Fall Foliage
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10 Autumn Activities for US Travelers

Summer conjures up images of waterside vacations, golden sunlight, and vibrant warmth. Lost in summer bliss, it is easy for us to forget what the poet Robert Frost once wrote: “nothing gold can stay.” As with all seasons, we bid farewell to our golden summer come September. For the restless traveler, this goodbye is only the beginning because the end of summer marks the beginning of fall. Autumn brings to mind images of changing leaves, spooky celebrations, and cool winds. There is plenty to do in the fall season and here are 10 perfect autumn activities for US travelers.

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1. Fall Foliage

As the name suggests, fall foliage is unique to the autumn season. It describes the phenomenon in which leaves change color in autumn. The leaves go from green to yellow, orange, red, brown, and every shade in between. In areas where trees undergo every shade of the process, fall foliage transforms the landscape into something truly mesmerizing.

8 Autumn Activities for US Travelers - Fall Foliage

Having never lived long-term in climates with extended fall foliage, I find the phenomenon especially refreshing as it promotes healthy change. At most, the leaves around my current home will turn yellow, then fall off, and then return to being green year-round.

If you are like me and do not live in a fall destination, Autumn is a great time to travel. In the United States, you will find some of the most beautiful fall foliage landscapes in the Northeast, such as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. You will also find spectacular colors in parts of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Out west, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado also offer picturesque foliage.

Fall Foliage prediction map (interactive tool developed by smokymountains.com)

Each year, travelers can use the Fall foliage prediction map to plan their leaf inspired sightseeing spots. By the time northern leaves are fully brown, the trees in southern states will usually start seeing a greater range of color.

Touring on Your Own

There are 3 main ways to explore the Fall colors on your own by car. Each of these methods offer a slightly diverse experience, but all deliver the ultimate goal of viewing beautiful foliage.

1. Choose a Base Camp

This method entails choosing one intense fall foliage area and concentrating your efforts there. This is a great choice if you are short on time, or just want to take a weekend getaway. Accommodations in fall foliage areas sell out very early, so be sure to book early!

Book this Autumn Jenny Favorite, a magnificent Grand Old Hotel, that is surrounded by hiking and activities that keep you close to nature by day and offers a chic campfire, many restaurants, and live entertainment by night.

Check out availability for this Mount Washington resort and nearby accommodations

If area hotels are sold out, or if you prefer a tour, try this day tour from Boston that still stops at the Mount Washington Resort.

Another idea is to select a park known for fall foliage, such as Great Smokey Mountain National Park, where there are many trails and opportunities to see leaves changing colors with various backdrops.

10 Autumn Activities for US Travelers Hiking in Smokey Mountains

Depending on where you are located, you could choose to take a road trip or to fly to your destination and rent a car. Rental cars can be difficult to secure at last minute during the fall season, so be sure to book your rental car ahead.

2. Travel Point to Point

The idea here is to cover a bit more ground on your leaf seeking tour. Perhaps choose a scenic Autumn road like the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina and Virginia), or Enchanted Circle Scenic Highway (New Mexico), and follow it a distance, stopping 2 or more times to take in diverse fall scenery.

In many cases, if I am exploring on a point to point trip, I’d rather not book accommodations ahead, as I may just want to stop as I see fit. Unfortunately, fall foliage locations are so popular, that they are often filled up months or more in advance. So, I recommend making reservations. After looking at an area map of your preferred destination, search for accommodation possibilities by plugging the roadway or general area in with your dates.

10 Autumn Activities for US Travelers Fall Foliage

3. RV or Tent Camping

A third way to explore fall foliage on your own is on a camping trip. Whether you choose an RV, cabin, or tent, waking up to the changing season is quite an experience.

Campsites book up seemingly faster than hotels during the fall in popular locations, so be sure to plan in advance. Some campsites hold back a few spots for stragglers or are first come first serve though, so if you are planning a last minute trip, do not be discouraged, just perhaps a bit flexible.

If you do not own camping equipment, renting an RV is a comfortable and affordable option to explore in the fall.

Guided Tours

If you prefer a guided experience, there are several tours specializing in fall foliage throughout the Northeastern United States. These tours include a New England sightseeing day-trip and a trip that runs from Boston to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, as well as fall foliage sightseeing cruises in New England and New York.

For those who prefer to take a bike or even a helicopter, see these fall foliage rides in New York and Boston.

There are also tours of the Blue Ridge parkway with a naturalist by vehicle from Asheville or a small group hike.

2. Theme Parks

Although perpetually busy, theme parks are usually open throughout the year, regardless of season or holiday. In all likelihood, a trip to a theme park fits perfectly with your autumn vacation schedule.

