Fall is the perfect time for travel. The temperatures are milder, and the crowds are thinner. In places like New England, the forest comes to life with an explosive display of fall colors. While fall foliage tours are incredibly popular in the Northeast, there are many other fantastic destinations all around the United States perfectly suited for fall travel. Now that the summer hordes of vacationers have ebbed, you have time to take things a little slower on your vacation: to stop and smell the pumpkin spice, if you will. Hop on one of Amtrak’s rail lines to comfortably enjoy the journey. Whether your traveling alone or with your family, here are the best destinations for an autumn adventure this year:
10. Glacier National Park
Take time this fall to visit Montana’s Glacier National Park: the “Crown of the Continent” This is the most active season for wildlife, and as the animals prepare for winter, you have an increased chance of sighting them in their natural habitat. The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road bisects Glacier, and is one of the most spectacular scenic drives on the planet. You may recognize the landscape from the opening credits of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. You can make your own, less ominously scored journey across Going-to-the-Sun Road either in your own vehicle or aboard one of the Park’s historic Red Jammer Buses. The highway is open for most of the fall, but as it gets later in the season and snowfall builds up, some areas may be closed off. For an unforgettable vacation, travel via Amtrak’s Empire Builder rail line, formerly the flagship train of the legendary Great Northern Railway. The Great Northern Railway, along with prominent conservationists like George Bird Grinnell, helped promote the legislation that established Glacier National Park in 1910. People have been taking this train to “See America First” since the late 1800s.
9. Williamsburg, VA
The incredibly charming Williamsburg opens a door to America’s colonial past. Grab a cup of hot cider, and stroll down the main road and experience life as it was in the early days of the United States. Walk the grounds of the Governor’s palace, the opulent home of Virginia’s loyalist governor. Warm up with an elegant afternoon tea at the Williamsburg Inn. Follow the footsteps of England’s first colonists on an archaeological walking tour in historical Jamestowne, where John Rolfe and Pocahontas were married. For families and adrenaline junkies, a visit to the Busch Gardens Amusement park will launch you back into the twenty-first century.
8. Boston, MA
Autumn is when Beantown comes to life. It’s cool enough for a “sweatah” and a cup of “chowdah,” and the trees lining the city’s historic streets will be bursting with color. Take a tour of the Samuel Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain, and get up close and personal with the changing leaves at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum or the Boston Common. If you visit during baseball season, don’t miss the chance to see a game at Fenway. If not, you can still take a guided tour of “America’s Most Beloved Baseball Park,” and get up close and personal with the Green Monster. Boston is also the perfect launch point for a tour of New England’s fall foliage. Take a trip on Amtrak’s Vermonter line, and immerse yourself in the forests of changing leaves!
7. Fairbanks, AK
The peak-viewing season for the Northern Lights begins in the fall, and Fairbanks, Alaska is your best bet to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis without needing a passport. A 3-night stay in the area gives you an 80 percent chance of seeing the aurora’s ghostly green glow. Surrounded by mountains, rivers, and unspoiled wilderness, Fairbanks is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States. Take it all in while relaxing in natural geothermal spring at the Chena Hot Springs Resort, or explore the area on a dog-sledding tour or canoe trip down the Chena River.
6. Napa Valley, CA
Early autumn might just be the best time to visit Napa Valley. The temperatures are cooling off ever so slightly, the crowds have thinned, and harvest is underway. During the wine crush, you can smell the perfume of grapes in the air. Enjoy an outdoor wine tasting, see a winery in action, and sip a glass with dinner on a heated patio overlooking the vineyards. Don’t miss the chance to ride the famous Napa Valley Wine Train; a luxurious and relaxing three-hour ride through the vineyards. After the harvest, the grape vines turn vibrant scarlet and gold, in a uniquely Californian display of fall foliage.
5. Glenwood Springs, CO
When the mountains in Colorado turn gold, you know that autumn has arrived. Take the legendary California Zephyr rail line into Glenwood Springs, the best jumping off point for a Colorado fall vacation. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and named “The Most Fun Town in America” by USA Today, Glenwood Springs is home to the largest mineral hot springs pool in the world, perfect for relaxing on a cool fall night. To see Colorado’s distinctive autumn transformation, drive south to Gunnison National Forest. The forests of aspen trees in places like Kebler Pass turn a brilliant yellow and come alive, making their unmistakable whispering sound as they flutter in the wind.
4. Savannah, GA
What better place to spend Halloween than America’s Most Haunted City? Savannah, Georgia is drop-dead gorgeous, laden with Old Southern Charm, Spanish moss, and otherworldly spirits. Wander the legendary Bonaventure Cemetery, whose beautiful, ornate sculptures and headstones inspired the likes of Oscar Wilde and John Muir. Visit in the late afternoon, and once the sun sets, see how long it takes before you high-tail it out of there. Savannah also offers a number of ghost tours, which stop at the city’s most haunted places and outline their tragic histories.
3. Albuquerque, NM
For those looking to experience a different kind of fall color, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta offers a decidedly more whimsical interpretation of a fall foliage tour. Every October, hundreds of brightly colored hot-air balloons take to the skies. Each balloon is totally unique, and the sight of their mass ascension over the New Mexico desert is absolutely breathtaking. Attend the Albuquerque Harvest Festival, and sample some authentic New Mexican cuisine.
2. San Francisco, CA
Fall in San Francisco brings out all the best weather and none of the crowds. Picnic in Golden Gate Park, climb the winding streets on Nob Hill, and think deep at a poetry reading at the legendary City Lights Bookstore. During fall’s off-peak season, this remarkable city is yours to explore.
1. Portland, Maine
Portland, Maine is the next big thing. Like its cousin in Oregon, this coastal city has been attracting bright young creatives, who have helped revitalize the downtown. The Mainers living here put the focus on local businesses and appreciation of the city’s incredible natural surroundings. The “hipster” neighborhood, Munjoy Hill, boasts four independent coffee shops and a multitude of acclaimed restaurants. Portland also has a vibrant upcoming art scene. Art museums and independent galleries dot the downtown area. Keep an eye out for film festivals, gallery openings, or concerts going on during your stay. In the Old Port, fishermen mingle with artists and craftsmen, grounding Portland’s vibrant spirit in its seafaring origins. To get a sense of Portland’s maritime history, visit the Portland Head Light, the city’s iconic lighthouse. It’s the most photographed lighthouse in the world, and after one look, you’ll understand why. After you’ve explored this famous landmark, turn your attention inland, because when it comes to fall scenery, Maine is hard to beat. Perched on a rocky peninsula, Portland is surrounded by a gorgeous, dramatic coastline on one side and breathtaking forests on the other. Here in Maine’s largest city, autumn tourists enjoy the absolute best of land and sea.