With dramatic sprays of fall color spread out along miles of coastline, Traverse City, Mich., has all of the autumn appeal of New England. But this destination, set on the banks of Lake Michigan, has a mid-American flavor all its own.
Fall is one of the most popular times for group travel and for good reason: The weather is mild, summer crowds have dissipated and the changing of seasons brings brilliant foliage to many parts of the country. Some places, like New England or the Smoky Mountains, have become iconic autumn destinations, but there are many more places around the country to enjoy a fall vacation.
Traditional fall color rules the day in Traverse City and other places such as Eureka Springs, Ark., and Frederick, Md. In Jackson Hole, Wyo., the distinctive color of the changing aspen trees gives the Rocky Mountains a whole new look.
Whichever one you choose, a trip to one of these destinations could be the highlight of your fall travel season.
Traverse City, Mich.
Many Midwesterners visit Traverse City and the Lake Michigan beaches in summer, but fall brings cool weather and a stunning landscape.
“We’re about the same latitude of New England, and we’ve got the full range of maples, beeches, birch trees, oak and ash that give that carpet of color look,” said Mike Norton, media relations manager at the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The lake provides an amazing backdrop to that color, and it moderates the weather, so we have a very long fall.”
Groups can arrange to have driving tours to see the fall foliage at parks and other natural areas around Traverse City. Wine tasting tours are another great option — there are about two dozen wineries on two different peninsulas, offering opportunities for winery tours, tastings and great views of colored foliage and brilliant lake water.
Some groups also take lighthouse tours in the fall. There are six lighthouses around Traverse City; three are open for tours.
Eureka Springs, Ark.
Fall is the busiest time of year in Eureka Springs, as the beautiful foliage of the Ozarks and a number of high-profile events draw throngs of visitors to this scenic Arkansas town.
One of the best ways for groups to enjoy the area’s natural beauty during the fall is on the Eagle Watch cruise aboard the Belle of the Ozarks.
“It’s a cruise around the Beaver Lake area,” said Karen Pryor, sales director at the Eureka Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This part of the state is a huge habitat for bald eagles, and they return in the fall and winter. The cruise starts in October, and it includes the history of Beaver Lake and a fall foliage tour.”
For a bit of autumn adventure, local cabin and cottage resorts offer horseback excursions into beautiful wooded areas, or groups can arrange to go canoeing on the lake. A historic tram tour downtown, as well as other driving and walking tours in the area, give a more leisurely experience.
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
The Rocky Mountains have their own family of deciduous trees, which take on a distinctive set of colors in autumn. Groups that visit Jackson Hole in fall will find landscapes painted with the brilliant yellow of autumn aspens, along with hot pink scrub oak and rust-colored willows.
But foliage isn’t the only fall attraction in the area. The season also gives visitors premium wildlife-viewing opportunities.
“What makes us unique is the migration of the elk in the fall,” said Heather Falk, tourism manager at the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. “You can go out on wildlife viewing or photography tours and get up close and personal with a lot of animals. The elk are migrating from Yellowstone into Grand Teton and our elk refuge. They’re bugling, and it’s a wonderful sound if you’ve never heard it.”
Groups can also see wildlife on bike tours through Grand Teton National Park, during which participants often encounter bison, moose, eagles and other animals.
Whether it’s the mountain air, area farms or covered bridges and rural scenery, Frederick makes a charming destination for a fall trip. A great way to get an overview of the area is a ride on the Walkersville Southern Railroad.
“They do fall foliage tours,” said Michelle Kershner, marketing and communications manager for the Tourism Council of Fredericksburg. “It’s about an hour and a half on an old vintage 1920s train car. They take you on a trip through the fields, and you can see the colors on the trees.”
Groups will find numerous traditional fall activities in the area, including festivals and visits to local farms and orchards, where guests can pick apples or pumpkins, browse crafts and enjoy corn mazes and other typical fall fare.
Another less traditional option is a trip on the Frederick Wine Trail, which features events and tastings at local wineries nearly every weekend during the fall harvest.
For more on autumn in America:
Fall in love with autumn
A Texas trio for fall travelers
WEB EXCLUSIVE! Autumn Travel Snapshots