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Bucket List Fall Trips

50 Fall Destinations to Add to Your Bucket List

Fall trips you want to take.

By Deborah R. Huso

Where to go with the leaves start changing? We’ve got you covered with 50 ideas for fun fall destinations around the country.

Head West

  • New River Gorge National RiverRainier, WA: Hike the 5.4-mile Skyline Trail from Paradise to Panorama Point, and experience beautiful meadows, snowfields with brilliant fall color as a backdrop, picturesque views of Mt. Rainier as well as Mt. Saint Helens and stunning blue views of the Tatoosh Range as well as the lovely cascading scene of Myrtle Falls.
  • Las Vegas, NV: Hit Sin City over Halloween, and you’ll find costume parties at pretty much every night club in Las Vegas. Keep the kids at home for this one, however, or drop them off at the Fright Dome at Circus Circus, which offers haunted mazes and scary shows through the whole month of October. And this is one of the few times of year of perfect weather!
  • Palm Springs, CA: Enjoy an open-air market every Thursday evening at Village Fest on South Palm Canyon Drive, where craftspeople and vendors display and sell their wares, local farmers sell produce, and you can buy lots of local fare like tri-tip sandwiches, steamed tamales, and stir-friend noodle bowls!
  • Santa Maria, CA: Tour the wine country of the Central Coast on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, visiting famous vineyards like Riverbench, Rancho Sisquoc, and Tres Hermanas. Make your tour of the Santa Maria Valley especially fun by renting a motorcycle from the city’s Harley Davidson dealership for the afternoon.
  • Salt Lake City, UT: Join the fun at the two-month long Oktoberfest. Running through mid-October, it’s one of the largest festivals in Utah, and you can experience traditional fun like the ceremonial keg tapping, accordion and alpenhorn music, biergartens, and many venues serving traditional Bavarian food like spatzle and bratwurst.
  • Phoenix, AZ: Follow in the footsteps of Marilyn Monroe, and check in at the Arizona Biltmore with its organic Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture, beckoning swimming pools, and desert gardens. Since 1929, it has been a hangout of celebrities and Presidents, and it’s one of those few grand resorts that still hosts an afternoon high tea.
  • Albuquerque, NM: With over 300 days of sunshine and stunning desert mountain scenery, it is perhaps no surprise that Albuquerque is the hot air ballooning capital of the world, but after you take the ride through the sky, check out what this city is really known for—cuisine. And even more specifically, chile peppers! Find them blended into soups, sauces, and stuffed into sopaipillas. Sample some traditional dishes mixing Spanish and Native American styles and ingredients at the Pueblo Cultural Center. Fry bread and hominy stew with chile, anyone?
  • barrier island on the Texas Gulf Coast in the United StatesGalveston, TX: Perhaps an unlikely fall destination, there’s more than the beach on Galveston Island. Hit The Strand, the city’s historic downtown, where the Great Storm (considered the worst natural disaster in U.S. history) hit in 1900. Despite its destruction, however, the storm didn’t take out everything. There are plenty of historic buildings to admire, museums to visit (like the Texas Seaport Museum, where you can look up your ancestors if they happened to be one of the 133,000 immigrants who migrated to the U.S. through Galveston), restaurants to try, and shops to explore.
  • Austin, TX: If you’re talking Austin, you’re talking music. Find the core of the music scene on 6th Street, which is loaded with live music lounges and cafes as well as galleries and restaurants. Stop in at the speakeasy style Firehouse Lounge, accessible through a hidden doorway behind a bookcase in the main hostel and meet Prohibition-style cocktails accompanied by jazz and blues.

