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The Best Fall Destinations Throughout the U.S.

Published On 10/06/2016 Published On 10/06/2016
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Anyone who thinks summer is the best season probably doesn’t have any sweat glands. Fall wins that boxing match, hands down, because not only does nature put on one hell of a show, going outside is actually enjoyable. Plus, we celebrate all the best things in the fall: beer, chili, pie, football, lumberjacks, and haunted stuff. And eating all those deep-fried apple pies? Don’t worry about it, because we’re all about to pile on the sweaters and bulky coats. To honor this champ of a season, we’ve rounded up the best places in the country to experience fall and all it’s pumpkin-spiced glory:

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Stowe, Vermont

After years of being humble about their mostly forested state having the highest concentration of maples in the country, Vermont finally came out and declared themselves to have the best fall foliage on the planet. Leaf peeping (that’s actually what it’s called, people) is basically the state’s official sport. Stowe is the center of that action because it contains Mt. Mansfield (Vermont’s highest peak) and the 200-year-old village in its valley looks like something straight out of a postcard, complete with enough picturesque old churches to give all your followers FOMO. Stowe is also home to the Trapp Family Lodge (yes, of Sound of Music fame) and its hills are alive with crisp autumn colors, several fall festivals, and showings of Rocky Horror Picture Show all October.
Don’t Miss: More than 200 artists and crafters will show off their stuff at the the Stowe Foliage Arts Festival, but the biggest draw may just be the Vermont Beer, Cheese and Sausage tent, where a dozen beers will be served alongside locally-made sausages and cheese -- the real fall necessities.

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Copper Harbor, Michigan

The Michigan state forest system consists of four million acres, which is nearly eight times the size of Rhode Island (or basically just a whole lot of trees for those who aren’t into math conversions). Michigan’s prettiest trees, though? Those would be in Copper Harbor on the Keewenaw Peninsula, the northernmost part of the Upper Michigan peninsula. There are hiking trails that show off all that natural fall beauty, plus waterfalls that are just begging for you to ‘gram them. If you prefer four wheels instead of two (most likely sore) feet, take a drive up US-41 to pass through a natural tunnel of trees or cruise up the Brockway Mountain Drive. It’s the highest road between the Rockies and the Alleghenies, and from there you can take in panoramic views of Lake Superior and the forest.
Don’t Miss: Fall is the time to do something that scares you so much you have nightmares until Thanksgiving. In Copper Harbor, that would entail checking out one of the abandoned copper-mining villages that gave the town its namesake. Towns like Mandan and Delaware are essentially ghost towns with creepy cemeteries with gravestones from the 1800s.

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Cape May, New Jersey

We’ve already told you that Cape May is the best Jersey Shore town in pork roll country. But, we’ll let you in on a secret the locals hold dear: the best time to visit “the shore” is actually in the fall, once the tourists have packed up beach chairs and umbrellas (and loud small children). Sure, it may be a bit too chilly to lay out in a bathing suit, but the crowds are thin, the salty sea air is crisp, and this Victorian town packs the charm. Cape May hosts a bunch of haunted ghost tours in its famed turn-of-the-century historic mansions throughout the fall. And the area wineries (yeah, there’s a few of those) host their own fall festivals, with some offering weekly bonfires in their vineyards. If you think fall is better for craft brews than cabs though, Cape May Brewing Company brews their own Oktoberfest and Cranberry Bog Shandy.
Don’t Miss: If you can make it up the 199 steps (that’s like 16 flights) to the top of Cape May Lighthouse without feeling terrible about your health and life choices, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Cape May Point State Park -- a coastal dune, marsh, and forest area along the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay that turns bright reds, coppers, and yellows from late October to early November.

Nikki Wolfe/Flickr

Ellijay, Georgia

Oh, did you think the south didn’t have a “fall”? Well you’re mistaken, especially when it comes to Ellijay, the town 80 miles north of Atlanta that bills itself as the “apple capital of Georgia.” (Peaches are so last season.) This Appalachian Mountain town will be cloaked in reds and oranges come late October and well into November, making it ideal for those slacking on their fall travel plans. It’s part of the 867,000-acre Chattahoochee National Forest and home to several hiking trails, so the most serious of leaf-peepers should be satisfied. Ellijay hosts the 45-year-old Georgia Apple Festival, which celebrates the 20+ different types of apples grown in town. Then, there’s about 10 pick-your-own orchards in town if you’re looking to bring home your own bushel (or seven).
Don’t Miss: An apple off the tree is great, sure, but an apple pie is even better. And better still?  A deep-fried apple pie. Reece Orchards makes them right on the farm, plus they have a petting zoo, and cannons to shoot apples out of. For real.

