events for all ages planned to celebrate the cherished holiday in which families remember the departed and share memories of loved ones.
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Utah's Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is filled with natural features such as lava-formed rocks and petrified wooden logs. Even more enticing is that the park is said to be haunted — the perfect eerie backdrop for Halloween season. The waterways of the park are popular boating, canoeing and fishing areas, and the park includes a fully developed campground complete with RV sites and a group area where visitors can picnic and enjoy the sunshine.
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It’s well known that Vermont has some of the most gorgeous fall foliage in the country, and what better way to view it than by getting up close and personal? The Long Trail is the country’s oldest long-distance hiking trail, spanning the length of the state and measuring more than 270 miles. Hiking the whole thing takes at least a month, but the Long Trail’s website has a list of suggested day hikes to try instead if you don’t have a month to spare.
Located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Skyline Drive is definitely one of the best places to see stunning fall foliage outside New England. Overlooks are scattered along the drive so you can get out and snap the perfect photo, and you’ll be so mesmerized by your surroundings you won’t want to get back in your car and leave. Skyline Drive is 105 miles long and located inside Shenandoah National Park. Pack a picnic and spend the day among the rainbow of leaves and chatter of nature.
Whidbey Island is located just north of Seattle in Puget Sound. Just a short ferry ride from the mainland, it’s the perfect fall escape. There are art stores and galleries galore as well as some fantastic seafood spots. Additionally, you can take in the beautiful sights from the water on the ferry or by immersing yourself in the outdoors on the island. Visit Double Bluff Beach, one of the best beaches in the world. It’s dog-friendly, clean and provides fantastic views of Admiralty Inlet, the busy shipping lanes and the Olympic Mountains.
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Babcock State Park, located in Fayette County, is West Virginia’s most iconic and highly photographed place. The park boasts 4,127 acres of gorgeous scenery, which is only even more breathtaking studded with fall foliage. There are more than 10 different scenic trails to choose from to go hiking and mountain biking. And if you’re not totally starstruck by nature, you can also go whitewater rafting in the nearby streams.
Timm’s Hill is Wisconsin’s tallest geographical point, and therefore one of the best spots for viewing fall foliage. At 1,951.5 feet above sea level, you can see views up to 30 miles away. Atop the hill, there’s an observation tower; all you have to do is hike up to the summit and climb the steps. It’s worth the walk, though — you can see seas of trees as well as Timm’s Lake and Placid Bass Lake. Bring some snacks with you and make a day of the hike.
Jackson Hole is a valley in Wyoming near the border of Idaho. There are endless outdoor activities to partake in, especially when the weather is cool and dry. Go hiking in the surrounding woodlands, drive past elk and other wildlife, and go leaf peeping anywhere you like within the 48-mile valley. Even the town of Jackson, located in the northern part of the valley, is bustling with activity and fun. During the summer, it can get somewhat crowded with tourists, but in the fall, most of the hubbub has passed and you’re in for a much calmer trip. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, also has some of the most beautiful views in America’s national and state parks.
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