Stay Central

  • Hot Springs, AR: While you may know of this city because of its long famous mineral springs, consider hitting its newest attraction, the Gangster Museum of America, which covers Hot Springs’ role in the gangster era of the 1920s. See the roulette wheel from the infamous Southern Club, and explore the history of the resort city’s most notorious visitors, including Al Capone and Meyer Lansky.
  • Gulfport, MS: After a day on mellow autumn beaches, liven up the evening at a Gulfport signature, the Shed Barbecue and Blues Joint, where wood burning pits fill this delightfully “junk-filled” eatery with the savory smells of smoked ribs and marinated pulled pork accompanied by weekend blues bands starting at 7 p.m.
  • New Orleans, LA: If New Orleans is about nothing else, it’s jazz and food. Sample some of the best of both first at Maison Bourbon, which offers multiple nightly performances from jazz, Latin, and dance bands. There are three stages in this two-story establishment, and there are even regular swing classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, which complement the regular swing dancing nights throughout the week. Then check out Emeril’s Delmonico, and sample some signature cinnamon beignets or barbecued shrimp. And yes, they’ve got sausage Andouille and gumbo, too!
  • The nightlife of downtown Knoxville TNKnoxville, TN: More than a few big names in the music industry had roots in Knoxville, from the Everly Brothers to Flatt and Scruggs. If you want to get a quick taste of the importance of music to the city’s culture, just stop by the WDVX studio on Gay Street on any given day at noon to see live performances by area bands. Fall destinations are better with “Blue Plate Specials,” as the live lunch hour performances of Americana music are known in Knoxville.
  • Chattanooga, TN: Want to experience a classic American fall destinations road trip? Then head to Chattanooga, home of the famous Rock City Gardens that have perhaps been immortalized in roadside travel advertising even more than South Dakota’s Wall Drug. The 80-year-old roadside attraction of Rock City Gardens, a half natural and half manmade maze of cliffs, canyons, caves, and waterfalls will delight old and young alike, particularly its underground waterfall—Ruby Falls.
  • Bristol, TN: So if you’re in Bristol, we all know why—to experience the “World’s Fastest Half Mile.” This northeast Tennessee speedway is one of the largest sports arenas in the nation and seats 160,000 fans around a half-mile oval track, where as many as 43 cars race at once at 130 mph. Legends who have raced here include Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Darrell Waltrip. Visitors to BMS can actually take a speedway and dragway tour, though not at 130 mph.
  • Nashville, TN: Don’t come to Nashville expecting to hit the hay early. When night falls, that’s when this city lights up. Take in country music legends at the Grand Ole Opry, or dance the night away in one of the city’s famous honkytonks like Robert’s Western World, which plays traditional country and has a dance floor for two-stepping. You can also get stage-front seats within touching distance of some of Nashville’s most famous composers at the intimate Bluebird Cafe and hear what inspired them to write Grammy-winning songs for artists ranging from Garth Brooks to Johnny Cash.

Due North

  • Buzzards Bay, MA: You can’t very well head out to the cape without having some expectation of lobster rolls! Arguably some of the best can be had at Seafood Shanty, but be forewarned, they’re big, really big. Sit outside, and enjoy the view of the Cape Cod Canal while sipping an orange creamsicle float.
  • Gettysburg National CemeteryGettysburg, PA: While it’s true that Gettysburg may be a Civil War buff’s dream destination, there’s much more to tempt your time here than exploring the battlefield. Drinking craft brews, for instance. Stop by the Appalachian Brewing Company on Buford Avenue, and try a wide array of locally brewed ales and beer, or arrange a brewery tour by appointment. And don’t worry if the kids are in tow. ABC also offers craft sodas, including ginger beer and birch beer.
  • Rehoboth Beach, DE: If you’re looking for a family-friendly fall beach getaway, Rehoboth Beach fits the bill. Some 40 percent of residents are over 65, so this is not by any means a party destination. It is, however, home to a famously family-friendly, mile-long boardwalk loaded with restaurants, shops, and hotels.
  • New River Gorge, WV: Known as the Grand Canyon of the East, the New River Gorge is perhaps best known as a premier whitewater rafting destination. While whitewater rafting companies here number in the dozens, Class VI River Runners, which is located just a few miles from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, is one of the best and has the added advantage of also being part of Adventures on the Gorge, and outdoor recreation destination that includes TimberTrek, an elevated obstacle course, which has four levels, ranging from a fairly simple yellow course that is great for kids and for those just getting their feet wet to a black diamond course that will test not just the limits of one’s physical strength and endurance but also the limits of one’s fearlessness.
  • Hot Springs, VA: Home to the iconic Homestead resort, Hot Springs may have originally been known for its warm and natural mineral springs, but over the decades, it’s become a major golf destination. Sporting three mountain courses, The Homestead also has the distinction of being home to the oldest first tee in continuous use in the United States. It was part of a course first used in 1892 that today is known simply as The Old Course.
  • Delmarva Peninsula: The Delmarva Peninsula is a thick finger of land between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean stretching from northern Delaware to the tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Something of a destination for quiet lovers, Delmarva is known for the art of decoy carving, which you can explore at Salsibury’s Ward Museum of Wild Fowl Art. Bring home your own locally crafted decoy from the Treetops gift shop.