Elvis Kennedy/Flickr

Door County, Wisconsin

Door County is considered the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” because it’s made up of more than a dozen towns on a peninsula nestled between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The county’s 300 miles of shoreline are dotted with lighthouses, orchards, wineries, and pumpkin patches, plus there’s Peninsula State Park for lots of untouched, autumnal colors. If you head just 45 minutes out, you’re in Packers territory, and Green Bay is the best town in the country for football fans. Plus, what says fall more than throwing up your arms and yelling TOUCHDOWN with cheese on your head.
Don’t Miss: Head over to Door County’s Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese to taste what Wisconsin does best, and a lot of it. They represent more than 30 different cheesemakers from Dairyland, and don’t feel bad about trying them all -- it’s sweater season after all.

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Sleepy Hollow, New York

You only have to go 20 minutes outside of Manhattan to find Sleepy Hollow, one of the most haunted places in the world. The town also just so happens to sit in the lower Hudson Valley -- making it as scenic as it is creepy. Fall is the best time to visit because that’s when the village fully embraces its spooky heritage: there are candlelight tours of the most-definitely haunted Sleepy Hollow Cemetery; the historic Philipsburg Manor, which turns into a haunted house in the middle of the village; and the already-eerie Lyndhurst castle becomes “Jay Ghoul’s House of Curiosities.” Sleepy Hollow is also home to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve. The 1,000-acre park with rivers, lakes, streams, old stone bridges, and (of course) loads of trees lets you take in the beauteous fall brightness while you try to catch a glimpse of the Headless Horseman.
Don’t Miss: Seven thousand (!!) pumpkins are carved every fall to become Sleepy Hollow’s Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze, turning the mysterious, 18th-century Van Cortlandt Manor farmhouse into a fiery sculpture garden straight out of Nightmare Before Christmas. The Blaze features pumpkins carved into everything from snakes to intricate grandfather clocks and an actual Headless Horseman, which will put your sad excuse for a jack o’ lantern to shame.

4thglryofgod/Flickr

Big Bear Lake, California

Most Los Angeles folks know Big Bear as a prime winter destination for skiing, but between October and November it serves as a scenic mountain escape from the LA hustle. (And if you go then, you don’t have to worry about finding snow pants.) Among all those Christmas-esque evergreens are oaks, cottonwoods and aspens that dot Big Bear with golds, reds, and yellows when the weather turns chilly. The best way to take in the views is by hiking. There are 10 different trails to help you explore around the lake, plus dozens of rustic lodges and cabins to act as home base. Bonus: Big Bear hosts an Oktoberfest every weekend through October 30, meaning you can have your fill of German brews and brats all through Herbst (ahem, fall).
Don’t Miss: To take in some serious lake views while you fill up on California wines and smoked elk ribs, trek over to The Pines -- it’s the only fine dining restaurant that’s lakeside. For those looking for something heartier, there's nothing better than handmade pies (especially glorious meat-filled ones), which are a speciality at Teddy Bear Restaurant, a Big Bear staple since 1944.

Autumn Glory Festival-Garrett County/Facebook

Oakland, MD

If there’s one small town that truly loves fall, it’s Oakland. This western Maryland mountain town was once voted the most beautiful fall town in the country, thanks to its proximity to Swallow Falls State Park. Swallow Falls is home to the tallest waterfall in Maryland, Muddy Creek Falls, as well one of the oldest hemlock groves in America. There’s also huge sugar maples, northern red oaks, and beech trees. Besides all the natural fall beauty, the town bills itself as “the great small town” for its bustling, but quaint, downtown -- that comes complete with an old-school soda shop, Englander’s Antiques. This antique shop/diner is known for its hearty breakfasts of buckwheat cakes, a.k.a. the perfect fuel for a long day exploring (or napping outside).
Don’t Miss: Oakland hosts a nearly 50-year-old Autumn Glory Festival, a five-day celebration that’s been lauded as one of the best fall festivals in the USA. It’s got all the idyllic fall activities you’d want: corn mazes, pumpkin carving competitions, a complete Oktoberfest dinner, and vendors selling handcrafted quilts.

