No question about it, Fall in the USA is iconic! Our TV screens are flooded with images of quaint little clapboard towns and whitewashed churches under the vibrant branches of the trees, or remote highways suspended over carpets of red and yellow. Surprisingly it isn’t just the foliage which makes Fall the perfect time for an American Adventure and New England doesn’t hold ALL the cards either! Here are our top 20 awesome places to visit in the USA in October/Fall…
1. Harper’s Ferry West Virginia – with fall foliage to rival New England
Nestled in the bend where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge, The Historic town of Harper’s Ferry is old America at its finest. Connected to the mainland by two railway bridges, the town was actually the site of the very first steam railway over the Potomac.
In October it is resplendent with color as the trees begin to turn, and the numerous trails that you can take out of the town will lead you through the heart of the woodlands or up onto the Appalachian Trail offering magnificent views over the quaint old town, the two converging rivers, and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In the town itself, you will find charming colonial streets, old-fashioned treats, and plenty of nods to the town’s rich history, particularly John Brown’s Raid of 1859, when the abolitionist attempted to use the town’s armory in a failed slave revolt. Throughout the Civil War, the town held great strategic importance being intricately connected by both the Rivers, the Canals, and the Railway…History buffs will find plenty to learn about in the town’s museums and significant buildings.
Often referred to as ‘almost heaven’ it is easy to see why Harper’s Ferry’s appeal has survived the centuries, steeped in fascinating history, with Fall foliage to rival that of Connecticut it is an absolute hidden gem not to be missed.
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2. Asheville, North Carolina – for a gorgeous October break
From September to early November temperatures hover between the upper 50s and the mid-70s, making October one of the most ideal times to explore the explosive fall foliage around Asheville. Make the most of the splendid natural beauty by taking the Blue Ridge Parkway Scenic route, which passes right through the town. Get out into the wild on the well-marked tracks and trails around the Pisgah National Forest or try Whitewater rafting on the French Broad River. Less adventurous types can opt for a more refined stroll through the magnificent Biltmore Estate.
The fall leaves in October are not the only vibrant aspect of Ashville, the town and surrounding area have been used in a multitude of films including The Hunger Games and Dirty Dancing… you can visit the river where the famous lift scene happened! The town also reared many authors… most notably Thomas Wolfe who used the area as inspiration for his classic novel Look Homeward Angel.
Music also plays a key role in the city’s heritage, with strong roots in Appalachian Folk and Bluegrass the town hosts many festivals and also famous residencies at The Orange Peel with bands such as The Smashing Pumpkins and Band Of Horses recording there. The rich artistic ties are very much evident in the wonderful River Arts District. And if that isn’t enough to whet your appetite Ashville is also the very first city to be awarded a Green Dining accolade!
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3. New England – the most famous autumn foliage in the USA
When I think of Fall I think of New England…Gilmore Girls, Ivy League courtyards, and Stephen King. At the start of the Fall season, between the end of September and mid-October, the northern states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont—hit their peak of autumn colors. For quintessential white clapboard towns, quaint town squares, and leafy surroundings Vermont is your state, don’t miss historic Peacham, once declared Vermont’s most iconic village and definitely one of the best places to visit in Vermont.
If you want a little more wilderness head for Lake Willoughby or Quechee Gorge or take in a sunset at Lake Champlain before exploring Burlington. In New Hampshire take advantage of the scenic White Mountains or enjoy historic towns such as Amherst for fine colonial architecture. Maine has the largest stretch of Coastline in New England and is positively bursting with gorgeous little fishing villages such as Lubec and the beautiful Stonington.
To really absorb the wilderness of the state and see Fall in full glory I suggest you get off the beaten track and head for Northern Maine, where the abundance of nature in places such as Baxter State Park and Moosehead Lake Parks will literally take your breath away! Easily one of the best places to visit in October in the USA!
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4. Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah state line – October is a great time to visit
The spectacularly strange landscape of Monument Valley is best visited during the autumn months especially October when temperatures are pleasant and it isn’t crowded with millions of tourists. Monument Valley is a large area within the territory of Navajo Reservation. It encompasses The Navajo Tribal Park and the incredibly iconic Colorado Plateau… characterized by its imposing sandstone Buttes rising up in massive eerie formations from the sandy ground.
