The cool breezes are beginning to rustle through the trees once more, carrying faint smells of cinnamon, campfire smoke, and the naturally-dried potpourri of autumn harvest. With the winds come the rustle of broad tree leaves, followed by the gentle cascade of fiery oranges, reds, and yellows. Fall has returned.
With warm memories of summer still baked into your recent tan, your jaw drops at seeing Halloween decorations – and even Thanksgiving decorations (are you kidding me?!) – already on store shelves; you might be thinking that you’re ready for your next vacation – or even a long weekend.
To help aid you in your much-needed respite, however brief, is PGAV’s Top Ten List of the Hidden Gems of Fall Travel. Whether these destinations are known for transforming beautifully with the fall colors, providing ideal spots for celebrating the autumn holidays, or simply offering breathtaking views as the surrounding forests shed their leaves, each captures the spirit of the season. Travel well, and pick up a Pumpkin Spice Latte on your way!
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
This staple of the US Amusement Industry has been voted “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park” for an astounding 29 years straight by the National Amusement Park Historical Association. Originally called “Busch Gardens: The Old Country,” the park’s various thematic nodes transport visitors across Europe through shows, parades, authentic dishes, and story-rich attractions. With just 11 degrees latitude difference from Munich and three degrees difference from Naples, the tree-filled park’s changing autumn colors are authentic to its European inspiration. If that’s not enough, USA Today named Busch Gardens Williamsburg as having one of the top ten theme park Halloween Events in the nation in 2019.
Situated in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville, NC enjoys one of the longest and most vibrant fall color seasons in the nation due to its climate and various elevations. The historic and trendy downtown has near-limitless cafes, restaurants, and watering holes, many of which tailor their menus and mixes to the seasonal and local ingredients available. Nestled in the crook of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville offers quick and easy access to stunning rivers, numerous hikes, and some of the highest peaks in the eastern United States. For a complete itinerary of fall activities in and around Asheville, click here.
Situated west of downtown Chicago, Brookfield Zoo’s Great Bear Wilderness is home to iconic North American animals, such as bison, grizzly bears, and gray wolves. With the changing of the seasons, these animals undergo fascinating behavioral changes, as well as thickening their coats for the oncoming winter. As Midwestern species of trees line the exhibits, the changing fall colors make for spectacular new views, and families will find plenty of weekend fun at the park’s Boo at the Zoo.
Mark Twain Boyhood Home
Situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Hannibal, MO, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum celebrates the people, town, and environment which produced one of America’s most important authors: Samuel Clemens. The beauty of autumn enables visitors to truly envision the sights and sounds that influenced Twain’s writing, and it’s hard not to enjoy watching a variety of vessels float lazily down the Mississippi as leaves fall into the currents from trees leaning over its muddy waters.
Built to tell the story of the very first successful delivery of air mail via hot air balloon, the 1859 Balloon Voyage takes visitors 350 feet into the air where they have stunning views of the surrounding area. After getting an eyeful of nearby fall harvests and a top-down glimpse of the forests’ changing colors, guests can wander the streets of the mid-1800s living history village and learn how settlers harvested their crops, prepared for the oncoming winter weather, and celebrated the season.
Gettysburg National Battlefield
Where once two great armies clashed for the future of our nation, today stands peaceful rolling hills dotted with outcrops of white oak and ash. Surrounding them are beautiful forests of northern red oak, spicebush, black cherry, and white ash. While wrapped in a warm wool coat, walking these historic pathways is rarely more comfortable and breathtaking. With colorful views into these forested patches, guests can envision the advancement of our courageous ancestors. October also welcomes to the region the National Apple Harvest Festival. Click here for a complete list of great fall activities around Gettysburg.
Gateway Arch National Park
In the early 1930s, the United States was looking for a location to honor Thomas Jefferson. At the time only two presidential monuments stood: the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. As the launch point for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the St. Louis waterfront proved a perfect place to commemorate one of Jefferson’s most visionary geopolitical maneuvers – the Louisiana Purchase. Designated a national park and renamed the Gateway Arch National Park in 2018, the grounds and Arch Museum have recently undergone extensive renovations and landscaping. The area now offers beautiful, meandering trails through a wide park of grass and changing trees. The view from the top of the Arch gives exciting glimpses of downtown St. Louis and distant sights of the surrounding fall harvest.
Kansas City Zoo
The Kansas City Zoo has been recognized as one of America’s Best Zoos time and again, and has been ranked number one in the nation for African Animals and Exhibits. Even Dr. Jane Goodall once remarked that the Zoo has “one of the finest chimpanzee exhibits in North America.”
To experience the award-winning African Exhibits, guests can hop on the African Sky Safari, gently swaying past the tree canopy of changing fall colors to observe these animals in expansive and authentic habitats. The zoo doesn’t take fall festivals lightly either; its calendar is packed with events like Hoots and Howls, Boo at the Zoo, and the visitor-favorite Great Pumpkin Smash.
Queen Victoria Park
From the Ontario side of the natural wonder known as Niagara Falls, visitors can stroll through the breathtaking Queen Victoria Park as they feel the rumble of the falls beneath them. With an immense and stunning collection of unique plants from around the world, the park is home to beautifully-maintained gardens that feature a rock garden, hanging baskets, a hybrid tea rose garden, and extensive carpet-bedding displays.
If that’s not enough to capture your Instagram-worthy fall photo, mid-November welcomes the annual Winter Festival of Lights. Over one million people travel from around the world each year to experience this winter wonderland, full of twinkling lights, thematic displays, events, fountains, fireworks, and more.
Zoo New England
“Fall in New England” is rightfully famous, with old roads winding through brilliant forests and 200-year-old, short stone walls lining the old homesteading properties. The Massachusetts attractions of the Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo make up Zoo New England, and these year-round destinations do not disappoint in the fall. With Halloween events like Boo at the Zoo and Zoo Howl, the institutions are also busy this season with Recycling Days, Cars and Critters, Pirates and Princesses, and the stunning Zoo Lights. A stroll through these beautiful, fall-colored attractions pairs well with such a delightful selection of seasonal events.