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Published: Jul 14, 2023 17 min read

Best Places to Travel in Fall

Fall is a wonderful time of year to travel — the crisp air, changing leaves and abundance of seasonal activities create an atmosphere that invites exploration. Whether you’re looking for a family vacation, a honeymoon spot or an extended getaway, there are plenty of great places to explore when the temperatures cool.

From nature walks to history tours to culinary immersions, the destinations below offer unique experiences for everyone. Here are the five top places to visit this fall, with a bunch of tips to help plan your excursion with confidence.

Our Top Picks for Best Places to Travel in Fall

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Best Places to Travel in Fall Reviews

Below is a list of our top five places to visit in the fall, including the best fall break destinations for families and fall honeymoon destinations.

Best for Scenic Drives: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
© Angela Carathers
  • Newfound Gap Road offers breathtaking views
  • Abundant outdoor activities like hiking and wildlife viewing
  • A vibrant arts, culture and music scene
  • It can get crowded
  • Prices are slightly higher due to more tourists

Why we chose it: Tucked away in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg has some of the most awe-inspiring fall scenery in the U.S..

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits on the outskirts of Gatlinburg and offers visitors a wealth of scenic drives, including the famous Newfound Gap Road, which features breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. The autumn colors are abundant, with the tree-lined roads providing a canvas of golden yellows, fiery reds and deep oranges.

Gatlinburg is home to numerous activities, including hiking trails, wildlife viewing and charming downtown shops and restaurants. Step back in time at the Little House of Pancakes, where you can enjoy breakfast served on cast iron skillets. Or take in the art scene at the Arrowcraft Shop, where local artists showcase handmade pottery, jewelry and woven baskets. For a taste of traditional Appalachian music, head to Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery, where you can hear live bluegrass and sip on a locally-distilled moonshine cocktail.

The city gets about 11 million tourists every year, but it remains an affordable vacation spot for travelers of all budgets. Still, if you’re thinking of adding camping as an activity to your holiday, make sure you book in advance; choice spots fill up quickly. And while you won't need a visa to visit Gatlinburg, the closest airport is 40 miles away, so you’ll need to sort out transportation ahead of time.

Best Island Destination: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Getty Images
  • World-renowned beaches
  • Warm weather for the fall season
  • Rich cultural scenes and events
  • Expensive
  • You need a visa to enter

Why we chose it: OK, we may be bending the rules a little here. But while Rio de Janeiro isn't technically an island, its beachy atmosphere, warm climate and vibrant culture make the distinction feel trivial.

Rio attracts a multitude of travelers during the summer months, which is why fall is often hailed as an optimal time to visit this captivating city. As the crowds disperse, the weather remains warm and sunny, creating an ideal environment for travelers. Rio also offers a diverse range of experiences, whether you want to bask in the sun on pristine beaches, delve into the city's cultural heritage or savor the flavors of authentic Brazilian cuisine. Be sure to try feijoada, a traditional Brazilian dish featuring a hearty stew prepared with beans and a variety of meats. For history buffs, a visit to the Sao Bento Monastery is a must. This 17th-century church boasts exquisite stained glass and provides an opportunity to witness Gregorian chanting on Sundays, preserving the echoes of the city's past.

Before visiting Brazil, U.S citizens must have a valid passport and a visa from either their local Brazilian Embassy or Consulate. Discovering Brazil can come at a cost, as it is one of the pricier destinations in South America. However, the price tag is largely dependent on the city you fly out of and which experiences you engage in. With careful planning and consideration of your budget, you can experience the best of Brazil without exceeding your means.

Best Fall Honeymoon Destination: Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington
Visit Seattle / Rachel Jones
  • Less crowded, with an array of activities on offer
  • Diverse natural scenery and National Parks to visit
  • The renowned Museum of Pop Culture lives here
  • Expensive
  • Many popular tourist attractions tend to close earlier

Why we chose it: Nestled in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle boasts a unique charm that’s perfect for a fall honeymoon. With the weather cooling down and the leaves turning vibrant shades of red and orange, Seattle's picturesque landscapes become a haven for couples seeking romantic getaways.

Seattle caters to a variety of honeymooners, with serene forests at Mount Rainier National Park and dramatic coastlines at Olympic National Park. Beyond its natural allure, the city boasts the unique and captivating MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture). This extraordinary museum invites visitors to engage with music, film, and pop culture through interactive displays and iconic artifacts. Seattle's thriving culinary scene makes it an ideal destination for culinary exploration, too.

Depending on the month, temperatures can range from 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so remember to pack something warm. While this vibrant city sees just over 25 million visitors a year, lighter crowds during the fall season allow honeymooners to enjoy a more peaceful holiday. And with some thoughtful budgeting, it's a vacation that doesn’t have to break the bank.

