Best Fall Vacations in the U.S. and Canada

Fall travel is full of rejuvenating experiences. And what better way to beat summer’s heat than by planning a fall vacation? Whether you plan to travel in September, October or November, check out this guide to some of the best fall vacation spots for each month of the season.

Best Place to Travel in September: Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada

  • Average daily temperatures in September range from 51 to 72 degrees.

Getting There

Drive about 75 miles southeast from Toronto Pearson International Airport or about 30 miles northwest from Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

What to See and Do

Drive across the border or fly straight into Ontario, Canada, to explore one of the best places to vacation in September — the Niagara Region. September marks the beginning of the region’s shoulder season, the time between traditional peak and off-peak travel. This means fewer crowds just in time for prime fall colors from mid-September through mid-October. Here on the border of the United States and Canada, discover the three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls: Horseshoe Falls (sometimes called Canadian Falls), American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Every second, 3,160 tons of water flow through these more than 12,000-year-old falls. Plan to visit Journey Behind the Falls, an attraction that offers a unique perspective on the thundering falls — one-fifth of the world’s fresh water. Wear your souvenir poncho as you descend 125 feet and venture through tunnels more than 130 years old.

Admire the sight and sound as tons of water spill over Niagara Falls at 32 feet per second. For lighter crowds, plan to visit Niagara Falls in early morning or late afternoon.

Next, drive about 15 miles north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a quaint 19th-century village in Ontario’s wine country. In town, explore wineries, go antiquing and stay at The Butler House, a romantic bed-and-breakfast dating back to the late 1780s. The house was thought to have been used as a secret militia meeting place by Col. John Butler and Butler’s Rangers, a loyalist regiment fighting for Britain during the American Revolution.

Each September, Niagara-on-the-Lake and its neighboring towns, St. Catharines and Twenty Valley, host the weekslong Niagara Grape & Wine Festival. Choose your own adventure with a Discovery Pass, which grants access to more than 30 wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Twenty Valley during all three weekends of the event. Or enjoy more than 100 wines, 50 hours of live music and VIP lounges in downtown St. Catharines’ historic Montebello Park during the second and third weekends of the fest.

Insider Tip: Make time for an afternoon cruise down Niagara Parkway for what Winston Churchill described as “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.” Easily accessible from Niagara-on-the-Lake, this Ontario parkway winds drivers along the Niagara River on the U.S.-Canada border and offers spectacular views of fall colors during late September and early October.

Also Consider for a September Vacation: Portland, Maine

  • Average daily temperatures in September range from 50 to 70 degrees.

Leaf peepers need only drive about 25 miles northeast from Portland International Jetport to reach Bradbury Mountain State Park, frequently noted as one of the best places to travel in September. By then, Portland’s peak summer tourism season has passed, which makes it less crowded and often less expensive to visit than in summer. Much like the rest of New England, Portland and its surrounding areas host several fall festivals and events. Enjoy barrel train rides and butter churning demonstrations at Family Harvest Days or pumpkin and squash weigh-off contests and harness racing at the Cumberland County Fair, just a 15-mile drive northwest of Portland. September visitors can also stop by one of Portland’s many brewpubs, like local favorite Bissell Brothers. Sample seasonal beers such as its Baby Genius, a hoppy session beer available through early October, or year-round rotating pours.

Best Place to Travel in October: Chicago, Illinois

  • Average daily temperatures in October range from 46 to 64 degrees.

Getting There

Drive 11 miles northeast from Chicago Midway International Airport or 18 miles southeast from Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

What to See and Do

During this time of year in the Windy City, scarves come out, autumnal colors burst and pumpkin patches, such as Sonny Acres in West Chicago, pop up in and around town. The city hosts more events than you could possibly choose from in October, including the Chicago International Film Festival, the Fall Bulb Festival and even a Halloween parade for dogs.

This time of year also beckons travelers to the Chicago Botanic Garden, where Japanese maples transform into shades of fiery red. Take a drive to Millennium Park to snap a family photo with the park’s beautiful foliage and the city’s skyline in the background. During your fall getaway, Lake Shore Drive will connect you to popular year-round Chicago attractions like Navy Pier, Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field, which hosts the Chicago Bacon and Beer Classic every fall. At this event, sample more than 100 craft beers and dozens of bacon-infused dishes. Another must-see attraction is Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, which boasts more than 200 restaurants and 400 shops — making it easy to pick up a new seasonal accessory during your October vacation. Stay nearby at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago-Downtown, where families can enjoy complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi as well as a year-round indoor swimming pool.

