fall foliageIn a season book-ended by carefree summer fun and the busyness of the holidays, we love to get away for a few days to savor our kids, our closest friends and our mates. Here are 14 favorite fall getaways — with input from girlfriends at Family Travel Forum and Traveling Mom.

1. Go for a Free Fall Festival

With preschoolers, go apple picking or on a hayride. It’s easy to find a u-pick farm with our directory of orchards and pumpkin patches near you. As the First Lady explains in my exclusive interview, kids who understand where their food comes from become better and healthier eaters for life.

With girlfriends, sample local foods and brews. In Vermont, the Killington Brewfest Sept. 28-30 and others across the country commemorate Oktoberfest. Weekend events in Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, New York and other fun cities spotlight microbreweries and fall ales.

Couples get the chance to get away somewhere new, stay in a romantic Bed & Breakfast and share a memorable experience. How about watching hot air balloons? There’s the Snowmass Balloon Festival in Colorado Sept. 14-16 and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Oct. 6-14.

You could head to North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont or California. Autumn is the time to harvest some of the many free festivals and discounted hotel rooms offered by small towns across America. How about Bayfield, Wisconsin, or the Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, North Carolina? Half Moon Bay, California, is known for their pumpkin fields and its pumpkin fest. Here’s what I wrote about a visit to Half Moon Bay.

See what Family Travel Forum says about free fall festivals around the country. And check out TravelingMom’s most popular feature, Free in the 50 States.

2. Go Leaf Peeking on an Autumn Road Trip

With kids, choose road trips within a day’s drive of home. Family Travel Forum has a state-by state directory of leaf peeper hotlines. It’s not just about looking at the leaves! Let preschoolers jump in them and make leaf scrapbooks and acorn or pine cone sculptures for school.

Girlfriends and couples should follow Audubon to exit the highway and discover beautiful nature destinations in more than 60 cities featured at Exit The Highway.com. Girlfriends can catch up during the road trip; end by a B&B fireplace with a glass of mulled cider. Couples can relax with no set itinerary, lingering over a farm-to-table meal, perusing local galleries and museums.

TravelingMom has the scoop on where to find fall colors in the Midwest along with a listing of the best state park lodges in the Midwest.

3. Visit a Mountain Resort: Get in shape before the Snow falls

You’ll find lots to do and lodging bargains, making it a great choice whether you’re with kids, best buddies or just you two looking for a romantic getaway.

Park City, Utah boasts great eats and lodging prices that drop as much as half. Unique activities in fall include rides on the bobsled track used in the 2002 Olympics and aerial ski shows at the Utah Olympic Park; plus Alpine Coaster rides at Park City Mountain Resort. Park City is also the first and only destination to be named a Gold Ride Centerby the International Mountain Biking Association. Here’s what I wrote about learning Park City History.

Aspen, Colorado is the place to hike, mountain bike, fly fish and indulge at a spa when hotel rates are as much as 50% off. Check out the guided hikes at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, enjoy Yoga on Aspen Mountain and relax with an artisan cocktail at local hot spots like Justin Snow’s. Go for a hike outside of Aspen and reward yourself with lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse. Explore the spectacular Maroon Bells hiking trails or the locals’ fave — Hunter Creek Trail. Read what I wrote about learning to fly fish recently in Aspen.

Stowe is my favorite Vermont town with the chance to do everything from visit a farmer’s market to Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory, to bike or in-line skate on the 5.3 mile Recreation Path, ride the Alpine Slide, play golf, mini-golf and hike along the Appalachian Trail. You can stay anywhere from a luxury hotel to a condo to a kid-friendly Bed & Breakfast or a farm. Burlington is nearby with its terrific Pedestrian Mall and the chance to cruise on Lake Champlain. Every autumn during September and October, the super-family-friendly condo complex at Smuggler’s Notch offers complimentary family activities for children 6-weeks to 5-years-old, as part of the annual AutumnFest package.

Whether you’re thinking Utah, Colorado or Vermont for fall, plan ahead to hit the slopes come winter. For more than 40 years, the team at Ski.com has been helping families, friends and couples find the best values in lodging, lift ticket and equipment rental packages. Early birds save up to 50% when booking by October 1st.

4. Off Season Orlando is at its Best

Come fall, score a better hotel deal and avoid the crowds. Check Visit Orlando for the latest deals. The Magicard offers discounts on everything from attractions to accommodations and restaurants. So if you promised the kids a vacation but didn’t have the budget this summer, make their wishes come true now.