Say Yes to the South

  • Bodie Island Lighthouse stands 156 feet tallOuter Banks, NC: An often overlooked gem of the Outer Banks, Roanoke Island, a tiny stretch of hammock and sand lying between Nags Head and North Carolina’s mainland is known for its old-time island feel and slower pace. The best spot to set up headquarters is the Roanoke Island Inn, which dates to the 1860s, has been hosting visitors for decades with its breeze-catching porches, backyard gardens, and a wonderfully stocked innkeeper’s pantry, all overlooking Manteo’s revitalized downtown waterfront and the Roanoke Island Marshes Lighthouse.
  • New Bern, NC: Experience the diversity of American architecture through a visit to Tryon Palace, which once served as North Carolina’s capitol. Today the complex includes three structures, each representing a different architectural era. Among them are the Revolutionary war period John Wright Stanly House, a Federal style residence housing a wide array of NeoClassical antiques, and the 1805 Robert Hay House. While in New Bern, experience one of North Carolina’s most beloved fall festivals, Mum Fest of which Tryon Palace is a part with thousands of colorful mums on display.
  • Wilmington, NC: While the Cape Fear Coast of North Carolina may be best known for its beaches, the history of this region really begins in Wilmington, a 270-year-old port city situated between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic’s barrier islands. With a National Register Historic District covering 230 blocks, there’s a lot to see. You can take in the beautiful architecture, which rivals Charleston and Savannah, on foot, by riverboat, horsedrawn carriage, or trolley. Wilmington has the dubious distinction, too, of being home to the only area of the world where the Venus Fly Trap grows naturally.
  • Cashiers, NC: Well-heeled lowlanders have been retreating to the high elevation plateau of Cashiers for a long time, and while most come for the Blue Ridge Mountain vistas, waterfalls, and solitude, one not to be missed activity in this quaint village is the Cashiers Farmers Market, where local vendors sell fresh produce, regionally made wines and local barbecue. It’s the perfect spot to pick up picnic essentials for that mountain hike.
  • downtown Asheville NC a vibrant entertainment hubAsheville, NC: A signature of the Asheville skyline is the 1913 Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa, built of granite mined from nearby Sunset Mountain. The grandiose Arts and Crafts hotel has hosted the likes of the Vanderbilts, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison. Today it houses one of the world’s largest collection of Arts and Crafts furniture and accessories, much of it from the Grove Park’s original Roycroft collection. And be sure not to miss the resort’s decadent underground spa with its stone walls, pool with dual waterfalls, and soothing light displays.
  • Greenville, SC: The once relatively small city of Greenville has become a center of culture for the South Carolina mountains and foothills with its art museums, theater, and thriving downtown. It’s also home to the Zentrum Museum, the only BMW museum in North America, and directly adjacent to the only BMW manufacturing plant in the U.S. Line up a plant tour, explore the world of BMW motorsports, and view rare classic models of this beloved German car.
  • Charleston, SC: With its sumptuous subtropical gardens behind curling iron gates, houses painted in sweet pastels along Rainbow Row, and horse-drawn carriages plying the historic streets, Charleston is a place of time on hold. One of the best places to take in the sights is from the rooftop bar at the Market Pavilion Hotel, an award-winning luxury hotel at the center of downtown. Then you can retire to a decadent room below with Italian marble bath.
  • Myrtle Beach, SC: The Grand Strand has long been known as a live entertainment destination, replete with musical shows, comedy acts, dance and circus shows, and even a jousting tournament. Take in the latter at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, and while supping on a four-course meal, you can watch armored knights joust on Andalusian stallions.
  • Litchfield, SC: Head a little further south on the Grand Strand, and indulge in some serious oceanfront relaxation at the Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort with its four golf courses, close access to Brookgreen Gardens, white sand beach, and accommodations ranging from resort rooms to whole houses and villas for a large family retreat.
  • South Carolina LighthousesSea Islands, SC: Once home to the rice plantations of antebellum planters, South Carolina’s Sea Islands are a netherworld where time stands still. Locals still speak the Gullah language of their slave ancestors. Experience a true taste of the past and local Gullah culture by taking Rev’s Gullah Island Tour of the cultural attractions of the region.
  • Savannah, GA: Anyone who has enjoyed the novel (or the movie version) of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will be pleasantly surprised by just how true to form this elegant southern city is, replete with tiny dogs on studded leashes and some seriously unique night life, including live piano performances by Diana Lynn Rogers–a local musical celebrity who will regale guests not only with her singing and playing but also with her over the top costumes and hats. Want a true taste of this southern city? Take in high tea at the Savannah Tea Room (complete with cucumber sandwiches and decadent desserts) or enjoy some seriously decadent honey tastings at the Savannah Bee Company.
  • Lake Oconee, GA: Awake to a serene lake view from the Ritz Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee. At one of the most luxurious lakeside resorts in Georgia, you can relax at the world-class spa, play golf at one of the five golf courses, or spend the day fishing and boating. Enjoy reclining on the many adirondack chairs around a campfire.
  • Hilton Head Island, SC: Coastal fall destinations are among the finest. While many visitors here flock to the golf courses, if you want to see the natural side of Hilton Head (and make some marine mammal acquaintances), hit the water. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are a common sight in the ocean as well as in the sounds and creeks. Watch for them, and don’t be surprised if they swim right up to your boat or join you for some laps in the water. Or if you prefer, take a dolphin watch cruise.
  • Lake Lanier, GA: Lake Lanier Islands Resort makes a family getaway just an hour’s drive from Atlanta easy with its variety of accommodations, ranging from lodge rooms to villas, and a plethora of activities. Zip line, rent a boat to take on the lake, hike shoreline trails, go horseback riding, or just spend the day vegetating in the on-site spa. And there is no skimping on the lodgings here—beautifully decorated rooms with balconies overlooking the water, fireplaces, and stocked wet bars.
  • North Georgia Mountains: North Georgia may make you think of beautiful state parks and National Forest land peppered with waterfalls like Amicalola, located near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and the twin falls of Anna Ruby, but there’s a new kid in town; the wine industry. Pair your waterfalls with wine via the Georgia Wine Highway, which rambles through alternately rolling and mountainous countryside from the Gainesville area to Clayton in Georgia’s northeast corner. Sponsored by the Winegrowers Association of Georgia, the highway offers access to more than a dozen mountain vineyards.
  • Mary, GA: Explore the coastal waterways off St. Mary’s, all of the creeks and inlets as well as the waters around Cumberland Island (home to the famous wild horses) with a guided kayaking trip. You don’t need experience, though if you want to take the full day trip to Cumberland Island, make sure you’re fit enough for several hours of paddling!