The Valley is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever watched a Western, with many of the early classics being filmed here including Stagecoach and later on Once Upon A Time in the West. Most of the Buttes can be visited independently but Hunts Mesa and Mystery Valley require a Navajo guide to accompany you for safety.
5. Chicago, Illinois – makes a great October city break
Fall is the perfect time to visit this vibrant city as temperatures are usually mild during September/October and it’s not the rainy season. October is typically the driest month of the year and even in this bustling metropolis the glory of fall colors can be seen in parks and green spaces and along the tree-lined avenues. Try a local beer in one of the city’s many craft breweries such as the ultra-hip Marz Community Brewing near McKinley Park, which serves up its delicious ales alongside tavern-inspired delicacies.
Enjoy other seasonal treats like pumpkin pie in one of the city’s gourmet bakeries or pumpkin spiced coffee in a cozy coffee shop. If you want to take a short trip out of the city why not go and pick your own pumpkins or apples? You could take in a 24-hour horror movie bonanza at the Southport Theater, enjoy some famous Chicago Blues, immerse yourself in the city’s thriving arts scene and discover the vast array of outdoor public art from icons like Dali and Calder.
6. Allegheny National Forest Pennsylvania – one of the best and most beautiful places to visit in the USA
Situated In the northwestern part of Pennsylvania, The Allegheny National Forest is probably the most famous place to observe fall foliage. Leaves start to turn here in late September and the forest transforms into a sea of gold by mid-October. What better way to view the trees aflame with color than by strolling out over the breathtaking Kinzua Skywalk.
Originally the Kinzua Viaduct, and at one time the highest bridge in the world, the Skywalk now offers visitors uninterrupted views of the valley below through a glass floor 301 foot high. Also, try a hike along the unique Hector Falls or climb up the hewn stone steps to Rimrock Overlook, a sequence of viewpoints elevated 200ft above the forest offering unrivaled views out over the Kinzua Bay and the Allegheny Reservoir…Nature at its most divine, don’t miss it!
7. Gulf Shores, Alabama – a great fall beach break without the crowds
September through to November is a great time to visit this gorgeous coastal destination. Throughout the year the city of Gulf Shores offers travelers a less crowded and more affordable alternative to Florida, but it’s even better to take advantage of these sweet spots outside the busy summertime.
The Fall and October especially offers much more manageable temperatures, warm enough for swimming in The Gulf of Mexico, bathing on the extensive white sands of Orange Beach, and taking advantage of the water sports and theme parks on offer, but not uncomfortably hot.
The added bonus in the fall is you can hike or bike out on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails in the Gulf State Park and catch the changing colors under canopies of leaves. Here you will discover all kinds of Flora and Fauna including snakes, alligators, armadillos, bobcats, and eagles…to name but a few!
8. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – for amazing autumn views
The Rocky Mountain National Park Spans 415 miles of protected countryside and encompasses Trail Ridge Road, the highest stretch of unbroken paved road in America, which takes you all the way up to The Continental Divide. Other beauty spots are Grand Lake, Emerald Lake, and the historic Keyhole Route up Longs Peak, the highest and most dangerous mountain in the park.
October is one of the months to visit this gorgeous destination as this is when the foliage is resplendent and the weather temperate, so it is the perfect time to visit. Whilst you are in the vicinity it is well worth driving out to some of the nearby townships such as Estes Park, a quaint mountain town which offers plenty of shopping and dining and an aerial tramway with amazing views of the imposing Stanley Hotel, which provided the inspiration for Stephen King’s classic The Shining! Hikers, Climbers, Snowshoers, and nature lovers… this is your place!
9. Austin – October is a great time to visit this hip and fun city
Austin is the cultural jewel in the Texan crown, famous for its laid-back vibes, amazing live music scene, and the South by Southwest Music Festival.
With temperatures reaching the high 90’s in the summer it can prove unbearable for unaccustomed travelers! Instead visit this buzzing city in October, when temperatures are much more tolerable and the fall foliage baths the streets and parks in color. The city is just as lively too, celebrating Oktoberfest, Dia De Los Muertos, and Halloween with craft beer, carnival, and creepy haunted houses…and music of course!
Stroll along historic 6th Street and enjoy down-home dining, good ale, and song beneath the romantic lights reflected on the canal. Cross the little footbridges that span the water and you will find all manner of quirky delights from weird museums to secret speakeasies!