With preschoolers, fall is a great time of year to go — still warm enough for hotel pools and not nearly as many kids waiting to meet and great characters. Be among the first to experience the Magic Kingdom’s expanding Fantasyland. Check out my new “Kid’s Guide to Orlando” that will be published this fall.

wallaby-ranch-orlando There’s a hang gliding adventure for grown-ups (although you can bring the older kids). Girlfriends love Orlando for spas (here’s what I wrote about the Orlando Grande Lakes Ritz Carlton Spa) and shopping, while couples might leave the kids at home and ride the thrillers you can’t do with them. September is Magical Dining Month which means many of Orlando’s hottest restaurants offer three-course dinner menus for just $30. Many love the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Sept 28-Nov 12.

Every Orlando park has new attractions—the water park at LEGOLAND Florida, new parades, shows and the Despicable Me attraction at Universal Orlando, expanded Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and TurtleTrek at SeaWorld. Here’s what I just wrote about the Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld’s TurtleTrek .

TravelingMom has a full page of tips for making the most of a family vacation in Orlando and another page that lists free things to do in Orlando.

5. Visit the Caribbean in Fall, before High Season

You’ll find top values, music festivals, and cheaper flights in shoulder season. Take the whole family for a cultural weekend in Trinidad, Dominican Republic, Jamaica or even Mexico during one of many autumn music and culture festivals. Here’s what Family Travel Forum said about Caribbean fall festivals.

With preschoolers, take advantage of special weeks at the Beaches Resorts and other top all-inclusives where the little ones can play in a kids club while adults hit the links, the spa, the courts or the surf.

At the all-inclusive Grand Palladium Bavaro in Punta Cana, you can arrange ahead to have diapers and whatever you need waiting for you. In Punta Cana, there are three Grand Palladium resorts that share a new kids’ club that is the largest in the Caribbean.

Girlfriends and couples (and of course teens) will love ATLANTIS. The gargantuan (3,500-room) Paradise Island resort boasts everything from a teen club CRUSH to cooking lessons for kids to interactions with dolphins and sea lions and an expansive Aquaventure Waterpark. Take advantage of locally sourced wellness and spa treatments (for kids as well as parents), some 40 restaurants and lounges, casinos and the elegant nightlife. Here’s what I wrote about Atlantis.

Instead of taking the kids, opt for a parents getaway or one just for the girls. I’m going to Anguilla with old girlfriends this fall. Fall is also the height of the Caribbean hurricane season. Don’t let that ruin your family vacation plans. There’s a TravelingMom story about how to plan a family vacation around a hurricane and another that lists what to include in a hurricane survival kit.

6. Head to Mexico’s Top Value Tropical Resorts

You’ll find great deals at Mexico all-inclusives in and around Cancun and along the Riviera Maya, which is still considered a safe place to vacation. Check out the luxe all-inclusive Palace Resorts that offer a $1500 resort credit good for anything like spa treatments, upgraded rooms, tours, golf or more. They’ve also got a new Family Connections program designed to deliver unique experiences.

Those who like history and archeology will be fascinated by visits to ancient Mayan towns, such as Tulum or Coba. Head to eco-cultural nature and water parks, Xcaret and Xel-Ha, where you can swim with dolphins, drift on crystal-clear underground rivers or enjoy various shows by Mayan performers. Adventure lovers will enjoy zip-lining, ATV driving or horseback riding in the jungle, and snorkeling or diving in the Caribbean Sea that boasts the world’s second largest coral reef. Here’s what I wrote about the Riviera Maya and Oaxaca.

7. Get outdoors – with or without the kids – in Autumn

With preschoolers, being in the great outdoors for even one night is a big adventure. Camping out is great for family weekends, and autumn means perfect weather for hiking and fishing. You don’t have to go far — your nearest state park is a good bet.

The Appalachian Mountain Club has a variety of kids play and stay and eat free programs at their Cardigan Lodge in New Hampshire, where you can also stay in huts along the Appalachian Trail, giving kids a taste of back packing without lugging all the gear.

Go to Farm Stay U.S. for a directory with over 975 working farms and ranches in all 50 states and U.S. Territories. Here’s what I wrote about le
arning sustainability and eating healthy at the Inn at Valley Farms in Walpole, New Hampshire.

Hiking with babyGrab the tent and go camping for a long weekend or longer. It’s less crowded, cheaper, not so hot as summer. National Public Lands Day is a fee-free entrance day at many federal public lands, including national parks, and this year it takes place September 29th. If you’re taking a toddler, check out these tips for camping with little ones.

