By Jodi Thornton-O’Connell
Travel Expert, Contributor
Autumn brings sunny, mild weather to much of the U.S., making it an ideal time to get outdoors. Vividly hued foliage offers the perfect backdrop to a fall vacation, and scents of roasted green chiles, late-blooming flowers and spiced cider add fragrance sure to conjure up special memories for years to come. Get ready to crunch leaves underfoot as you explore fun fall outdoor activities at these prime locations.
Explore Mexican Tradition at Los Abrigados in Sedona, Ariz.
Instead of traditional trick-or-treating, book a stay at Los Abrigados Resort & Spa in Sedona for a truly unique experience. Here, towering red rock canyons strewn with vibrant foliage set the stage for Día de los Muertos — or Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated each year as October turns to November. Though the celebration is often conflated with Halloween in America, the Mexican tradition doesn’t focus upon scary monsters but instead honors loved ones who have passed away.
Festivities begin the last week of October beneath the towering sycamores at Tlaquepaque, an authentically replicated Mexican village tucked between the resort and the tumbling waters of Oak Creek. Add your artistic touches to the community on a mural honoring deceased family and friends, and add flowers, candles or other commemorative personal objects to the stone fountains in the village courtyards.
The festival culminates on the Saturday closest to Nov. 1 with live entertainment that includes fire dancers, Flamenco and other Latin music, free face painting and colorfully costumed characters in the shady courtyards.
Enjoy Fall Foliage at the Suites at Fall Creek in Branson, Mo.
Fall foliage peaks in Branson, Missouri, by mid-October, making it the perfect time to nestle into autumn at the Suites at Fall Creek. Walk less than a mile to Lake Taneycomo and enjoy a view of brilliant gold and red leaves reflected in the water as you cast a line into the water to fish for rainbow or brown trout.
For the adventurously inclined, you can also rent a kayak, paddleboard or fishing boat and head out on the lake for an eyeful of autumn colors seen from the unique perspective of the water. If you prefer to keep both feet on terra firma, savor views over Table Rock Lake from the Lakeshore Trail at Table Rock State Park, or trek to small waterfalls tucked in the forest on the White River Valley Trail System.
Time Travel at The Historic Powhatan Resort in Williamsburg, Va.
Step back in time to experience autumn in colonial fashion at The Historic Powhatan Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia. Surrounded by 256 acres of woodland, the 1735-built manor house makes an idyllic headquarters for enjoying outdoor fall activities.
Once here, there are a number of ways to embrace the season. You can let kids dress up in a historic role by renting old-fashioned Colonial garb. Be sure to buy refillable cider mugs to keep everyone well hydrated with autumn flavor while strolling through the historic city. Or, gear up for an outdoor adventure — there are 20 miles of scenic mountain biking and hiking trails at Freedom Park, where you can venture along trails leading to an 18th-century cemetery, explore a Revolutionary War battleground, zipline through autumn foliage or savor the season at a botanical garden.
Stargaze at Cedar Breaks Lodge in Cedar Breaks, Utah
Autumn skies offer some of the best stargazing of the year with both summer and winter constellations visible in the clear night sky.
Cedar Breaks Lodge & Spa Resort is a convenient place to participate in seasonal Dark Sky activities taking place at Cedar Breaks National Monument just south of the resort. Take part in the last “star parties” of the warm season and learn about the universe at the Southwest Astronomy Festival. The certified Dark Sky Park is ripe for outdoor adventure during daylight, too, with colorful hoodoos, palisades and pinnacles dotted with yellow and blue wildflowers giving a final, vibrant show well into the warm days of autumn.
Commune With Nature at Sunrise Ridge Resort in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Tucked just north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there’s possibly no better place in the country to embark on a leaf-peeping adventure than Sunrise Ridge Resort in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Entrance to the park is always free, and autumn is one of the best times to embark on outdoor adventures such as hiking or pedaling ancient dirt lanes and singletrack.
Book your arrival for the last three weeks of October, and you’ll arrive during prime time to see colorful foliage. Capture photos of ancient log buildings tucked into the fall landscape along the Oconaluftee River Trail, or immerse yourself in magical hues as you trek 1.3 miles to Grotto Falls. Pump up the adrenaline with one of the best fall outdoor activities for families on a whitewater rafting tour on the Pigeon River.
Vineyard Hop at The Meritage Resort & Spa, Napa, Calif.
Although The Meritage Resort and Spa is renowned for its unique, underground Estate Cave spa complete with waterfalls, soaking pools, steam grottos and a wine tasting room, you’ll want to venture above ground as well.
Enjoy outdoor experiences at local wineries that include walking tours and special grape-stomping events. Visit Grgich Hills Estates winery in mid-October for grape stomping on the lawn near the Rutherford Vineyard, and finish up with a sunset lobster dinner. You’ll get to create a souvenir T-shirt with your footprints, too.
Alternatively, book your trip at the end of harvest when grape leaves turn vivid red and gold to enjoy some of the most romantic outdoor fall activities for couples. Book a ride on the aerial gondola at Sterling Vineyards to get a bird’s-eye view of shades that rival New England autumn, or head back to The Meritage for a romantic picnic on the Village Lawn as you savor vineyard views.
About the Author
Since 2010, Jodi Thornton-O’Connell has been enticing generations of visitors to venture beyond the ordinary into a world of discovery. Her professional background in journalism, tourism, fitness and finance merge to deliver four pillars of an ideal travel adventure: Relax, experience, afford and play.
Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O’Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.