Some of the most quintessential autumn trips involve charming small towns around New England—particularly those with spooky local histories and Halloween-specific celebrations—or refreshing escapes to mountain villages in the Smokies during peak fall leaf season. While these locations get plenty of attention (and for good reasons!), they aren’t the only small towns that travelers should consider when booking fall vacations. Below are five under-the-radar destinations that offer fun seasonal events.
Phinizy Swamp in Augusta, Georgia by Nils Leonhardt – Unsplash
For outdoor enthusiasts seeking a hidden gem in the South, look no further than Augusta, Georgia, nestled along the banks of the Savannah River. Known for its prestigious golf reputation, Augusta has evolved into an undiscovered outdoor destination with breathtaking natural beauty and adventure.
Explore the scenic beauty of Phinizy Center and Nature Park, where you can spot a wide variety of birds and wildlife including colorful migratory birds, elusive beavers, and maybe an alligator or two. Visitors can embark on birdwatching expeditions, wildlife photography adventures, or simply revel in the tranquility of nature’s symphony at Phinizy. Check out the Forks Area Trail System, a series of loops through a thickly forested area provides a great mountain bike or hiking experience for all levels of riders and hikers. Some of the higher elevations provide panoramic views and the thick vegetation provides a home for many birds and animals. Augusta’s River Region is the perfect place for a paddling adventure big or small. Take in the best city views from the Savannah River, float through history in the Augusta Canal, one of only three National Heritage Areas in Georgia, and get up close and personal to wildlife on the unique Stallings Island Tour.
Many also don’t realize that another huge sporting event takes place in Augusta every fall that draws in different types of athletes from all over the world to compete. Founded in 2009, the IRONMAN® 70.3® Augusta consists of a 1.2-mile down-current swim in the Savannah River, a 56-mile bike ride, and finishes with a 13.1-mile run throughout downtown Augusta, adding up to 70.3 miles of total racing.
Estes Park, Colorado
Wildlife in Estes Park, Colorado by Meina Yin – Unsplash
Estes Park is a must-see destination in the fall, with peak fall colors emerging from late-September through the beginning of October and impossible-to-miss elk and other wildlife. The town itself hosts numerous festivals dedicated to fall, from the Autumn Gold Festival to Elk Fest, and more. YMCA of the Rockies, a beloved resort bordered by Rocky Mountain National Park on three sides, is the best place to stay while visiting the charming mountain town for a fun, active, and affordable fall getaway.
Given its prime location between the town and the park, YMCA of the Rockies is an idyllic hub to experience all that the area has to offer in the fall. The resort features year-round activity offerings, which include guided hikes, a challenge course, axe throwing, campfires, a craft center, and more, as well as several special programs in autumn. It’s Fall Break-themed programming throughout October includes adventure activities, fall crafts, hay rides and more – and the Halloween Spooktacular, where guests are invited to don their Halloween best, participate in spooky activities and explore the family-friendly haunted forest. Accommodations here range from multi-bedroom, private cabins perfect for a romantic retreat or family getaway, to affordable, hotel-style lodge rooms.
The area is home to the second largest herd of elk in North America, and it’s not uncommon to see elk roaming the town and hear their “bugling” (mating calls) throughout September. Try an exclusive workshop to view and learn about the majestic creatures.
Montclair, New Jersey
An old pedestrian bridge in Montclair, New Jersey by Christopher Lotito – Unsplash
Just 12 miles from New York City, Montclair amazingly combines the urban buzz of a city with the serenity of a suburb. Artists, film lovers, students and foodies flock to this lively college town year-round. Stop by the Montclair Farmer’s Market at Walnut Street Station on Saturdays to stock up on homegrown fruits and veggies, tasty baked goods, local honey, fresh flowers, Jersey wines and cheese.
Explore the historic Van Vleck House & Gardens, a gorgeous property that where three generations of the Van Vleck family lived, before the family gave it to the Montclair Foundation. Visitors can explore the property daily free of cost. Admire fall foliage along the Lenape Trail in Brookdale Park. While the section here in the park isn’t much over one mile, the entire trail connects multiple towns and parks in Essex County, New Jersey for roughly 36 miles.
Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia by Sarraf Ahmed – Unsplash
Just over two hours from the Washington, DC, this small town is situated in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Visitors will find easy access to mountain hikes, scenic drives, museums, and small shops, as well as one of its most popular attractions: a vast underground cave network known as Luray Caverns. The largest caverns in the eastern US, the caverns can be explored on tours that follow lighted, paved pathways through cathedral-sized rooms (some with ceilings the equivalent of 10 stories high) and towering natural wonders.
Guests can book accommodations at the recently-reopened Luray RV Resort on Shenandoah River (previously known as Outlanders River Camp). With an increase in campsites from 73 to a total of 350, the resort now features a range of community-centered amenities, including an amphitheater, a resort-style pool, cabanas, a recreational center offering pickleball, basketball, a mountain bike track, cornhole, and an RC car track. In addition to pet friendly, full hookup, back-in RV sites, there are also brand-new Airstream rentals and loft cottages. Additionally, guests can unwind and enjoy an evening under the stars on the furnished patio. Situated along three quarters of a mile of the Shenandoah frontage, Luray RV Resort boasts abundant wildlife and scenic mountain views in every direction.
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Chipmunk in Taos Ski Valley by Maximus Meadowcroft – Unsplash
Autumn is an unexpectedly delightful time at Taos Ski Valley, with creative events, fun ways to see fall foliage, and intimate mountain surroundings. This location in New Mexico features the best of Western fall foliage—aspens interspersed with pine trees for a gold and green mountain-scape surrounding the entire resort, making it an intriguing spot to visit even when the winter ski season has yet to begin.
There are a variety of fall events, including Oktoberfest from September 16th to 17th, featuring a live Schuhplattler band, authentic German food and beer, activities and crafts for kids, and much more. Movies in the Mountains features free outdoor screenings of cult classics and crowd favorite movies on Friday nights through September 15th. There’s also the annual Bull of the Woods Half/Full Marathon race. The full marathon summits two peaks, showing the full beauty of the valley along the way. This year, the event will be held on September 9th.
Those interested in spectacular mountain views will want to look into the Via Ferrata. Situated at 11,500 feet, the Via Ferrata features beginner through advanced guided course options, allowing both novice and skilled climbers alike to soak in the whole valley’s worth of stunning fall vistas. The route also features a 100-foot skybridge and double-cabled catwalk. If climbing or marathon-running isn’t your thing, soak in spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristos on a relaxing lift ride. Enjoy a picnic at the top and hike down among the aspens, or ride the lift down for a relaxing return to base.