If you’re lucky you might catch the Pecan Arts Festival and pick up some amazing artworks, crafts, and homewares by local makers. Nearby you can get back to nature in the breathtaking McKinney Falls State Park or Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. For a bit of Texan tradition head out to one of the corn mazes and pumpkin patches at a local farm! An awesome destination to visit in Ocotber!
10. Arches National Park, Utah – for wonderful rock formations at cooler temperatures
October is the best month to visit this Iconic landscape when daytime temperatures average a pleasant 60-80 degrees as opposed to the intolerable summer highs of 100! The Arches National Park is instantly recognizable and ‘Delicate Arch’ .. or the more colloquial ‘Old Maid’s Bloomers’ has become a symbol for the entire state of Utah.
This prehistoric landscape has more than 2000 of these unique natural stone arches, which began to form around 65 million years ago and continue to change and erode minutely as each day passes. The park is also home to some tribal petroglyphs, thought to be left by the nomadic Ute tribe of Native American Indians. There is really no other comparable place in the world, so get this on your bucket list!
11. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia – October marks the official start of Fall Color Season here
One of the most beautiful destinations to visit in October, this is a scenic driving route to rival any other! Traversing 469 miles along the mountaintops south of Asheville, North Carolina to the Virginia State Line and Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway takes you past so many Appalachian beauty spots I can’t possibly fit them all in this section.
Here are a few to whet your appetite – explore hidden caves and cliffs on the rugged Grandfather Mountain and see if you are brave enough to cross the mile-high swinging bridge, the highest of its kind in the USA.
Look out for diverse wildlife such as black bears, river otters and cougars, bald eagles, and Elk. If you like a wild swim head for Looking Glass Falls and Sliding rock or the refreshing Skinny Dip Falls. Take in the fiery fall foliage from vantage points like Linn Cove Viaduct or the Richland Balsam Overlook…the highest elevation point on the parkway.
Stay along the way in one of the many quaint mountain towns such as Asheville, Banner Elk, Black Mountain, and Woodfin.
12. Flagstaff, Arizona – for wonderful scenic views in October
One of the best times to visit Flagstaff is October when the summer crowds have dispersed, the scorching temperatures have dropped, the trees are alight with color and the weather is crisp and clear.
Route 66 will take you directly through this vibrant historic city, the perfect base for an exploration of The Grand Canyon National Park as well as more local monuments like Walnut Canyon, where you can visit ancient cave dwellings and the red sandstone homes of the Pueblo tribes.
Also local to Flagstaff are Wupatki and Sunset Crater National monuments. The contrast of the ancient arid landscape and the soaring heights of the San Francisco Peaks is truly unique. You’ll find wildflowers and picturesque hiking trails and plenty of opportunities to ski and snowboard.
The city itself is bursting with culture from craft breweries and live music to the nationally acclaimed Museum of Northern Arizona. Stargazers can head up to The Lowell Observatory and catch breathtaking uninterrupted night skies. An absolute hidden gem and a must-see if you are planning on crossing Route 66 off that bucket list!
13. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming – glacial lakes and grizzlies
Outdoor lovers, visit here in October! There are 200 miles of unspoilt mountain paths to explore as well as Snake River. You can hike, boat, climb and ski at your will as you traverse stunning crystal lakes and alpine landscapes and all manner of wildlife from elk and bear to owls and colorful native birds. Botanists will find wildflowers and trees aplenty, which are especially beautiful in their autumn cloaks. campers and backpackers be sure to get the correct permits before you travel.
There are numerous well-marked trails that take in all the beauty spots. The Jenny Lake Ferry transports you across the water where you can hike up the stunning Cascade Canyon and along the shimmering shoreline of Lake Solitude. Limber Legged hikers should try The Death Valley Trail and take in the amazing views of Glacial Phelps Lake.
For the best chance of spotting Elk, Moose, and Grizzly Bear head out on the Relatively flat Two Ocean Lake Loop, but make sure you are equipped with bear spray in case the encounter gets hairy!
14. Maui – for a warm October break in the USA
The Hawaiian Island of Maui has been a tourist hot spot since long before Moana and in the peak months can become very crowded. This is a perfect destination for an amazing fall/October break as you can enjoy the island at its best without fighting your way through multitudes of other vacationers.