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Salem, Massachusetts

The entire month of October is dedicated to Halloween in Salem thanks to its storied history as the setting of Hocus Pocus (and yeah, some really old witch trials). But seeing as Salem is located on the picturesque coast of Massachusetts, it’s as pretty as it is spooky. Besides the month-long celebration, dubbed Haunted Happenings, there are witch shops, like Crow Haven Corner, to pick up actual spell books and candles, and nightly tours of Salem’s several haunted and historical sites. You won’t have to travel far to take in that classic New England fall foliage either, as Forest River Park and the Salem Woods are conveniently near town.
Don’t Miss: The highlight of Salem’s Halloween activities is the Witches’ Halloween Ball, a giant costume party where they also cast spells and rituals. No, they really do.

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Gunnison, Colorado

Gunnison is a sleepy mountain town that bills itself as the “base camp of the Rocky Mountains,” so you won’t have to travel far to take in some jaw-drop worthy fall sights. Kebler Pass is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado, and it shines in the fall. Literally. Colorado’s aspen trees turn a brilliant gold, and this 30-mile mountain drive is stocked with plenty of places to stop and take in the views. This area is known for mountain biking and hiking, and with more than 150 trails covering 750 miles, that’s a surefire way to occupy most of your time -- plus well into the season, you’ll still be able to see some of the region’s famed wildflowers dot the landscape with even more color.
Don’t Miss: The Dogwood, in nearby Crested Butte, is a cocktail bar in an old miner’s cabin, specializing in all things cozy. Warm up by sipping on a tequila speedball with creme de cocoa and espresso or noshing on cabin-made pretzels with beer cheese.

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Beaver’s Bend, Oklahoma

A three-hour drive from Dallas, Beaver’s Bend is surrounded by part of the Ouachita National Forest, the oldest National Forest in the United States. The bend is basically a giant playground for anyone who likes to look at fall foliage while also doing something adventurous, like riding an ATV, horseback riding, or canoeing. It’s rustic, vast, and scenic -- and every October it’s also home to the Idabel Fall Festival, where you can sample winning chili cookoff recipes and possibly get a glimpse of Bigfoot. We said “possibly.”
Don’t Miss: The Beaver’s Bend area is known for lumbering, and they celebrate that heritage every year at the annual Lumberjack Festival. The festival honors everything we love about those big burly, men of the woods: beards, flannel, and competitive axe throwing.

Bob Nichols/USDA/Flickr

Bethel, Maine

A mountain town and ski hub in western Maine, Bethel acts as the central point to take in fall foliage around the Pine Tree State when it’s not covered in snow. It’s situated in the White Mountain National Forest, with some of the tallest mountains in Maine. Bethel also lays claim to the Artist’s Covered Bridge, which got its name from so many painters parking their easel by it to put it on canvas. Peak leaf-peeping season is in mid-October, and the prime spot for it would be on a scenic ski-lift ride through the mountains. Because this is New England in the fall, and you’d be remiss not to have a bowl of chowdah: Sunday River Brewing Company offers a “chowder of the day” with your beer.
Don’t Miss: Bethel also celebrates fall as the official start to cuffing season by hosting the annual North American Wife Carrying Championship, where husband-and-wife teams compete through athletic challenges and the winner takes home the wife’s weight in beer and 5x her weight in cash.

Laruse Junior/Flickr

New York City, New York

Sure, New York may not be known for its sprawling forests and natural wonders, but it does have the largest concentration of Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes in the United States. Oh, and Central Park’s Ramble  -- a 36-acre wild garden that also acts as the birding center of the entire park. You can also head uptown to Inwood Hill Park to explore an enormous natural forest and see what New York was like before it was overrun by, um, New Yorkers. NYC celebrates fall with harvest festivals, desserts, masquerade balls, and the Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade, which is far more adorable than Halloween parades for people.
Don’t Miss: Since New Yorkers just spent all summer sweating in the subway, they revel in the chance to enjoy chilly temperatures and seek out these cocktails to warm up. That is, until it’s so frigid they hole up in their studio apartments ‘til March.

Jason Matthews/Flickr

Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Starved Rock is just two hours outside of Chicago, but it feels like it could be an entirely different state, with waterfalls, trails, and prime fall foliage. Plus, the Starved Rock Lodge is home to the largest fireplace in all of Illinois, and nothing screams fall like a gigantic, crackling fire. Bonus: 95% of the pumpkins grown for food processing (like the ones you use to make pumpkin pie) in the US are grown in Illinois, so it makes sense that the North Shore Chicago suburb, Highwood, would hold the world record for the largest number of jack o’ lanterns lit at one time. They accomplish this feat at the annual Highwood Pumpkin Fest, where thousands of jack o’ lanterns are lit each year to support the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Don’t Miss: Also outside of Chicago is the largest corn maze in the world, which this year is themed after 50 years of Star Trek. Live Long, Prosper and Drink Pumpkin Spice.

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