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Fall is a great time to travel, and not only to enjoy the beautiful scenery enhanced by autumn foliage, but it often means fewer tourists, lower airfares, and better bargains. If you’re thinking about a fall vacation, you can’t go wrong with any of these fabulous destinations.
Yellowstone is hard to beat if you want awe-inspiring scenery, friendly western hospitality, and an abundance of wildlife in your fall vacation. The “closest thing to a safari experience in the lower 48,” it’s home to 67 species of mammals, like moose, bears, wolves, bison, elk, and lots more. In September, the elk often have begun rutting and can be seen around Mammoth Hot Springs. Bears and other animals become more visible as fall goes on. You’ll also have the chance to enjoy hiking on the more than 1,000 miles of trails, often in idyllic weather, although early snow can occur. Yellowstone National Park Lodges typically offers several excellent fall packages for those who want to stay in the park, including lodging, food, and tours.
Though the weather is brisk, the Highlands is one of the most amazing places in all of Europe for viewing gorgeous autumn colors in a country already renowned for its out-of-this-world scenery. The rivers and lochs reflect the array of copper and gold-covered hillsides in Perthshire, also known as Big Trees Country, and some of the best views are at Knock Hill, near Loch Tummel, and the Pass of Killiecrankie. By taking the steep, but not too strenuous walk, to Knock Hill through mixed woodlands to heathery viewpoints, you can enjoy incredibly amazing views from the summit of the Highlands to the north. Perthshire is also home to the highest hedge in the world, which stands nearly 100 feet tall. The leaves start to turn in early autumn and are in their full glory by the end of September through October.
Autumn is also one of the best time of year to spot some of the country’s rich and varied wildlife. From September, you can hear the echoing sound of red deer stags roaring and clattering antlers as they gather in the sheltered glens for the annual rut, competing to mate with the females.
There are few better places than Romania for taking advantage of all that is Halloween and beautiful fall scenery at once. Stop in Bucharest first to get a better idea of the nation’s history and visit the Palace of Parliament and the National History Museum, surprisingly filled with Roman artifacts. Once you leave the city and head into the Carpathian Mountains, you’ll enjoy breathtaking vistas of stunning autumn foliage and some rather spooky sites like Dracula’s Castle. The connection to the fictional vampire is slim, but Romania is where myths such as vampires and werewolves first took hold. Transylvania has long been a place steeped in legend, stunning imagery of medieval castles, and misty moonlit nights. Take the 56-mile drive through the Fagaras Mountains, the highest mountains of the Southern Carpathians with over 20 peaks rising more than 8,000 feet, famous for their hairpin curves and especially jaw-dropping views.
West Virginia is home to some of the most picturesque fall colors in the eastern half of the U.S, with an extensive array of gold, crimson, and pumpkin shades. Just an hour from Washington, D.C., Harpers Ferry National Historical Park offers many hiking trails with amazing views. Follow the less than one-mile Jefferson Rock hike overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, then sign up for an excursion with River Riders, also in Harpers Ferry, for zip lining, rafting, kayaking, canoeing, or mountain biking.
Southern Germany is home to some of Europe’s most breathtaking scenery, with endless Alpine forests that pop brilliantly with color against mountains dusted with snow during the fall. Bavaria is like the Vermont of Europe regarding the number of deciduous trees, with every turn like walking into a different Bob Ross painting. Autumn is the season for Oktoberfest and plenty of wine festivals, as well as being ideal for hiking through the Alps and horse-drawn carriage rides. When visiting the roughly 25 historic castles and palaces like the famed Neuschwanstein Castle, Linderhof Palace, Nuremberg Castle, and the Burghausen Castle, you’ll have fewer crowds to contend with too.
England’s Lake District is renowned for its scenic beauty, and it becomes even more spectacular with the autumn light. The region’s numerous lakes surrounded by gold and ruby-covered hills make it an ideal spot for hiking. Cumbria is home to beautiful woodland areas like Grizedale Forest Park, with green pines and copper beech trees that frame mountain views, and cozy pubs, like Kirkstone Pass Inn, where you can stop in for a glass of local ale or cider. While the weather is notoriously unpredictable, meaning it’s not unusual to experience all four seasons in a single day, the showers and passing clouds only emphasize the scenery’s grandeur.