The weather on the Island is beautiful all year round, so you can still pack your sunscreen and bathing suit and enjoy the idyllic stretches of sandy beaches and turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean. Hiking up to the top of the Iao Valley State Monument, believed to be a sacred place where rituals were performed by ancient indigenous people, is an absolute must, as is a thorough exploration of Haleakala National Park.
Acres and acres of volcanic landscapes and sub-tropical rainforest give way to the stunning Kipahulu Coastline. For an unforgettable and spiritual experience hike up to the summit of the dormant volcano at sunrise or sunset to take in glorious views over the unique landscape.
Go on a night hike and weave your way through the aeolian cinder desert, spot one of the many endangered species that call the park home. Head to the Kipahulu area of the park for miles of uninterrupted coastline and amazing waterfalls. Follow the trails to the towering Wailuku Falls or swim in the Seven Sacred Pools…a collection of way more than seven translucent pools and waterfalls that draw huge crowds in the summer months.
If you make the trip in November be sure to take the opportunity to go whale spotting as the island is on the migratory path of the North Pacific Humpback Whales, which arrive in swathes from the end of autumn and through the early winter months. Hit one of the towns for ‘Aloha Fridays’ and you might find yourself in the middle of a street party, which can’t be bad right? Foodies will enjoy sampling local delicacies during ‘restaurant week in Wailea’, also held in November.
15. Door County, Wisconsin – a gorgeous October destination filled with colorful leaves
Door County is the easternmost county in the state of Wisconsin and sits on a picturesque peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Its long and beautiful shoreline and rare limestone beach and escarpments make it a big draw for travelers from across the U.S and it’s earned the reputation of ‘Cape Cod of The West’.
There are five state parks across Door County which provide amazing opportunities for trekking, biking, and water sports, and during October and the ret of the Fall months, the trees are literally glowing with colors! The peninsula is also home to 11 lighthouses, many of which you can visit.
I recommend the historic Cana Lighthouse, built in 1859 for the wonderful views of Moonlight Bay, or a ferry across Death’s Door Passage to Washington Island to visit Schoolhouse Beach with its unique limestone pebbles and crystal clear waters. In October the Door County Lighthouse Festival curates a variety of land, boat, and adventure tours to take a more intimate look at the lighthouses.
The peninsula is also home to the largest lavender grower in the Midwest and although peak time is the summer months you can catch the late blooms all through September. If you want to get stuck into some local traditions there are a couple more great Fall festivals to check out; The Pumpkin Patch in Egg Harbour and the Fall Festival in Sister Bay. If you are a fan of laid-back towns, chatty locals, craft brews, and delicious seasonal cuisine then you can’t really go wrong in Door County.
16. Big Sur – scenic views and less crowds
Starting at the iconic Bixby Canyon Bridge ‘Big Sur’ refers to a 90 mile stretch of rugged coastline in Northern California. The whole stretch is incredibly popular and can get really saturated with tourists during peak season, so I would recommend visiting this wonderful US gem in October instead.
With more than 300 days of sunshine per year, you don’t have to worry about the weather bringing you down, and visiting off-season means you don’t have to wait for a million people to disperse before getting a clear shot of the spectacular scenery! The highway winds along soaring cliffs and through various state parks. In the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, you can find the cascading McWay Falls throwing rainbows on the cliff face above the twinkling Pacific Ocean.
You’ll also pass the thoroughly ostentatious yet historic Hearst Castle which now houses a fascinating collection of objects that reflect the life of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, who built the Castle between 1919 and the 1940s. If you visit in November don’t miss the elephant seals nearby! They come in their hundreds in the late autumn/ winter months to breed and have their pups and it is truly a sight that you will never forget!
Along Big Sur, you will also see lots of Californian Sea Lions who hang out on the rocky outcrops and make a terrible racket that you can hear from miles away! Just a little tip, staying overnight within Big Sur can be extremely expensive so I would recommend taking a day to explore the coastline from sunrise to sunset and finding accommodation just outside the area for your overnights.
17. The Berkshires in Massachusetts – for stunning Fall foliage and lovely walks
For truly idyllic USA Fall foliage in October head to The Berkshires, Massachusetts and enjoy hiking or biking through one of the many State Forests such as Bear Town or Tolland – home of the serene Otis Reservoir, one of several beautiful lakes and ponds in the district. If you prefer your views from above then head for Knife Edge or Squaw Peak and Devils Pulpit, situated within the stunning 503 acre Monument Mountain Reservation.