Girlfriends can support each other in reaching new heights; rent the gear you need from REI and take off on foot or mountain bikes. Couples may want to divide their time between the outdoors and a rustic indoors retreat from Maine (Migis Lodge-– here’s what I wrote about it) to Minnesota (Ludlow’s Island Resort is a family favorite of ours) to California (Montecito Sequoia Lodge with daily kids’ activities.)

8. City Getaway: Any City is Great in the Fall

Now’s the time to explore city neighborhoods, see a new museum exhibit or a new play, check out the hottest restaurants or shop till you drop. If you plan to take in the major sights in a city like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston or more, check out CityPASS which enables you to save up to 50% on admission and cut most of the lines.

You can take preschoolers to visit relatives you wouldn’t see otherwise. Amtrak offers significant discounts for kids to let you explore a nearby city over a weekend when hotels are eager to fill rooms, which means you will score a deal.

With preschoolers, check out San Diego which boasts LEGOLAND, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and SeaWorld. Here’s what I wrote about the San Diego Zoo. Take a weekend to visit a city near your home—Baltimore, Indianapolis, Denver, Kansas City and explore like a tourist. Go to a museum, a festival, a theatrical performance, a locally run restaurant. Here’s what I wrote about Baltimore and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest in the country.

Couples should check out New York City with Broadway, trendy restaurants, shops, world-class museums (there are more than 50 to choose from), and the Empire State Building, celebrating its 80th birthday this year. Girlfriends will like Omni’s Reminisce Girlfriend’s Getaway package complete with Bloomingdales gift cards if you bring a dress to donate to Donate my Dress.

Chicago skylineAnd Chicago is a great midpoint if you are gathering from around the country with terrific hotels, world-class museums (we love the Art Institute), entertainment (Second City where a lot of “Saturday Night Live” stars got started), famous chefs and plenty of neighborhoods to explore.

9. Take a Cruise to Canada during the Leaf Peeping Season

Cruise on a luxury liner instead of a driving trip: shoulder season deals are everywhere (check fall cruise bargains at Cruise Compete.com). And whether your kids aren’t in school yet or you’re looking for an adult getaway, opt for a cruise on a luxury liner instead of a driving trip: Here’s what Family Travel Forum said about these New England cruises.

Holland America Line offers a number of cruises throughout New England, a popular one being the Maasdam’s seven-day cruises that alternate departures between Boston and Montreal.

Carnival has shorter four or five-day Canada/New England cruises with stops at Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada; Portland in Maine; and Boston, Massachusetts aboard the Carnival Triumph through late-fall.

Norwegian Cruise Line offers over 15 Canada/New England excursions this fall. Its seven-day trips depart from either Boston, New York, and Quebec City, while its 10-day trips depart from New York and Philadelphia. Ports include Saint John, New Brunswick; Charlottetown; and Halifax and Sydney in Nova Scotia.

10. Explore Exotic Climes Cheaply between Summer & Winter

Maybe you’ve sent your last child to college. Maybe you are celebrating a special birthday or anniversary. If you can get away in fall, you’ll have your pick of unique experiences.

Take a culinary and wine tour on a small ship in the Northwest; birdwatch in Costa Rica or head to the Galapagos. Adventuresmith Explorations has many options. Here’s what I wrote about touring the Galapagos Islands.

Try an eco resort like Hamanasi, considered the most green resort in Belize or sleep under thatched roofs at Chaa Creek. Here’s what I wrote about Chaa Creek and Belize.

For a good look at how to travel sustainably wherever you go, check out these tips from Blended Family TravelingMom blogger Christine Tibbetts.

11. College Touring during Autumn Weekends

Leave the other kids in the family behind and opt for some one-on-one time with your high school junior. Stay in a Bed and Breakfast near the campus to pick up some intel from locals. Don’t try to cram too many schools into one trip. They all start to seem the same! Check out Go See Campus.com, a free website offering the first online college trip planner for high school students and parents. Bring a lap top or iPad and have your high schooler jot down some thoughts after each visit. What did he like? What didn’t she like? And if you drive up to the campus and they refuse to get out of the car, keep driving. Here’s what I wrote about Boston college touring.

College Visit TravelingMom blogger Z. Kelly Queijo has lots of tips for making the most of college visits, including how to blend work, family and fun into a college visit and great college visit vacation destinations.