Best for Outdoor Enthusiasts: Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska
Sherman Hogue / FCVB
  • An abundance of outdoor activities
  • Smaller crowds
  • Can witness the Northern Lights
  • Cold during fall
  • Relatively difficult to reach

Why we chose it: The crisp air and stunning autumn foliage in Fairbanks make a perfect backdrop for exploring its pristine wilderness. Whether you have a penchant for hiking, fishing, wildlife — or just want the solace of some awe-inspiring scenery — Fairbanks has it all.

Fairbanks holds a special position within the "Aurora Oval," providing a prime opportunity to witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights. Explore the Aurora Ice Museum, where intricately carved ice sculptures come to life with lighting and music. For an adrenaline rush, hop on a dog mushing ride and glide through the pristine, snow-covered forests. Just keep in mind that fall temperatures can be chilly, despite the extended 15 hours of daylight. So prepare accordingly.

The entire state of Alaska gets about a million visitors annually, making this a more private trip than most. The city of Fairbanks itself is affordable, especially if you’re spending most of your time exploring. It’s a relatively remote destination, so you’ll have to invest some time to get there, but there are options to both fly and drive into the city.

Best Fall Break Destination for Families: Joshua Tree, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California
Getty Images
  • Striking scenery with many family-friendly hiking trails
  • Affordable
  • Ranger-led Night Sky Program for an uncommon family adventure
  • Can become crowded
  • Only accessible via car

Why we chose it: With incredibly diverse landscapes, rich history and endless adventure opportunities, Joshua Tree is the perfect destination for families seeking a memorable fall getaway. Want to try something different? Take a guided horseback ride or a rock climbing class. The sprawling park offers a wide range of trails for hikers of all ages and experience levels. If you’re traveling with young children, we recommend the Hi-View Nature Trail, a short and flat 1.3-mile loop that offers stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape. For a longer hike, Lost Horse Mine Trail is a moderate 6.6-mile roundtrip trek with sweeping views of the park.

After the summer crowds have dispersed, the park boasts cooler temperatures, making exploring the stunning rock formations a less oppressive experience. Joshua Tree isn’t a costly place to visit, either. The main expense includes entry into the National Park, which costs less during non-peak seasons (like fall.) No airports are near the park, making driving the most accessible way to enter.

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Other places to travel in fall we considered

There are many other prime destinations to visit during the fall. Here are some additional options that nearly made our list.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

The brisk yet mild weather lends itself to outdoor activities such as hiking and hot air ballooning. At the same time, the city's cultural events and festivals take visitors on a journey through time and allow them to explore the rich past that has shaped the area into what it is today. Highlights include the Southwestern cuisine, local museums and the picturesque Old Town Plaza.

Why it didn’t make the cut: In this desert climate, autumn brings gusty winds, sudden temperature swings and occasionally some snowfall. And seasonal events can attract thousands of visitors, and some serious traffic and parking issues.

  • Hiking and hot-air ballooning on offer
  • Unpredictable, turbulent weather
  • Crowded

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Visitors can enjoy hikes that highlight fall foliage, historic sites and outdoor recreation activities, like zip lining and rafting. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park provides a peek into the town's past and offers insight into the antebellum era of the mid-19th century.

Why it didn’t make the cut: As the temperatures begin to dip, this quaint mountain town becomes inundated with tourists seeking autumn foliage and outdoor adventure and this popularity can quickly lead to overcrowding, long lines and difficulty finding accommodations. In addition, the outdoor activities that make Harpers Ferry so appealing are often suspended or closed altogether due to inclement weather.

  • Zip lining and river rafting opportunities
  • Very crowded during fall
  • Extreme weather

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience the beauty of autumn in a unique urban environment. The city is surrounded by forests, gardens and vineyards that pop with color in the fall. Walking through the historic streets of Tbilisi, you’ll witness a tapestry of local tradition while enjoying the mild weather and fresh air.

Why it didn’t make the cut: Tbilisi experiences frequent heavy rain, leading to muddy and flood-prone streets, particularly in the fall. Plus, most of the city’s best events, like the Tbilisi International Festival of Theatre and the Tbilisi Jazz Festival, happen earlier in the year.

  • Boasts beautiful natural scenery among a cutting-edge cityscape
  • Inexpensive European holiday option
  • Heavy rain and mud during fall
  • Prominent events scheduled during other seasons

Places to Travel in Fall Guide

Below, you’ll find an in-depth guide for traveling during the fall. Read on to discover the advantages (and disadvantages) of taking an autumn trip and what to consider before take off.

