It can be tricky to plan an affordable and enjoyable trip to popular destinations because there’s almost always a peak summer and peak winter season. Not only are tourist attractions crowded in the high season, lodging providers raise prices due to demand, restaurant reservations are scarce and it’s more difficult to social-distance when there’s crowds everywhere.
Here’s where a fall trip can be the best-kept secret around. Consider these four U.S. destinations where there’s plenty to see, do and experience, dips in hotel rates, thinner crowds and spectacular weather.
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It’s widely known that the Pacific Northwest is gorgeous all four seasons, but fall is particularly worth your time to visit. Home to lively festivals and enriching events, Bellevue offers plenty of things to do in the fall – and with far less crowds.
Whether you want to enjoy the self-guided Bellevue Art Walk to enjoy over 120 works of art, or try a rugged hike, go kayaking or experience backcountry splendor, the outdoor experiences are perfect for social distancing. Be sure to plan time to visit the Bellevue Botanical Gardens, where you can meander through the spaces and admire art in the gardens.
Bellevue is less than 20 minutes from Seattle and temperatures now through Thanksgiving are generally in the 50s. You can take in the fresh air in the crisp weather while enjoying the fall foliage.
A good lodging pick is the Bellevue Club Hotel, a small property with 66 rooms and with original art and a balcony or patio for each room as well as two suites. To be more in the midst of things to do, consider a stay at the W Bellevue Hotel or Hyatt Regency. The W Bellevue and Hyatt Regency Bellevue are connected by sky bridges to shopping, restaurants and entertainment.
Big Sky, Montana
In winter, Big Sky boasts world-class skiing and summer offers an abundance of warm weather activities including horseback riding, whitewater rafting or mountain biking.
But, what about autumn in Big Sky?
The busy winter and summer crowds thin out and it might seem like you have the destination to yourself: along with the elk, moose, and big-horn sheep in the sprawling Montana town. Located just about an hour from the west entrance of Yellowstone, it’s a quieter time to explore the national park’s wonders.
Surrounded by an abundance of mountain streams, rivers and alpine lakes, Big Sky is a top choice for trout fishing, which is still good in the fall, with fewer crowds. Both the Custer Gallatin National Forest and Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area in the Gallatin Canyon feature scores of hiking trails from short trails to ambitious treks traversing mountain ridges.
Or hike the family-friendly 1.6-mile Ousel Falls Trail under leaves in shades of pumpkin spice which ends with a spectacular 40-foot waterfall. As for accommodations, the Rainbow Ranch Lodge combines rustic charm with sophistication and fall is an ideal chance to stay at one of Big Sky’s luxury properties for a fraction of the usual peak-season rates.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
For Midwesterners who may want a road-trip getaway, Lake Geneva is set on a picturesque waterfront setting which showcases the aura of fall colors in Wisconsin. There’s an abundance of lakes, nature areas and outdoor recreation spaces where you’ll find room to roam, social-distance and not only leaf-peep but hike, partake in water activities and stroll the town with less crowds.
Lake Geneva is near Wisconsin’s southern border with Illinois. Chicago’s about two hours to the south, Milwaukee’s is just an hour to northeast, and Madison’s airport is under 1 ½ hours to the northwest. So, there are lots of drive choices and three close airports.
Through October, fall in Lake Geneva offers very pleasant weather – daytime temperatures in the 60s. November brings a bit more chill, with daytime temperatures hovering in the 40s.
Be sure to plan time for Geneva Lake Shore Path, a remarkable find – a 21-mile public footpath that follows the shoreline of Geneva Lake, leading you to the back lawns of mansions built by wealthy Chicagoans as “summer cottages” following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The estates look even more impressive against a backdrop of saturated autumn colors. And while you’ll get million-dollar views in all directions, the shore path is free.
For a breathtaking view of the fall color show, try a hot air balloon ride provided by Lake Geneva Balloon Company. Flights are offered until mid-November; however the company has stopped selling tickets for new flights.
For more laid-back fall fun, Lake Geneva boasts apple orchards and corn mazes, biking and hiking at state parks and conservancies, lake kayaking and farm-to-table cuisine.
Newport, Rhode Island
This New England destination is packed with history, rich culture and provides spectacular coastal scenery. Newport is under two hours from Boston and 4 ½ hours from New York and the fall season in this quintessential nautical town boasts impressive fall foliage. During the autumn season, Newport hosts festivals like the Newport Food Truck & Craft Beer Festival, Bowen’s Wharf Seafood Festival, plus street fairs.
Put on a light jacket and be sure to take Newport’s 3.5-mile Cliff Walk offering both ocean views and views of Newport’s famous Gilded Age mansions. The mansions are also open for tours, offering intimate access to the artistic and well-preserved masterpieces.
More parks and the breathtaking coastline can be captured by traveling on Ocean Drive, a 10-mile coastal drive in Newport that’s a must-see. Drive or ride your bike to experience panoramic views.
While exploring this bucket-list city, plan to stay at Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina, a four-season upscale resort that is surrounded by water and with frontage on both the Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor. Just minutes from downtown Newport, the property features the Italian restaurant Scarpetta and boasts an indoor pool and spa.