Florida Sunshine

  • Augustine, FL: St. Augustine is home to a 144-block historic district, where one can visit structures like The Oldest House on Charlotte Street, dating to the early 1600s. One of the city’s architectural gems is the Lightner Museum, the former Alcazar Hotel built in 1888 by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. The museum houses a vast collection of Tiffany glass and opens onto sumptuous romantic gardens. A relatively short walk away is the fairytale romantic St. Francis Inn on St. George Street. More than two centuries old, it has hosted guests since the mid-1800s in a gathering of rooms opening onto a secluded walled courtyard.
  • Pensacola, FL: The town of Pensacola Beach is cradled between two sections of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, 52 miles of protected coastline stretching from Mississippi into northwest Florida. It is the largest stretch of protected beach in the Sunshine State, and the two tracts on Santa Rosa offer miles and miles of sugary beach, rolling windswept dunes, scrubby, low-growing vegetation, and endless opportunities for solitude on the sand. Top pick for taking in the views here is the 1,471-ft. Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier, the longest on the Gulf of Mexico. Stretching out into the deep green waters of the gulf, the pier offers panoramic views of Santa Rosa’s southern shoreline.
  •  city on the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida that’s known for high-end shopping and golf coursesNaples, FL: Frommer’s calls Naples Florida’s “most sophisticated city,” and you’ll likely agree once you’ve driven into town surrounded by Mercedes and Lexus vehicles with no non-luxury automobile in sight. Live like a local while you’re here and check in at the Naples Grand Beach Resort (formerly the Waldorf Astoria) and enjoy three swimming pools, an 18-hole golf course, and a renowned tennis program for all ages. Plus, it’s all a short drive from the decadent boutiques and galleries on 5th
  • Myers, FL: You may think beach when you think Ft. Myers, but you might also want to think history with a visit to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Learn about Thomas Edison’s many inventions. Did you know he had more than 1,000 patents? And then there’s the massive banyan tree near his laboratory that was four feet tall when planted in 1925. Today its twisting branches and roots sprawl across an entire acre!
  • Boca Raton, FL: After you hit the beach, hit the nightlife at Jazziz. The club hosts three ticketed shows a week and also sports a Cigar Bar, Champagne and Caviar, and Sushi Bar. Performers here have included Tierney Sutton and John Oates as well as Macy Gray. Jazziz also hosts daily live jazz shows with dinner. 
  • Orlando, FL: Orlando was once known solely for its cotton, cattle, and citrus industries before it evolved into one of the world’s leading vacation destinations. Today the city hosts nearly 100 attractions, 112,000 hotel rooms, and more than 5,300 restaurants. Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, which opened its doors in 1936, was the first step toward Orlando becoming a world-class vacation destination. Many years later, parks like Disney’s Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld, and Universal Orlando opened in 1971, 1973, and 1990. Today the old Cypress Gardens location is home to LEGOLAND Florida, the largest LEGOLAND in the world.
  • Tampa, FL: A century ago, Tampa’s Ybor City was known as the “Cigar Capital of the World,” having been settled by Cuban cigar maker and factory owner Don Vicente Martinez Ybor in 1885. Tampa was a cigar empire with 200 factories by the early 1900s. While Fidel Castro’s rise to power killed the city’s Cuban cigar industry, visitors can still watch cigar makers at work at the Gonzalez y Martinez Cigar Factory or the Ybor City Museum State Park. Today Ybor City is perhaps best known for its nightlife and is often called “Nightlife Capital of Florida’s West Coast.” Tens of thousands of visitors descend on the district on an average weekend night, enjoying Latin music, blues, jazz, and a variety of restaurants.
  • Fernandina Beach, FL: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, downtown Fernandina Beach represents the social and cultural center of Amelia Island. Variously owned by eight nations over the course of its history, Fernandina Beach is loaded with architectural gems ornate government structures like the 1912 Nassau County Courthouse, which today houses the local post office, and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church with its Spanish-influenced brick-red gabled roof and tawny gothic pillars and statuary. A must-see for a real flavor of the island’s long history is the Amelia Island Museum of History on Third Street. Located in the former Nassau County Jail, the museum offers visitors a unique perspective on the past, as costumed interpreters portraying the colorful characters of Amelia’s history lead museum and walking tours.
  • Kiawah, SC: If you want a truly private beach getaway, then the Kiawah Island Golf Resort is the place. Minutes from Charleston, the resort has 10 miles of guests-only white sand beaches, five golf courses, tennis, nature and paddling tours as well as junior naturalist programs for the kids.