Colorado is well known for its gorgeous display of Aspens that blanket mountains across the state with incredible golden bronze and dazzling yellow hues. There are few better places to experience it than the state’s magnificent Rockies. Independence Pass, the highest paved pass in North America, peaks at more than 12,000 feet above sea level, with jagged mountain peaks soaring into bright blue skies above an incredible array of fall colors. Another one of the most colorful autumn routes in the state is Ohio Pass, between Gunnison and Crested Butte. North of Gunnison, the road follows the Ohio Creek Valley with its fields and cattle ranches before reaching the peaks of the West Elk Wilderness and The Castles showing the spectacularly eroded volcanic remains rising to the west.
The days remain long, and temperatures in Iceland are still more than manageable in the fall. After mid-September, the night sky begins to put on its spectacular natural light show known as the aurora borealis, a blanket of illuminations made up of countless shades of green, blue, red, and yellow returns and lasts until the end of the winter. Thingvellir National Park, renowned for its breathtaking beauty, willow, birch, and plants of the heath family transform their appearance into an even lovelier place. The largest natural lake in Iceland, Lake Thingvallavatn, is found in the park, and in the autumn months, the great northern diver gathers in flocks and breeds along its banks.
Thingvellir is home to Gullfoss, also known as Golden Falls, sometimes referred to as Iceland’s version of Niagara Falls. This magnificent waterfall, located in the upper part of River Hvita along the renowned Golden Circle, cascades down in two steps, one 36 feet high and the other 72 feet high, plunging into the more than one-mile long canyon below. Strokkur geyser, which sits in the middle of a geothermal field surrounded by bubbling springs, is also a must-see. It erupts once every four to eight minutes and soars as high as 65 feet.
There’s no better time to visit Switzerland than the fall, especially from September through mid-October, when the weather is more likely to cooperate. In the country’s southern region, you’ll find the incredibly picturesque city of Lugano, set along the shore of Lake Lugano on the border of Italy. Summer’s sizzling temperatures have given way to a milder climate and a choreographed setting of spectacular colors. Wine enthusiasts may want to head to the northern shores of Lake Geneva, where the 2,050 acres of ancient vineyards known as the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces blanket the lower mountain slopes each autumn. Hikers can walk and taste their way along this 21-mile Swiss wine route, stretching from Ouchy in Lausanne to Chateau de Chillon Castle. Follow the yellow arrows that mark the path leading through working vineyards and medieval villages, with pubs, eateries, and local wine cellars making ideal pit stops.
The Berkshires in Western Massachusetts offer great leaf-peeping as well as fantastic museums, like the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams – home to one of the largest collections of modern art in the United States. Enjoy the striking fall foliage by taking a scenic drive along the winding roads lined with reds, golds, and occasionally dark scarlet hues, passing glistening lakes, lush meadows, and farms along the way. Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway, a 35-mile stretch in the southern Berkshires, is ideal. Be sure to stop at Bash-Bish Falls State Park to take in the awe-inspiring three-state views of a landscape dotted with crimson and gold.
This famous national park is one of the best in the country for fall foliage. It puts on a magnificent show of color with miles and miles of landscape ablaze in a gorgeous tapestry of brilliant hues. Drive the scenic six-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and enjoy plenty of great fishing and hiking. While you’re here, you might want to spend at least a day at Dollywood, hopping on some heart-pounding thrill rides and enjoying food and authentic Tennessee music. Gatlinburg is a great place to base your stay and is also home to the highest point in the state at Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap Road, where visitors can view the autumn scenery at 1,400 feet above sea level.
“The Land of Enchantment,” as New Mexico calls it, is exemplified here, and autumn seems to bring out its best. Many of the art galleries have paintings that reflect the colorful surrounding mountains. Also, you can find some of the best fall foliage in the southwest by taking the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway loop from Taos to Eagle Nest and Angel Fire. Aspens range from luminous yellows to dark orange along with golden and red cottonwoods, the occasional bald eagle soaring through the brilliant blue skies, and even black bears and elk in the forests. Don’t miss visiting Taos Pueblo while you’re here, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities on the continent, drawing artists and photographers year-round.