Why Visit A Theme Park for Halloween?

Thanks to the Halloween season, theme parks in the U.S offer some spooky surprises. Although major attractions remain the same throughout the year, Halloween happenings are only available in fall. Visiting a theme park is one of the less effortless fall adventures, as once you pay your admission, everything is right there waiting to be enjoyed.

This is why a visit to a theme park at this time, should definitely be on your itinerary as one of the top 10 autumn activities for US travelers.

Halloween at Magic Kingdom (Disney World, Orlando); photo by Aiden Craver

Which Theme Parks offer Halloween fun?

From Florida to California, theme parks dive headfirst into transforming themselves into large-scale Halloween celebrations.

Below are Some of Jenny’s Favorite Haunts:

Disney Parks

California’s Disneyland Park and Resort offer Halloween-themed parades, live shows, specialized rides, and a haunted mansion. Disneyland also spotlights Día de Los Muertos in a themed display inspired by their 2017 film, Coco.

Orlando’s Disney World Parks features Halloween experiences that include live entertainment, parades, trick-or-treating, themed food and beverages, and characters in costumes. Each park has slightly different activities.

For a VIP experience at Disney World, consider booking a private tour guide who will help you maximize your time and create Disney magic throughout your day.

Busch Gardens

Looking for a more heart pounding experience? Then visit Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens in Tampa or Williamsburg. One of the best deals for Busch Gardens Tampa is a “Tampa City Pass.” It also grants you admission to many additional popular area attractions for one low price. For convenience, reserve your Busch Gardens Williamsburg ticket ahead. The Williamsburg location is also holding a trick-or-treat event, the “Count’s Spooktacular”.

Howl O Scream Busch Gardens Tampa
Howl O’ Scream Busch Gardens

Universal Studios

Another spooktacular option is Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood or Orlando. These parks promise terrifying haunted houses and mazes, scare zones (wherein park employees do their best to scare guests while disguised as serial killers, and zombies), and live entertainment.

Universal is famous for its themed haunted houses and has added 2 new ones, “Bride of Frankenstein” and “Revenge of the Tooth Fairy.” Haunted houses are included in the price of admission.

Universal Studios’ sister park, Island of Adventure, encourages costumes and has trick-or-treating.

BOOK YOUR ORLANDO THEME PARK VACATION NOW

Silver Dollar City

Branson Missouri’s popular 1800’s style theme park offers Harvest Festival during the fall season. It is an artisan event featuring everything pumpkin. From sculptures to light up displays, you surely will be in the Autumn mood.

Hershey Park

Hershey Park after Dark is a themed event in the famous candy town of Pennsylvania. Included in your admission, the festive event offers a trick or treat trail, encourages costumes and glams it up with Halloween decor.

While special activities are part of the fun of theme parks during the fall, visitors can still enjoy the regular attractions as well. After all, these parks will be rampant with autumn inspired décor, providing fun scenery for everyone to enjoy.

Halloween themed activities usually run from late August and early September to the end of October (and sometimes the start of November) in the aforementioned theme parks.

If You really want to do something different this Halloween, take a private helicopter tour, high in the sky, over Orlando’s theme parks!

3. Fall Festivals

Fall festivals are common throughout the United States, and range from large events to local fairs to school-sized fundraisers. They really evoke the spirit of the season and are a great fit for most anyone to enjoy. Many are extremely diverse and can encompass the overall theme of fall, or may focus on a specific niche such as music, food, or crafts. Some festivals offer a cultural aspect which is great for travelers to connect with the world.

Halloween Salem MA
Book your Halloween getaway to popular Salem, Massachusetts – Sells out fast!

Mid-Autumn Festivals

Depending on how the lunar calendar corresponds to the Gregorian, the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival also falls between September and October. A celebration of the full moon, it is one of the most important holidays in East Asia and a marker of autumn.

On a personal note, my family usually celebrates it with mooncakes and barbecue. Mooncakes represent completeness and reunion. When shared with your friends and family, it signifies completeness and unity.

You can purchase your own double yolk or mungbean paste mooncake and hold your own Autumn celebration. They’re both pretty traditional flavors, with the double-yolk cake being the one people eat more often on the Mid-Autumn Festival. These are also the two flavors (in our opinion) that are less likely to go stale or weird after shipping. 

Mooncakes; photo by Chinh Le Duc

In the U.S, local cultural organizations often host Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations, opening festivities to everyone. These activities include a variety of traditional food and performances, and often double as fundraisers. To partake in these festivities, be sure to add Mid-Autumn Festivals to your search while preparing your fall travel list from 10 Autumn activities for US travelers.

