5 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.

Hikers Walking Across a Forest Bridge in Fall - Fall Vacation Ideas

by NEA Member Benefits

Sep 20, 2021

Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel and how much you’ve missed it. As states begin to relax their regulations with regard to COVID-19 and more Americans become vaccinated, travel is opening up more and more. Before planning a trip, read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before booking and again before traveling.

Everyone loves the colorful 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 five destinations—each of which adds an unexpected element to fall road trips.

Killington, Vermont

New England is still king of fall foliage, and the Vermont mountains provide unparalleled adventure—even when it’s not yet ski season. In the off season, ski resorts like Killington are perfect for a rugged ride filled with foliage. Go beyond hiking by booking an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) tour that lets you scale mountains and go on an off-road adventure to hard-to-reach viewpoints, taking in the gorgeous colors along the way. ATV Vermont near Killington has Polaris vehicles, and their guides will take you to the top of Killington Mountain for sweeping views with incredible hues.

For a quieter ride, rent mountain bikes and visit Killington’s Bike Park, which has three high-speed lifts that bring you to more than 30 miles of trails from beginner to expert.

If the timing works out, buy tickets to Killington’s annual Brewfest, held at the end of September. There you can enjoy live music, tasty food and more than 80 regional craft beers. If you miss the festival, stop by Long Trail Brewery on the scenic banks of the Ottauquechee River for some locally brewed beer.

Peak fall foliage: Mid-September to late October

NEA member travel benefits: The closest airport to Killington is the Rutland Regional Airport (RUT), which is about 30 minutes away. You may find more flights into Burlington (BTV), which is about three and a half hours away. Check NEA Travel’s portal for discounted prices on airfare. You’ll also find great car rental deals there. Then check the hotels page for fall deals like a stay at the charming bed & breakfast Vermont Inn, which has a pool, spa tub, sauna and arcade room for an average of $112 per night. Or for just $58 a night you can stay at the comfortable Hillside Inn, where the rooms have kitchenettes and private balconies.

Plan your itinerary: Killington | Vermont Vacation | ATV Vermont | Killington Bike Park | Killington Mountain Bike Rentals | Killington Brewfest | Long Trail Brewery

Tualatin, Oregon 

Just a half-hour’s drive south from Portland, Tualatin hosts the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta every October, where giant hollowed-out gourds 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. Not a wine lover? Visit the Tualatin Tap Room at Ancestry Brewing to sample local craft beer.

Peak fall foliage: Late October to early November

NEA member travel benefits: To get to Tualatin, fly into Portland International Airport (PDX), which is just 11 miles away. Log onto NEA Travel’s portal for special airfare deals. On the hotels page there, you could find rates like an average of $94 a night at Hampton Inn Sherwood, Oregon, where rooms have pilowtop beds, refrigerators and LCD TVs. Another option is Best Western Plus Northwind Inn and Suites, where rates average $95 a night and rooms have LCD TVs, refrigerators and microwaves. For just a little bit more (from $145 a night), upgrade to the Embassy Suites by Hilton Portland Washington Square and get free breakfast, premium TV channels, and a double sofa bed in every spacious room. There’s also an indoor pool, spa tub and fitness center.

Plan your itinerary: Washington County Visitors AssociationTualatin Chamber of Commerce | West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta | Milburn’s Haunted Manor | Tualatin Valley Wineries | Ancestry Brewing

Warrens, Wisconsin 

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. And you can’t visit Wisconsin without eating the local favorite, cheese curds. Try some at The Bog and top off the decadence with some apple cider from the cider mill at Rex Moseley’s Fruit and Vegetable Farm.

Peak fall foliage: Early October

NEA member travel benefits: Both Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) and Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) both require about a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Warrens. To get special prices on airline tickets and car rentals, visit NEA’s travel portal. Click on the hotels page to find deals on hotels like an average of $85/night at the Three Bears Resort, which has a private beach, two spa tubs, a pool and a game room, and an average of $88/night at Best Western Tomah Hotel, which provides refrigerators and microwaves in all rooms.

Plan your itinerary: Visit Warrens | Great Tomah Area Chamber of CommerceWarrens Cranberry FestivalCranberry Discovery Center Wetherby Cranberry Company | The Bog | Rex Moseley’s Fruit and Vegetable Farm

Lancaster, Pennsylvania 

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 on 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. For a hearty—and inexpensive—buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner, visit the restaurant at Yoder’s Country Market. Home-cooked “broasted” chicken, Pennsylvania Dutch potato filling, corn fritters, soups and delectable desserts are on the menu.

Peak fall foliage: Mid-October to early November

NEA member travel benefits: Lancaster does have its own airport, Lancaster Airport (LNS), although flights there are limited. Otherwise, you can fly into Harrisburg International Airport (MDT), Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI) or Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). Check NEA Travel’s portal to find special airfare deals, and then head over to the hotels page for great rates. For a side of history with your stay, reserve a room at the Cork Factory Hotel ($112/night), which is inside an old cork factory dating to the 1870s. Today, there are 93 modern boutique rooms with exposed brick walls, a fitness center, the Cork & Cap Restaurant and an on-site bakery. Clarion Inn & Suites Lancaster is a great deal at $75/night and includes free breakfast.

Plan your itinerary: Discover Lancaster | Visit PACherry Crest Adventure FarmJason’s WoodsAmish Buggy RidesLancaster Central MarketLiederkranz OktoberfestCherry Hill Orchards | Yoder’s Country Market

Branson, Missouri

Fall in the Ozarks is an explosion of color, thanks to the variety of trees that include birch, maple, sycamore, cottonwood, sassafras, ash, oak and hickory. The area’s most popular amusement park, Silver Dollar City in Branson, hosts the incredible Harvest Festival from late September through late October, which has two different themes for day and night. Daytime brings Craft Days, which brings artisans of all kinds from across the country doing demonstrations and more. At night, the park lights up with thousands of illuminated intricately carved pumpkins. Plus, Silver Dollar City is known for its food and fall brings delicious seasonal snacks such as pumpkin whoopee pies and hot apple cider.

Going on a boat ride or other watercraft adventure is a must when in the Ozarks so you can explore the area’s stunning lakes that will be surrounded by colorful trees. At State Park Marina at Table Rock Lake, you can rent everything from a waverunner to a two-tier triton to paddleboats and kayaks, plus water skis and tubes.

Peak fall foliage: Mid-September to mid-October

NEA member travel benefits: Visit NEA Travel’s portal for discounts on flights to Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF). On the hotels page, you can book your hotel stay and get great prices. All of the rooms at Holiday Inn Club Vacations Holiday Hills Resort ($117/night) have kitchenettes and private balconies or patios, plus there are four outdoor pools, one indoor pool, and tennis and basketball courts. The Hotel Grand Victorian ($101/night) has an indoor and outdoor pool.

Plan your itinerary: Explore Branson | Lake of the Ozarks CVB | Visit Missouri | Silver Dollar City Harvest Festival | State Park Marina

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