In Nova Scotia, you’ll encounter friendly locals, some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever taste – whatever is on your plate for dinner was probably taken out of the surrounding cold waters that morning – and an authentic European feel. A visit to Old Town Lunenburg allows one to step back in time into an 18th-century village, strolling past brightly colored wood-framed houses and eateries with incredible chowder and traditional Lunenburg fish cakes. Head to Nova Scotia’s Highway 2 for a beautiful autumn drive with scenes of quaint farmhouses, river views, and fiery red blueberry fields. The province also hosts numerous Oktoberfest and craft brew festivals during the season.
Slovenia is known for its natural beauty, and in autumn, the hamlet of Ukanc is one of the most extraordinarily scenic of all. Located on the western end of Lake Bohinj, the rich reds and golden hues reflect in its stunningly clear waters. Visitors can also hop aboard a cable car, journeying up to the summit of Mount Vogel for more gorgeous views, or take the one-hour hike to Savica Waterfalls. For the even more adventurous, a day-long trek from the falls will bring you to the Valley of Seven Lakes.
When the leaves on the 185,000 acres of grapevines begin to turn and the summer tourists head home, there’s no better time to visit the Loire Valley of France. As the pageant of colors blankets the hillsides and valleys in late October, it’s truly an unforgettable sight. Some compare the valley to New England in the fall, with its colorful autumn displays and vineyards ablaze in fiery reds, brilliant orange, and gold, with the addition of fairytale-like chateaus. Autumn is also harvesting time, so you can watch as the grapes are picked in the fields and find a cozy spot along the riverbank to take in the views with a glass of local tipple.
Fall in Waterton Lakes is an incredibly tranquil time, ideal for peaceful solitude. The days are still long and often unseasonably warm, while the landscape takes on gorgeous new colors as it transitions into the new season, bringing a whole new face to this spectacular mountain park. Enjoy fishing on serene lakes, hiking quiet trails, and plenty of wildlife watching opportunities. Mule deer, elk, and Bighorn sheep are pretty visible during autumn, preparing for the long winter ahead. A multitude of migratory birds also passes through when summer turns to fall.
Fall is a fabulous time to visit the Emerald Isle. Going in the offseason not only means lower airfares but fewer tourists as well. B&B hosts have more time to spend with guests and frequently experience great weather. While there can be no guarantees, the air is crisp and cool, and there are often bright blue skies, with the trees covered with a brilliant, golden hue. The Wicklow Mountains are stunning during the autumn season, offering numerous scenic hiking trails, including a fantastic trek from Lough Tay to Lough Dan, pictured here. You can also visit historic sites like Glendalough, one of Ireland’s most important monastic sites, founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. If a storm happens to roll in, there are plenty of cozy pubs where you can enjoy the warmth of a crackling fire along with an Irish coffee or a pint of Guinness.
Netherlands’ largest park at 13,343 acres offers an incredibly diverse landscape that includes lush forests, heathlands, sand drifts, meres, grasslands, and ponds that become even more beautiful during autumn. It’s ideal for walking, but if you want to see most of the park you can, the easiest way to explore it is by bicycle. The park has 25 miles of biking paths and 1,800 bikes for free. They can be found in various locations throughout the park, allowing you to hop right on as soon as you enter. Whether on two wheels or two feet, watch for wildlife, like red deer, roe deer, mouflons, and wild hogs along the way. The best chance to spot them is in the late afternoon or evening from one of the observation posts found throughout the park.
The Bahamas don’t have much in the way of autumn foliage, but if you’re looking for an affordable tropical vacation, visiting the islands in the fall is just as enchanting as any time of year, only it costs a lot less. The islands’ offseason runs from late spring to late fall, when tolerable temperatures prevail, and trade winds ensure comfortable days and nights. There is no more endless waiting either, as you won’t have to wait long for a golf course tee time or a rental car. You’ll also have quicker access to watersports, not to mention fewer crowds on the sand and at the pool. The Bahamas feel less rushed and hurried during this time of year, providing a better opportunity to get to know the locals for a more authentic Bahamian experience.
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