Fall foliage, state fairs, and apple picking are just a few reasons to visit the Southeastern United States in autumn. Take in the changing colors on a scenic drive through the Great Smoky Mountains or enjoy the East Coast during the offseason, when you'll have the beach all to yourself. Autumn is also harvest season, meaning it's prime time for wine tastings and food festivals. Plan to have the perfect fall weekend getaway no matter where in the Southeast you go.
Some events mentioned below may be canceled or postponed in 2020. Check the organizer's official website for the latest details.
Nature's autumn palette of crimson, orange, and gold provides a spectacular display of fall color across the Southeast, usually beginning as early as September in the higher elevations of the mountains and gradually progressing to the east and west of the mountains during October and early November.
One of the best drives in the region is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds 469 miles from Virginia to North Carolina. This scenic route offers sweeping views of the fall foliage across the peaks, waterfalls, and forests of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park.
When it comes to celebrating the season, harvest festivals are at the heart of fall events across the American southeast. If you want a chance to take in beautiful fields of crops, live music, and homemade sweets, head out to a local farm during one of these unique celebrations to spend the day celebrating the harvest.
One such event, the South Carolina Apple Festival, is a week-long celebration held in Westminister, South Carolina, each year to celebrate the largest apple-producing area in the state. Taking place over the week of Labor Day, this unique event features a golf tournament, river float, apple-baking contest, arts and crafts fair, parade, rodeo, classic car show, and children's pageant as well as apple-picking tours through the orchards of Oconee County.
The mountains of the Southeast offer picturesque vistas, an array of invigorating outdoor activities, and romantic resort destinations where you can escape from the bustling cities for a tranquil retreat with your loved one. If you're looking for a place to get away this fall, head somewhere like the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. Overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, this historic resort is known for its stunning sunset terrace and a 43,000 square foot spa, which features a network of mineral pools connected by waterfalls and rock archways as well as a giant lap pool with a fiber-optic star ceiling and underwater music.
Quiet beaches, fresh seafood, and coastal culture hold allure during the fall when the crowds pack up and leave the Southeast. Hotel rates drop significantly along with the high humidity levels of summer, and the cooler temperatures are perfect for beach walks, tennis, golf, nature tours, and outdoor dining. During this colorful season, you can take a driving tour of the Outer Banks sans the summer traffic, see the legendary wild horses, and stay at a luxury beach resort for less.
The growing popularity of culinary travel—cooking demonstrations and classes, creative dining experiences, food festivals, and winery visits—has prompted many resorts and restaurants to create new and exciting culinary adventures, ranging from short demonstrations or half-day classes to multi-day destination resort packages.
For a special treat, book a few nights at Blackberry Farm, a sprawling 4,200-acre farm nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Here, guests can indulge in the 160,000-bottle wine cellar, on-site brewery, and a farm-to-table restaurant. It even offers personal tours with the resident cheesemaker, chocolatier, and butcher.
Come October, the Halloween spirit takes over, and the Southeast really shines with its ghost tours and haunted historic sites. Although by day Savannah is a charming Southern city, by nighttime it gets especially spooky. Join one of Savannah's midnight walking tours or an authentic hearse tour to see the creepy cemeteries and hear scary stories. Another popular destination for spooky tourism is the city of New Orleans, which offers ghost tours of historic homes and even cemeteries.
Virginia celebrates Virginia Wine Month each October with an array of unique wine experiences from the mountains to the coast. Started in 1988, Virginia Wine Month has become an annual tradition as the state's wine region has grown in popularity and production.
While driving through Virginia, don't miss the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, which connects eight charming wineries overlooking Rappahannock River, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay. Alternatively, you can take the Blue Ridge Wineway to sample vintages from more than 10 popular wineries near Virginia's most picturesque scenic drives. Both routes offer plenty of places to stop to sample local wine, and most of these vineyards along them have special deals during Virginia Wine Month.
In the spirit of Munich's annual 16-day festival, many communities and organizations throughout the Southeast celebrate Oktoberfest. No matter where you go in the southeastern United States, you won't be too far from one of these festive celebrations, but one of the most famous takes place in Cincinnati, which is just a two-hour drive from Louisville, Kentucky.
Since 1976, Cincinnati has hosted Oktoberfest Zinzinnati in honor of its German heritage. Known as America's Oktoberfest, the festival is not only the largest in the nation but also the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world, drawing half a million revelers every year. During the week-long event, you'll find seven stages for live entertainment, 30 food vendors, and more than 800 barrels of beer to enjoy.
The North Carolina Birding Trail connects a network of designated birding sites throughout the state. Home to more than 460 bird species found in North Carolina, the trails are organized into three regional sections from the coastal plains to the mountains and include information about historic sites, scenery, tours, guides, events, and more. Painted buntings, shorebirds, birds of prey, and wild swans are among many of the winged beauties you may spot.
Celebrating the rich agricultural heritage of the region, state, county, and community, fairs in the Southeast attract millions of visitors each year. A great way to experience the Southeast of today with a touch of the nostalgia of yesterday, these fairs offer fun for all ages and a variety of interests. You'll be glad you stopped for the cotton candy, bright midway lights, farm exhibits, rides, and entertainment that only happen at the fair.
Stop by the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in early September to enjoy the Volunteer State's celebration of the season, or visit the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in October to witness one of the largest 10-day fairs in the nation.