If culture is more your jam then visit some of the picturesque villages and towns in the area such as North Adams, which boasts the largest Museum of Contemporary Art in the USA. Music Lovers should head for the laid back yet refined ambiance of Lenox, the summer home of The Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Estate.
For a bit of whimsy check out Santarella, sometimes referred to as The Gingerbread House near Lee; a magical cottage and studio built in the 1920s by Anglo- American sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson. Also, be sure to leave time for a delicious farm-to-table dining experience in one of the local farm-come-eateries. There are numerous historical points of interest throughout the Berkshires which played a significant role in the American Revolution.
The area also has links to artist Norman Rockwell and the eponymous museum in the town of Stockbridge houses the largest collection of his paintings in the world. Poet Emily Dickenson also lived and died in nearby Amherst and her family’s homestead ‘The Evergreens’ is now a museum dedicated to her works.
18. Las Vegas and Grand Canyon – October is a great time to avoid the crowds
If you want to avoid crowds and unbearably hot temperatures then October is a great time to visit Las Vegas and you should still be able to find a good travel deal. As you can imagine Halloween is a big deal in the city and you can have your socks scared off by going on a citywide ghost tour that takes in the abandoned mining town of Goodsprings … Very Scooby-Doo!
All the usual adventures are still available such as helicopter and hot air balloon rides over The Grand Canyon or over the strip by night, and the autumn light is really beautiful.
Whatever your preference, land or air or water, try and get your Grand Canyon visit to coincide with the sunset for a full appreciation of this amazing natural wonder! Another must-see is the iconic Hoover Dam, built during the Great Depression in 1931 and still one of the world’s most magnificent examples of human engineering.
Back on the strip you can take a romantic gondola ride along the Venetian’s Grand Canal or catch one of the famous shows. Perhaps you’ll head to a chapel and get married by one of the many Elvis lookalikes? Of course, you can also hit the slot machines which will swallow your dollars any time of year without discrimination!
19. Charleston South Carolina – a charming place to visit in autumn
Summer is the rainy season in Charleston SC, so one of the best times to visit is October when temperatures are mild and humidity drops. It’s also a great time for hotel deals! If you love history and architecture then you really must make the trip to this gorgeous city.
Charleston is the oldest planned Anglo-American town in the US and its streets are lined with elegant colonial buildings and antebellum manor houses. The very first shot of the Civil War was fired here at Fort Sumter and relics of the Civil war period can be found all around the city. Charleston was a huge player in the slave trade and many of its most splendid buildings were built on those dark foundations which can be explored at The Old Slave Mart Museum.
A glimpse of the old south survives in the columned mansions and huge plantations nearby, the most famous of which is Boone Hall, the inspiration behind Tara in Gone With The Wind. The manicured historical city continues to stun with the amazing Georgian architecture of Rainbow Row and the stunning Waterfront Park and elaborate Pineapple Fountain. Broad Street offers a plethora of independent shopping and boutiques within buildings which are biscuit-tin-beautiful!
The cobbled Longitude Lane takes you into secret streets and alleyways and past hidden gardens. Being a port you must also try the seafood here, especially the Oysters, perhaps washed down in the city’s oldest Inn on Two Meeting Street. Finally, if you are feeling brave, why not loosen those limbs and learn the Charleston, that famous 1920’s dance named after the town!
20. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio – cascading falls and falling leaves
This relatively new National Park is a hidden gem sandwiched between the two cities of Akron and Cleveland along the banks of the Cuyahoga River. The park is a tranquil paradise traversed by well-marked trails and canal paths and The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway. The biggest attraction in the park is the magnificent Brandy Wine Falls which cascades down a 60ft drop and feeds the many other smaller falls surrounding it.
Hewn into the rockface around the falls you’ll find the snug Ice Box Caves and the spectacular Ledges Overlook, which along with the whole Ledges Trail offers breathtaking views of the Fall foliage. Another fantastic place to take in the Fall vista is Tinkers Creek Gorge and the overlook which offers views of the thickly wooded valley 200 ft below!
Long-distance hikers can enjoy exploring the parks 125 miles worth of trails, whilst those who prefer a gentle stroll can tackle shorter routes and take in some of the beautiful waterfalls or shop at Szlays Sweet Corn and Farmers Market and have a delicious locally sourced picnic under the whispering branches of the autumn trees. One of the best October destinations you can explore in the USA!
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