For many of us, vacation season either brings to mind summer escapades on the beach or winter getaways to the slopes. But fall is also a great time to plan a family getaway — not only can you enjoy all the colors that Mother Nature has to offer, chances are good you can plan a getaway without the premium price tag.
So if you’re looking for fall vacation ideas for families, here are a few off-the-beaten path destinations that embody the beauty of fall, offer a ton of family fun and won’t break the bank.
POCONO MOUNTAINS, PENNSYLVANIA
The Pocono Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania are a weekend drive away from various regions in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington D.C., Delaware and much of the rest of Pennsylvania. Fall is so spectacular here that you just might think you're in Maine, but without the long haul up north.
For excellent leaf peeping, hiking, biking, horseback riding and a slew of other outdoor adventures, head straight for Big Pocono State Park. The range of activities are well suited to families with children of all ages, from rigorous hikes and mountain biking for teens to gentler strolls like Vista Loop for little ones.
The same goes for other nearby attractions. Younger children will be enthralled with the charming old-time train rides through the mountains and the month-long pumpkin festival, while older kids will be thrilled by UTV rides and twilight ziplining. Fall packages are available to the awesome indoor water park at Camelback Mountain, including discounts for accommodations at the resort.
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited in the U.S. Most visitors take it in from Tennessee, but on the other side of the park lies a less-traveled, less-expensive way to behold the beauty of the area: Asheville, North Carolina.
Start with a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs from Shenandoah National Park all the way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking options are abundant and most connect to the parkway. The 3.2 mile Graveyard Fields Loop Trail boasts two waterfalls and grand vistas. You can spend as many as four hours enjoying Looking Glass Rock Trail, which is best for families with older kids — the panoramic view from the highest point is worth the effort. Fun autumn events, ranging from apple picking to art festivals to quilt shows, also take place in and around Asheville.
When you’re done with nature, Asheville is a vibrant city with a ton to offer. The Asheville Urban Trail is a fun way to familiarize visitors (especially kids) with the town. Grab provisions from WNC Farmers Market before picnicking along the grounds of the famed Biltmore Estate (it costs extra to go inside the estate).
Minneapolis is an affordable metropolis, and is also home to 13 lakes, the mighty Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, and a renowned ice cream parlor. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board puts on a number of wonderful family-friendly nature programs and events throughout the city and is a terrific source for trail hiking and other outdoor fall activities.
While you’re there, free birding with an expert is worth checking out. Lake of the Isles is a respite from city bustle where your kids can enjoy hiking and biking in the crisp fall air. And no visit to Minneapolis is complete without a cruise along the Mississippi, while Boom Island Park is a top pick for biking along the river (rentals are available all over the city).
If you want to venture outside the area, you’ll find Lake Pepin and its incredible fall foliage a little more than an hour outside the city. After a sail, enjoy a delicious lunch at the Stockholm Pie Company and visit the beautiful and unique general store.
JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING
Dramatic mountain views, extraordinary wildlife and more crispy leaves than your kids can jump on await in Jackson Hole. Fall is considered the shoulder season, which means crowds and prices are lower. The abundance of natural beauty, however, abounds.
A visit to Yellowstone National Park, about an hour outside of Jackson Hole, is a lifelong memory waiting to happen. You’ll find excellent hiking, biking and fishing, as well as a front row seat to a whole lot of wildlife activity. Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are terrific areas to witness bison in action, while bears might best be spotted along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway or Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.
If time is limited, skip Yellowstone and head straight for nearby Grand Teton National Park. The main visitor centers for both Grand Teton and Yellowstone close at the end of October, but the parks remain open year round. Fall colors ablaze along Antelope Flat to Oxbow Bend, as well as the Inner Park Loop Road and the Ditch Creek area. Another great place to take in wildlife and the colors is along Moose Wilson Road.
Other fun activities include taking a dip in the Granite Hot Springs Pools, taking in an evening of music for families with older children at the Center for the Arts or an all-ages performance at the Jackson Hole Playhouse.