4 Fall Vacation Ideas That Go Beyond Leaf-peeping

Tackle a pumpkin regatta, navigate a cranberry bog and master a corn maze with these low-cost weekend escapes.

by NEA Member Benefits


Sure, it’s leaf-peeping season, but there is so much more to see and do across the nation during the autumn months. As you plan your annual fall weekend away, consider throwing a few additional seasonal pastimes into the mix. We suggest these four destinations—each of which adds a dash of spice to fall road trips.

Laconia, New Hampshire

Photo courtesy of the New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism

A trip through a pumpkin patch is a rite of the season, and Laconia comes to the table with a pretty impressive contender with its massive, one-day NH Pumpkin Festival. Imagine massive towers of more than 20,000 lit jack-o’-lanterns, games and entertainment, amusement rides and dozens of food and craft vendors, and you start to get the lay of the land.

Laconia is nestled in the lush White Mountains, so don’t miss a chance to hike its many trails that burst with the season’s color palette. Lake Winnipesaukee, less than a half-hour drive away, offers plenty of recreational activities, too. Hop aboard Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad for a fun railway tour that showcases some of the Granite State’s best lakeside scenery. If you prefer piloting your own vehicle, head out on a Lakes Region driving tour from Laconia to Meredith. 

Peak fall foliage: Mid- to late-October

Resources to plan your trip: Lakes Region Tourism Association, Visit New Hampshire

Driving distances: 1 hour from Manchester and Nashua, New Hampshire | 90 minutes from Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Ogunquit, Maine; and Boston, Massachusetts | 2 hours from Portland, Maine and Fitchburg, Massachusetts | 2.5 hours from Killington and Montpelier, Vermont

Don’t Miss: Enjoy a farmhouse-style country breakfast at Heritage Farm Pancake House in nearby Sanbornton.

Tualatin, Oregon

Photo courtesy of the Washington County Visitors Association

Just a half-hour’s drive south from Portland, Tualatin hosts the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta every October, where giant hollowed-out gourd specimens are used as canoes and raced across Tualatin Lake. The event has quickly become one of the Beaver State’s quirkiest and most fun fall events.

About 20 minutes south of Tualatin is Milburn’s Haunted Manor. After visiting the haunted house, calm jangled nerves with one of the valley’s many fine wine tours. Picture yourself sipping a glass of pinot while taking in some of Oregon’s most compelling scenery. 

Peak fall foliage: Late October to early November

Resources to plan your trip: Washington County Visitors Association, Tualatin Chamber of Commerce

Driving distances: 1 hour from Albany, Oregon and Castle Rock, Washington | 90 minutes from The Dalles and Eugene, Oregon and Olympia, Washington | 2 hours from Astoria, Oregon | 3 hours from Bend, Oregon

Don’t miss: Visit the Taulatin Tap Room at Ancestry Brewing to sample local craft beer.

Warrens, Wisconsin

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism

Wend your way through the Badger State’s Cranberry Highway, and you’ll be treated to glimpses of the bright red fruit at bogs all along the way.

Wisconsin is studded with cranberry bogs, but the town of Warrens showers special attention on the tart berry by hosting the “world’s largest” annual cranberry festival at the end of September. Complete the experience by getting your hands on some deep-fried cranberries on a stick or cranberry cream puffs.

If you miss the festival, you can still enjoy a guided tour of the Cranberry Discovery Center and the Wetherby Cranberry Company marsh, or take a driving tour that winds past cranberry marshes and great blue heron nesting spots. 

Peak fall foliage: Early October

Resources to plan your trip: Visit Warrens | Great Tomah Area Chamber of Commerce

Driving distances: 90 minutes from Eau Claire, Wisconsin | 2 hours from Madison and Wausau, Wisconsin | 2.5 hours from Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota | 3 hours from Kenosha and Green Bay, Wisconsin | 4 hours from Chicago, Illinois and Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Don’t miss: Go “whey” overboard by indulging in a local favorite, cheese curds, at The Bog. Top off the decadence with a sip of apple cider from the cider mill at Rex Moseley’s Fruit and Vegetable Farm.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Photo courtesy of DiscoverLancaster.com/Brian Evans

Soak in a true taste of the countryside with a weekend in the heart of Amish country. Test your navigational skills at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm’s corn maze and be prepared to be rattled with a visit to desolate Jason’s Woods for a whole host of haunted attractions.

When in Amish country, no visit would be complete without a buggy ride. Aaron and Jessica’s Amish buggy rides are less than a half-hour drive from Lancaster and will give you a 4-mile tour of Amish farms or village life. Step into Lancaster Central Market, the country’s longest, continuously operating public market, to stock up on baked goods and locally made cheeses.

Say prost! (“bottom’s up!”) at one of the region’s Oktoberfests with a tall stein of beer and pick some juicy apples at Cherry Hill Orchards, just perfect to make home-baked goodies of your own. 

Peak fall foliage: Mid-October to early November

Resources to plan your trip: Discover Lancaster | Visit PA

Driving distances: 1 hour from King of Prussia and Reading, Pennsylvania | 90 minutes from Allentown and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Baltimore, Maryland | 2 hours from Annapolis and Gaithersburg, Maryland | 2.5 hours from Scranton, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Don’t miss: For a hearty—and inexpensive—buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner, visit the restaurant at Yoder’s Country Market. Home-cooked “broasted” chicken, ham balls, soups and delectable desserts are on the menu.

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