Here are a Few of Jenny’s Favorite Fall US Festivals:

TRAVEL PRO TIP: If you are in the U.S during the fall season, check local listings in newspapers or online for festivals. There are way too many to list! (usually in October and November).

10 Autumn Activities for US Travelers Trending Now

4. Suburb Sight-Seeing

You can easily enjoy this activity at no cost. Come October and the Halloween season, many American neighborhoods jump at the chance to decorate their homes with spooky spirit.

Fortunately, the most enthusiastic decorators usually put up their decorations at the start of October and leave them up well into November. This gives everyone else a chance to admire the transformation of their homes.

Halloween Upper East Side New York

In October, take the time to walk through suburbs near you, or the Autumn location you are visiting. Observe all the different ways in which residents spice up their homes. You will see everything from fake gravestones to tarantulas and witches. On Halloween night, you might even glimpse a smoke machine.

Popular Halloween US Homes/Neighborhoods

Here are several popular US homes/neighborhoods that usually go all out each year for Halloween. Be sure to check their websites prior to traveling for any updates.

Need a hotel to enjoy the sights, secure a room before they are gone in these popular Fall Destinations!

5. Apple Picking

With the advent of fall, the season becomes ripe for apple picking, the next experience on our list of 10 autumn activities for US Travelers. From September through November, apple orchards will be ripe for picking, with September and October as ideal months.

Highland Orchards, Westchester, PA

There are plenty of apple orchards and farms to choose from, so before you choose one to visit, make sure you know what types of apple are available and how ripe they will be by the time you arrive.

The ripest apples hang off the outermost branches, making them the tastiest. While collecting apples, take care to inspect them as you would in a grocery store; make sure your apples do not bruise or rot, so you can keep your them healthy longer.

Since apple picking is a physical activity, be sure to wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes that will not mind mud or dirt. The autumn season can be quite chilly, so fall enthusiasts should bring a light jacket too.

Apples in a tree; photo by chris robert

Jenny’s Apple Picks

There are numerous apple farms that offer picking experiences in nearly every state, so it depends entirely on you where you want to go. However, here are some of Jenny’s apple picks:

There is an excellent small group apple picking tour that includes transportation from New York City. Book early as slots fill quickly!

Beyond the U.S, Japan offers an apple picking experience for tourists as well!

6. Pumpkin Patches

Visiting a pumpkin patch is another of the best 10 Autumn activities for US travelers. As the name suggests, a pumpkin patch is essentially a field of pumpkins. Although their primary purpose is displaying and selling pumpkins (of all sorts) to visitors, most pumpkin patches offer a plethora of other activities too.

You can often find mazes, pumpkin and produce sculptures, artisan crafts, Autumn décor, farm fresh stores, theme photography backdrops, and more hayrides.

Pumpkin season typically lasts from late September to the end of October, making the pumpkin patch a staple of fall and Halloween. Geared towards families, pumpkin patches are fun for all ages and anyone wanting a taste of Autumn.

One of the pumpkin huts at Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch

I certainly enjoyed my last visit to Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch in Culver City. The amount of quirky pumpkin-themed displays, huts, and backdrops was more than worth the visit and price.

Types of Pumpkin Patches

Pumpkin patches open in some form in virtually every state come autumn, so fall enthusiasts can choose where they want to visit. I think the most important thing, aside from having fun, is knowing what type of pumpkin patch experience is important to you. Some patches, like Mr. Bones, bring their fall wares to a convenient city location and set up in a lot for the season. Other patches are actually on the farm where the pumpkins grow.

Neither is necessarily a better choice and both are festive, but they are definitely different experiences. City pumpkin patches tend to feel more crowded as they are usually on a smaller space, and often have city building and traffic around them. Farm patches are a bit unique because often visitors must drive “out to the country” to reach them. They are generally set on acres of nature and often have other crops or animals there as well as pumpkins. I think these patches feel more like a getaway.

Jenny’s Pumpkin Patch Picks

A few of Jenny’s Pumpkin Patch Picks are:

7. Farmer’s Market

The fall season does not just offer apples and pumpkins. It is also the time when a variety of fruits and vegetables are ready for sale. That is what makes autumn the harvest season, and the perfect time for a visit to a farmer’s market.

You can purchase home-grown, and often organic fruits and vegetables from the local farming community in an open-air setting. From September to December, there is a high chance that farmer’s markets will carry pears, persimmons, squash, yams, peppers, carrots, basil, collards, corn, and more fall foods.