A Few Odds and Ends

  • large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada MountainsLake Tahoe, NV: The mountains around Lake Tahoe receive 300 to 400 inches of snow a year, and the region has the largest concentration of alpine ski resorts in North America. There’s more to do than ski here, however. Lake Tahoe boasts blue skies 274 days per year and is second deepest lake in the U.S. with a 72-mile long shoreline. The water of the lake is more than 99 percent pure, making the water so clear that it’s almost drinkable. You can see a white dinner plate at 70 ft. below the surface. Explore the lake aboard the paddlewheel MS Dixie II, which departs from Zephyr Cove in Nevada and takes a roundtrip tour to Emerald Bay in California.
  • South Padre Island, TX: Thirty-five miles long and bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre Island is the longest barrier island in the world and the largest stretch of undeveloped ocean beach in North America. Endangered wildlife AND a wide range of bird and fish species make this a great location for nature lovers. Boat tours offer cruises where one can glimpse dolphins skimming through the water, or see deer, nilgai (a type of antelope), wild hogs, and turkey roaming on the shores as well as osprey and pelicans in the air and sea turtles beneath the water’s surface.
  • vast Niagara Falls, which straddle the Canadian borderNiagara Falls, NY: For more than a century, people have been making daredevil trips over Niagara Falls on the border of upstate New York and Ontario, Canada. The first recorded human trip over the falls occurred in 1901 when Annie Taylor rode a wooden barrel over the pounding cascades and survived to tell the story. More than a few daredevils since, however, have plunged to their deaths. Today visitors to Niagara Falls can get almost as close to the mesmerizing spray aboard the famous Maid of the Mist for what may well be the most drenching ride of one’s life. However, a trip here wouldn’t be complete without exploring The Daredevil Museum on the Canada side of the falls to see how the brave and foolish have plunged over the falls in everything from wooden barrels to jet skis. Among them was Englishman Charles Stephens who tied himself to an anvil inside his wooden barrel. All that remained of him after the plunge was his right arm.
  • Florida's southernmost point, lying roughly 90 miles north of CubaKey West, FL: The center of activity in Key West is Duval Street, which runs the length of the island from north to south, brimming with wild bars like Sloppy Joe’s, drag queen joints, dirty T-shirt shops, upscale boutiques, gingerbread trimmed pastel B & Bs, trendy restaurants, refugee suburbanites on mopeds, and moms with pink hair and body piercings pushing baby strollers. The highlight attraction, however, is the nightly Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square, where locals and tourists alike gather each evening to watch the island’s sunsets while listening to street musicians play reggae and blues. A vast conglomeration of street vendors and performers gather each evening and include the likes of a parrot sitting on a sunglass-wearing dog’s back, a guy who spray paints himself silver each night, pretending to be a statue, and a gentleman who, through some bizarre contraption of his own making, can play a bass drum, a harmonica, an accordion, and a trumpet all at the same time.

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