The pros of traveling in the fall

Fall travel has a ton of advantages. For starters, the weather is considerably milder, making it a pleasant time to explore outdoor activities without the sweltering heat associated with summer. Places like Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Seattle, Washington, are among the best places to travel in the U.S. to view the seasonal hues. Tourist hotspots are less crowded, which also makes for shorter queues and wait times. And for those looking to stick to a budget, plane tickets prices and accommodations are generally lower during this season, so be on the lookout for the best airline rewards programs and hotel rewards to help you travel further without breaking the bank.

The cons of traveling in the fall

One of the main downsides of traveling in the fall is the unpredictability of the weather. With changing temperatures and the potential for rain or snow, planning and packing for a trip can be difficult. Additionally, some destinations may experience reduced hours of operation or even closures during the fall season, as tourism tends to slow down. This can limit your options for activities and sightseeing. It might be a good idea to look up some of the best international places to travel to during the fall instead. While fall travel has its perks, weighing these cons when deciding on your travel destination and timing is important.

Travel during fall tips

There are a couple things to keep in mind before embarking on your autumn adventure. Here are our top tips:

Be prepared for both rainy and sunny weather

Nothing ruins a trip faster than being unprepared for the weather, and during fall, the weather can swing from sunny and warm to rainy and chilly in a matter of hours. Pack for both scenarios by bringing a light jacket or sweater that can be layered and a waterproof jacket or umbrella. Wearing comfortable, waterproof shoes is also a must.

Search around for travel deals

Many travel companies offer discounts and promotions during the fall season. This can include discounted plane tickets, attractive discounts on the best hotels or even package deals. that include multiple components. By researching and being flexible with your travel plans, you may save quite a bit of money while still enjoying the best places to travel.

Opt for destinations that are known for their beautiful fall foliage

Traveling during fall can be a breathtaking experience, especially when you visit destinations renowned for their vibrant colors. As the leaves on many trees start to turn red, gold or orange, picturesque landscapes begin to form, which are perfect for nature lovers and photographers. Some of the top places in North America include the Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, Joshua Tree, California, Tbilisi, Georgia and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. These areas provide an opportunity to witness the dramatic color shifts and explore the outdoors while hiking, biking or even taking a hot air balloon ride. Make the most of your autumn travels by choosing a destination bursting with fall foliage.

Buy a travel insurance policy before your trip

Unforeseen circumstances can arise during any trip, so purchasing travel insurance before embarking on your journey is essential. A travel insurance policy can provide financial protection for unexpected events like medical emergencies or trip cancellations. It's always better to be safe than sorry, no matter the season you choose for your trip. Take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your trip by investing in a policy with one of the best travel insurance companies before you leave. With the right coverage, you can relax and enjoy your fall travel experience worry-free.

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Places to Travel in Fall FAQ

What should you pack for fall travel?

There are several items you can add to your packing list to make your life easier on the road. Don't forget to include a lightweight jacket or a trench coat to keep you dry and warm during unexpected weather changes. Remember to research your destination beforehand: if you're going to Fairbanks, Alaska, you'd want to pack more warm clothing, whereas if you're venturing to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, you'll want to pack tropical clothing. In general, it's good to pack an umbrella, a beanie and extra socks for the unpredictable weather.

What types of fall activities can travelers do?

Whether at a national park, beach or simply exploring a new city, there are plenty of options for fall activities. Take a hike and embrace the natural beauty of the changing foliage. Go apple picking, pumpkin carving or get lost in a corn maze. Visit a local winery or brewery and enjoy a seasonal drink. Attend a fall festival or fair and indulge in fall-themed food and entertainment. Whatever your preference, there is something for everyone in the autumn season.

Is it cheaper to travel in the fall?

Traveling in the fall can be a more economical choice for those looking to get away without breaking the bank. While summer is typically the peak tourist season, leading to inflated prices for flights, accommodations and activities, the fall tends to be more subdued in terms of crowds, leading to decreased demand and lower costs.

How We Chose the Best Places to Travel in Fall

Our methodology for creating our Best Places to Travel in Fall list includes the following factors:

  • Weather: We analyze each destination for unpredictable weather. The destinations that made the list experience predictable weather, ensuring each activity on offer will not be affected by the change in weather.
  • Activities: No destination is complete without things to do and see. We researched the many activities within each town and city to ensure our recommended destinations offer enough for an enjoyable trip.
  • Crowds: Many people travel during the fall to skip the queues. We analyzed the destinations to ensure that there were no bustling crowds that could make travel frustrating.
  • Affordability: While many destinations are considered expensive, it’s important that the locations on our list don’t exceed the average budget of travelers. We considered each destination based on its affordability.
  • Accessibility: Remote destinations or countries with strict entry requirements didn’t make our list.

Summary of Money’s Best Places to Travel in Fall