The kids may be back in school, but there are still plenty of opportunities to carve out some fun quality family time. Fall offers a slew of fantastic options for family getaways, from colorful autumn leaf-peeping drives to holiday weekend escapes and Halloween fright nights.
Make the Most of Long Holiday Weekends
In the fall, there are several long holiday weekends when the kids are out of school. The long weekends around Columbus/Indigenous Peoples' Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving provide great opportunities to score some much-deserved time away with your family. Choose a family-friendly resort, plan a mini road trip to explore the countryside or head to a big city for some museum hopping.
Holidays have great significance, but sometimes we forget the reason these days were set aside as special days. To help your children understand the significance of holidays, you can do a bit of educating while getting out and having fun.
Turn Veterans Day, for example, into a learning experience for kids, highlighting the sacrifices of the servicemen and women who fought and died for us by visiting military monuments and historic sites. Seattle, for example, has a number of memorials and monuments that are worth visiting. And, of course, Washington D.C. is full of places to go to honor service men and women. Take in Arlington National Cemetery and the powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
If you live in or near the southern states, how about a day in Charleston, South Carolina, visiting the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, where kids can actually step aboard retired military ships like the famed WWII aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown. Spend a second day discovering the history and charm of old town Charleston, founded in 1670, and you have a special getaway for everyone in the family.
Another educational option would be to visit a Civil War memorial, like the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, where nearly 9,000 soldiers died as Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy. The battle inspired President Abraham Lincoln's great Gettysburg Address four months later in November 1863, in which he reaffirmed the principles of equality espoused by the US Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Take a Colorful Fall Foliage Drive
Has your family discovered the joy of leaf-peeping? Nothing makes you appreciate the glory of autumn like a road trip to view fall foliage. From New England to the aspen groves of the West, the landscape changes from green to brilliant coppers, reds, and yellows every fall. It is a sight that children and adults should see at least once in their lives.
There are Internet resources that will help you decide where to see the colors at their boldest. The Smoky Mountain National Park provides a fall foliage prediction map for the entire nation indicating which areas are at their peak over a two-week period. A key clarifies where each foliage-heavy area is in the color-changing process. Weather.com does fall foliage maps every day, indicating which areas are at peak or near peak on that day.
When you get to the woods or forests, make good use of viewpoints and short hikes to stretch everyone's legs. There's nothing quite like hiking through the woods in fall and, as the wind stirs the branches of the trees, having a shower of colorful leaves fall on you.
Get Away With Your Preschooler
For families with preschoolers, the back-to-school season may be the best time of year to grab a getaway at a top family resort. Why? Because prices tumble then and resorts shift their focus to younger kids who are not in school.
Go for an extended weekend to Barcelo Aruba, a resort that has many amenities designed for families and small children like direct access to one of the best beaches on the island—Palm Beach, nanny services, a huge kids club with an outdoor playground, dining options, and evening entertainment with live music.
Alternatively, you may not have to go far for with your little ones. A trip to the countryside in fall will provide the family with picture-perfect experiences. Take a family hayride on a pumpkin farm that ends with big cups of hot chocolate. Stay overnight at a B&B and go see an apple cider pressing the next morning. You'll return home laden with pumpkins, baskets of apples, gallons of apple cider, and maybe a homemade pie or two.
Find Family-Friendly Deals
The fall season, when business slows down at resorts and hotels, is a great time to score an affordable getaway. TripAdvisor.com calls Traverse City, in northern Michigan, one of the top 10 places in the country to see beautiful fall foliage. Ohio's state park lodges offer resort-like amenities in a lush wooded setting including family sports from hiking to geocaching.
In September, stay at some of Orlando Florida's famed resorts while the weather is still great but there are deals to be had and fewer visitors crowding the beaches. October is on the cusp of the off-season for San Diego resorts and attractions, which means they're offering good prices.
There's still plenty of sun in Florida and fun for everyone in the family. Visiting Jacksonville in November is easy on the pocketbook since the city offers a whole month of free admissions for children at some of its most popular family attractions.
Get Lost in an Amazing Corn Maze
All over the country, giant corn mazes are cropping up to the delight of families who flock to this quintessential fall experience. Wear comfy shoes or boots and bring your sense of adventure. And make sure to wear something bright so that someone can find you if you get lost.
There are mazes in practically every state. Seen from the air, many are amazing sculptural feats forming intricate designs like giant dinosaurs or Halloween pumpkins. If you don't have a corn maze close to home, you can choose from the 10 most amazing corn mazes in the United States to explore with kids.