12. National Parks are Worthwhile Getaways Any Time

Whether your kids aren’t in school yet, you have a mid fall break, or are looking for a getaway with girlfriends or your significant other, you will be able to find those rooms at Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon or Yosemite… The ones that couldn’t be had for any price in July. Go to NPS.gov and link to the park you want to visit. Look for special programs and packages from concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

For those with young kids: Take the Grand Canyon Railway to the Grand Canyon. The kids will love the cowboy entertainment and can earn a Junior Ranger badge at the park. For girlfriends: Stay in Jackson, Wyoming and you’ll have all the hiking, rafting and horseback riding you want in and around Grand Teton National Park. For couples: You can combine a trip to Acadia National Park where you can hike along the shore line on Desert Island, Maine, and have Bar Harbor, the town for fine restaurants and B&Bs and spectacular coast line, nearby.

There are 397 National Parks to choose from so don’t limit yourself to the most famous. Here’s what I just wrote about National Parks and kids.

13. Fall Getaways for families with Special Challenges

If a child or a member of your family faces special challenges, that no longer should keep you home. Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with Autism, Aspergers Syndrome and other Developmental Disabilities. The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah and the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado offer many different outdoors programs for children with special challenges and their families. Walt Disney World and Disneyland get high marks from visitors with disabilities, because there are special park maps and handheld devices for those with visual and hearing disabilities. If you’re coping with dietary needs or food allergies, Family Travel Forum’s guide to Dining at Theme Parks shows you the healthy alternatives.

baby in strollerDisabled TravelingMom blogger Connie Roberts offers a wealth of advice for people who travel with a disability, including tips on some places that aren’t as accessible as they need to be and how to make road trips more comfortable for family members with disabilities. Special Needs TravelingMom blogger Karin Sheets offers 8 tips for flying with a special needs child.

14. Halloween Fun

Neighborhood trick-or-treating is so Old School. These days, of course you aren’t limited to one afternoon or evening whether you want an evening of fright at a theme park, a stay at a haunted lighthouse, ride on the Ghost Trolley of Monterey or learn about the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts.

Zoos and aquariums across the country have special Halloween extravaganzas. Even some hotels are getting into the act and you’re not limited just to Oct. 31 either. Celebrate Howl-O-Ween at Great Wolf Lodge resorts October 11 – 31, with pumpkin painting, children’s costume parade, nightly Trick or Treat Trail and a weekend Monster Bash Dance Party. Of course you don’t need a special holiday to treat the kids to a night at one of these amazing indoor water park hotels. Book before September 21 and save up to 20% (promo code EARLY).

Gaylord Hotels Scared Shrekless Family Halloween event features characters from DreamWorks Animation films like “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar 3? and includes the chance to make ooey, gooey Swamp Sludge and search the mysterious atriums during a shivery scavenger hunt.

Here’s what I wrote about some of the Halloween options across the country. Many historic attractions near you, like the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow in upstate New York, also put on terrifying shows through the fall season… and your admission goes towards their preservation.

And there’s no greater Halloween action than at theme parks whether you’re four or fourteen:

  • Disney World’s immensely popular Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Halloween party at Disneyland where you can also get up close and personal with your favorite Disney villains. (The Halloween parties require extra admission.)
  • halloweenSeaWorld’s Spooktakular in Orlando and San Diego, with special Halloween shows and the chance for your kids to strut their stuff, showing off their costumes while dancing with life-sized, but not-too-scary, sea creatures.
  • The “Haunted Harvest” cornfield maze or visit Linus’ Foam-tastic pumpkin at Knott’s Berry Farm “Snoopy’s Costume Party” in Southern California, where your little witches, princesses and ghosts can sing and dance along with the Peanuts gang at the “Peanuts Halloween Spooktacular.” At night, of course, there’s Knott’s famous scary haunt, which isn’t recommended for kids under 13. It promises frightening mazes, seven hair-raising shows, four horrific scare zones and 1,000 monsters roaming throughout the entire park.
  • Weekend nights through October, Howl-O-Scream transforms Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Williamsburg and SeaWorld San Antonio into the ultimate scare zone with devious creatures infesting haunted houses, scare zones, shows with “psychotic” surprises and, of course, bone-chilling roller coasters.
  • Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights delivers on its promise of Halloween frights that cannot be experienced anywhere else. Expect bloodthirsty beasts, haunted souls, way-too-scary haunted houses and even frightening stage shows.
  • Many of the 19 Six Flags parks in North America put on a Fright Fest like no other with daylight fun for little ones and nighttime frights for tough-skinned teens and adults.

And don’t forget to share your favorite fall adventures so we can include them in next year’s Fall Getaways roundup.

14 Favorite Fall Getaways

Eileen Ogintz is the author of several travel books and the author of the nationally syndicated Taking the Kids family travel column. TakingtheKids.com and FamilyTravelForum.com are TravelingMom partners.