Grow NYC Farmers Market
Grow NYC Farmers Market

In addition to fresh seasonal produce, farmer’s markets often sell crafts, artwork, soap, candles, and other homemade items from local artisans. Depending on the size and popularity of the market, visitors can also enjoy live entertainment such as music and street performances. Not only can visitors take their pick of seasonal items, they can also support local farmers and artists.

As with pumpkin patches and apple orchards, there are numerous farmer’s markets to choose from in the U.S. One of the most famous farmer’s market in the US is in Los Angeles. It is the Original Farmers Market.

Visit the Original Farmers Market and other iconic Los Angeles sites on the Grand Tour of LA.

Other Famous/Popular Farmers Markets Include:

Eat your way through Reading Terminal on this small group walking and food tour of one of Philadelphia’s most iconic landmarks.

8. Take a Ghost Tour

Ghost tours are not only a fun and spooky way to enjoy the season, but also provide historical insight into your destination. While hearing entertaining stories of the haunted parts of the city, you will also get familiar with the city and its historic buildings, monuments and locations.

Often you visit cemeteries, old pubs, jails, and even go underground. Some ghost tours are walking, yet others are offered as a bus or segway tour. Many offer an adult beverage component, especially the tours that highlight haunted historic pubs and taverns.

Many cities offer ghost tours and they all vary based on the city you are in. That is the great part; ghost tours never get old because each city has a different past with unique stories.

Some of Jenny’s Favorite Ghostly Tours Include:

9. Visit Salem Massachusetts

Founded in 1626, Salem is derived from the Hebrew word for “peace.” However, the town did not always live up to its name.

Jenny’s Picks of Salem Attractions

One could easily argue that Salem Massachusetts is the hub of Halloween in the US. In Salem, the holiday is a month-long celebration of haunted happenings, action packed with costumes, psychics, ghosts, witches, vampires, and all things otherworldly. October is the perfect time to visit if you want insight into the city’s dark historical past, combined with modern Autumn fun.

Old Burial Point Cemetery

Salem’s first cemetery, “Old Burying Point,” dates from 1637 and is the oldest burial ground in Salem, and definitely worth a visit. The gravestones are old and interesting. Especially during October, it is a popular place to gather and can be quite busy. You will find headstones dating back to the 1600s, including the judges from the infamous Salem Witch Trials and casualties of the Revolutionary War. There are ghost tours and seances that sometimes take place amongst the graves.

Get all the insight by taking one of the historical walking tours. This is a city that is so much more interesting as it unfolds.

Witch House

In 1675, the now famed “Witch House” was completed. The original occupant was a judge that presided over the Salem Witch trials. Some of the preliminary questioning for the witch trials was held there. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, the Witch House is another not to miss attraction when visiting Salem.

The Salem Witch Trails was a period in history that is misunderstood easily. On this walking tour, follow a guide to main sites such as the witchcraft memorial and courthouse, as you hear stories from accusers and victims to gain a better understanding yourself. Plus, this Salem walking tour starts in the late afternoon leaving you plenty of time to fill up the rest of your day with activities.

Take the Salem Witch Trials Historical Walking Tour that brings you closer to understanding the difficult truths of the past while listening to actual stories of the accusers and women on trial, while getting oriented to the sites.

Gallows Hill and Witch’s Memorial

In 1692, the Salem Witch Trials began. Over the course of 3 short months, 19 innocent people were hanged and one man was pressed to death. The trials ended as abruptly as they began when the then Governor’s wife was accused of being a witch. But it was too late, innocent people had perished.

Legend says that the victims of the witch trials were hanged on the summit of Gallows Hill, and their bodies were buried together in a shallow pit at the site. Gallows Hill is now one of Salem’s top rated attractions, combining history, lure, and special events to its show.

Located just off Charter Street, on Liberty, be sure to visit the memorial to the 20 witch trial victims. The tall granite walls surround three sides of the memorial, with granite benches representing each victim.

Salem Historic Waterfront Park

In 1693, Cotton Mather published, Wonders of the Invisible World, which contained “proof” of witchcraft. A political revolution began in 1774. In 1776, a over 450 British ships were sunk during the Revolutionary War. By 1790 Salem was the 6th largest city in the US and the wealthiest per capita.

“Established on March 17, 1938 as the first National Historic Site in the United States, Salem Maritime National Historic Site consists of nine acres of land and twelve historic structures along the Salem waterfront, as well as a downtown visitor center.” (NPS.GOV). Learn more about visiting this National Park.

Salem Courthouse

In 1760, the original Salem courthouse, that had been in use from 1677 to 1718, was torn down. It was finally rebuilt in 1785.