Plan an Autumn Weekend in the City
Fall can be an ideal time to visit a major metropolis like New York City when temperatures are mild and the city is filled with fun activities, including those that are free. You'll find walking tours, cultural events like hands-on museum exhibits for kids, intriguing toy stores, and fantastic Broadway shows for the whole family.
To keep accommodation costs down, consider renting an apartment for a few days. You'll save by choosing something just outside Manhattan in a less expensive, family-friendly area like Astoria in Queens or just across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey; both have frequent, direct subway service into Manhattan. Plus, you'll be able to do your own cooking and find places that can accommodate a big family at a decent price.
In San Francisco, it actually warms up in the fall. You can ride the iconic Cable Cars, play with science at The Exploratorium at Pier 15 on the waterfront, walk out onto the Golden Gate Bridge. Kids love the Alcatraz boat tours where they ride across the bay to Alcatraz Island and tour the abandoned prison.
Find Spooky Fun During Halloween Season
Halloween is no longer just one day of the year. Now there's an entire season built around the spooky holiday, with destinations, theme parks, zoos, aquariums, resorts, and even cruise lines rolling out the orange-and-black carpet for families.
Cities and towns around the country are welcoming haunted houses, scary walks through decorated parks, boo zoos, and more to celebrate the season. These are open for days or weeks, and they are so popular they sometimes sell out way before opening day.
It can be a fun time to visit Philadelphia, for instance, during the Halloween Season as the city goes all out to celebrate.
In the Southwest, in states like Texas and parts of Arizona, the Hispanic holiday, Day of the Dead is celebrated with colorful altars, decorations on gravesites and special sweets and pastries. At the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, early November is time for their family-friendly celebration with music and dance performances, crafts, face painting, and a Mercado filled with handcrafted art, jewelry, and other wares. In Tucson, Arizona, the early November All Souls Procession brings out costumed, painted-face folk art characters in droves. It's fun to watch or participate.
Join in at a Fall Renaissance Fair
Fall is a great time for festivals. Among the festivals are Renaissance fairs, the largest being in Houston, Texas, which have become very popular over the past couple of decades. The fairs enable anyone to slip into life in a different era and have fun doing it.
As with most of the Renaissance fairs around the country, the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in Manheim, Pennsylvania, will get you into the period mood with a full complement of jousts, tournaments, heroes, damsels, royal folk, and live entertainment on the grounds of Mount Hope Estate and Winery.
There are Renaissance fairs in most states, although they take place year 'round.
Feast Your Eyes on the Northern Lights
There's no need to go as far as Iceland to see the Northern Lights. There are places in the United States where some of the most amazing Aurora Borealis sightings happen. In the Great Lakes region every year, typically from fall to spring, when the conditions are right, you can see the Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights, also called the Aurora Borealis or the "polar aurora," occur when large numbers of electrons originating from the sun stream toward the Earth along its magnetic field and collide with air particles. The air then lights up like a fluorescent light tube about 60 miles above the earth's surface. The resulting colors of the Northern Lights reflect gases found up there.
There are several places in the Great Lakes region to see this brilliant phenomenon, but one of the best vantage points is in Cook County, on the northeastern tip of Minnesota. Lie back and watch purple and neon green light up the sky from late autumn to early spring.
Sightings are likewise common in the spring and fall on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, one of the northernmost parts of the continental U.S. Locals say they can even see the glowing lights from their yards. The best places to see the Aurora Borealis in Michigan are Marquette or Michigan's northernmost Keweenaw Peninsula.
The northernmost region of Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Superior is a wonderful place to watch the Aurora Borealis in the fall and late spring. On a clear night, the lights reflect off Lake Superior, the largest expanse of freshwater in the world, creating a spectacular display.
Recreation.gov lists additional places to go to see the lights including Idaho. There have been rare sightings in Oregon and Washington as well.
Taste Your Way Through Harvest Festivals
In Fall, especially, there are opportunities to expose your children to the seasonality of foods. It's harvest time. Anywhere there are apple orchards, look for U-pick experiences. Often farmers will be making fresh apple cider, a great fall treat. In California fall is time to head for Apple Hill, just a short drive from Sacramento, the capital. There are special events for children and plenty of tasting to be done. Take home a bushel of apples and a freshly baked apple pie after your day in the orchards.
In most areas, the farm stands are still full of produce with wonderful apples, corn, squash, and other hardy vegetables and fruits. You may even find a place to get a great deal on your pumpkins for Halloween.
In New England, fall festivals and harvest events abound. And the harvest doesn't have to be from the bounty of the land. A Columbus Day weekend tradition is the Mystic Seaport Chowder Days Festival in Mystic, Connecticut at the Mystic Seaport Museum. Taste some chowder and enjoy this living history museum that preserves and celebrates America's seafaring heritage.