Cry Innocent

An interactive theatrical performance that reenacts the Salem Witch Trials, sharing the history and provoking thought. The audience is able to ask questions to the characters relating to the historical event. The event begins outside and then you are drawn into the courthouse where the event unfolds. Do not be late as you’d miss too much.

Cry Innocence Salem Massachusetts

Peabody Essex Museum

In 1799 The Peabody Essex Museum was founded. It remains the oldest continually running museum in the USA. It is now a world renowned art museum that holds the world’s largest collection of Salem witch trials materials.

The museum in October usually has a special exhibit that historically or artistically mimics the Halloween theme that takes over the town.

House of Seven Gables

In 1850 “The Scarlet Letter” was published by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The residents of Salem did not like how they were depicted. Hawthorne published “House of the Seven Gables,” in 1851, making the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion that inspired it, one of the most famous historic houses in America. In 1910 the Mansion became a museum, dedicated to aiding immigrants with education and in 1977 was added to the National Registry as a historic landmark.

Bewitched Sculpture

A season of the popular television series, “Bewitched” was filmed in Salem in 1970. Salem was thriving. Everyone needs their photo posed with the beloved character, Samantha, that Elizabeth Montgomery played in the series.

Take a historical Bewitched walking tour and get all the inside scoop

Haunted Happenings

In 1982, Salem hosted its very first “Haunted Happenings” festival. Since then it has attracted over a half million visitors in the month of October. Haunted Happenings is a unique Halloween experience in Salem during October with numerous events and thousands of visitors dressed in costume.

There is everything from Halloween balls to seances to live music, and so much more. There is a continual street festival with vendors selling a diverse range of goods from food and crafts to witches’ hats and occult items.

Hocus Pocus Film Buff

Released in 1993, the film “Hocus Pocus” was filmed in many locations around Salem. If you are a film buff, or just loved this movie, discover and photograph the various filming sites around town.

Take a Hocus Pocus Movie Location Guided Tour and get all the inside knowledge and stories.

Salem Halloween

Evening Ghost Tour

An evening ghost tour incorporates a bit of history with stories and spooky fun. There is definitely something different about exploring the sites at night while listening to tales. I highly recommend this activity,

Book a ghost tour now

The Experience

Many people here take Halloween very seriously. Expect to see amazing decor throughout the town and around people’s homes. People constantly meander the streets in elaborate costumes. The town offers a mix of historical events and places combined with lure, occult, party, and old fashion fun. There is so much going on in the days leading up to Halloween that it is hard to decide what to do first. What is for sure, is that there is something for everyone.

Salem Massachusetts Halloween

A typical October in Salem sees over 500,000 visitors. Know that it can be extremely crowded. The biggest problem was being able to access food or a bar stool without an outrageous wait. I suggest packing snacks just in case.

Salem is a relatively small town with only a few accommodations. Book early or you will be taking the ferry back and forth to Boston, Because 1 day is just never enough!

Speaking of the ferry, you can book your ferry from Boston to Salem and back now. Ferries also fill up, so Don’t miss the boat!

PRO TIP: If you are taking the ferry, be sure you can manage your luggage. You will likely need to walk from the ferry dock to town as there are very limited cars available and roads are crowded. The walk is not terribly far, but it is on uneven cobblestone and can be challenging, even with a roller bag.

10. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Come November, fall enthusiasts will not want to miss the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Taking place on Thanksgiving Day (November 25th) in New York City, the parade lasts three hours and arguably marks the last major event in Autumn. Organized by the Macy’s department store chain, it is one of the largest parades in the world. It features a dazzling plethora of floats, large-scale balloons, processions, and live performances.

Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924 and included zoo animals in the procession. Due to the parade’s popularity with the public, Macy’s opted to host it each year onward (except 1942-1944 during World War II and 2020 televised only due to Covid). Eventually, the parade replaced the zoo animals with specialized balloons, shaping the iconic parade into what it is today.

Every year, parade-goers can ogle at floats and balloons in the shape of recognizable characters from pop culture and children’s entertainment. Bands and Broadway singers perform during the procession, making the annual spectacle even larger than life.

So why simply watch the parade on a screen when you can attend it yourself? Book a package ahead as they sell out fast; 3-day New York and Macy’s Day Parade Trip or a Brunch viewing party.

The biggest event of the season, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is no doubt one of the 10 most popular Autumn activities for US travelers.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: The evening before the parade, balloons are in various stages of being blown up. You can see them up close on the Westside of Central Park near 79th Street. (See Photo of Spiderman Above).

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