As the Chicago Botanic Garden's trees and harvest reach peak autumnal colors, stroll past the Skokie Lagoons (above), or go on an October Fall-Color Tree Walk. Enhance your visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden by downloading the GardenGuide app, which includes walking tours and interactive maps.

Insider Tip: For more fall fresh air, take an arboretum tree tour in the historic Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum, which dates back to 1860. A local hidden treasure, Graceland is filled with black walnuts, sycamores, red oaks and Ohio buckeyes among the myriad trees that sprinkle this quiet, peaceful spot with memorable fall colors. On colder days, stay inside your rental car to discover the interesting stories behind people buried in the cemetery during a self-guided audio tour.

Also Consider for an October Vacation: Albuquerque, New Mexico

  • Average daily temperatures in October range from 46 to 69 degrees.

Not only does Albuquerque light up with autumnal golden-yellow hues thanks to its cottonwoods and black willows changing color, but this top fall destination also hosts an awe-inspiring event: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Plan an October vacation here to watch more than 500 hot air balloons take to the New Mexico sky and float over the Sandia Mountains during the nine-day festival, the largest of its type in the world.

Best Place to Travel in November: Savannah, Georgia

  • Average daily temperatures in November range from 48 to 71 degrees.

Getting There

Drive about 10 miles southeast from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

What to See and Do

Leave your peacoat behind and get ready to be charmed by more than just this Southern town’s fall weather during shoulder season. Savannah’s humidity and summer crowds are gone while holiday tourists have yet to arrive, which means off-peak prices, fewer crowds and more lodging options for November travelers. Savannah invites visitors to stroll past its Colonial-style homes and streets lined with Spanish moss, through its historic squares — all 22 of them — and enjoy its Southern hospitality. To get a true taste of that Southern goodness, head to the Savannah Food & Wine Festival for a week packed full of culinary events. Pick up a souvenir glass and take a River Street Stroll, a festival event where you can sample wines, spirits and Belgian beer as you walk down River Street. Attend the Taste of Savannah to savor creations made by the city’s finest chefs and take cooking classes. Stay just a few blocks south of the Savannah River at Planters Inn. Here, families can take advantage of free breakfast, then feast on low-country cuisine during dinner next door at The Olde Pink House, an 18th-century mansion offering indoor and outdoor seating.

Savannah’s Spanish moss-draped Forsyth Park—the largest park in the city’s historic district—invites visitors to meander, read or relax within its 30 acres. Hanging from tree branches in trails up to 20 feet long, Spanish moss is actually neither Spanish nor moss. Native to the Americas, Spanish moss is a member of the bromeliad family, making it a relative of the pineapple.

It’s more than just food-filled events that make Savannah one of the best fall vacations in the South. In mid-November, art lovers can head into historical downtown for the annual Telfair Art Fair, featuring more than 100 artists, entertainment and kids’ activities. Later in the month, the annual Boat Parade of Lights will delight Georgia visitors with exactly what its name advertises: a parade of lighted boats, plus a tree-lighting ceremony and live music. If you prefer to take a stroll, walk through more than 1 million twinkling lights at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, and don’t forget to stop by Mrs. Claus’ kitchen for a warm seasonal beverage.

Insider Tip: Built on top of Native American burial grounds, Savannah is said to be haunted. Get a dose of history in autumnal style by going on a Grave Tales Ghost Tour. Suitable for families, this tour will take you to some of Savannah’s most haunted houses, mansions and cemeteries and discuss the events and founders who shaped the town.

Also Consider for a November Vacation: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

  • Average daily temperatures in November range from 34 to 61 degrees.

Still showing its fall colors without the October crowds, Gatlinburg is another one of the best vacation spots in November. Located about 40 miles east of McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville and on the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway — one of America’s most scenic drives — Gatlinburg provides easy access to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a picturesque autumn adventure. As the holidays draw near in late November, Gatlinburg’s annual Festival of Trees puts Tennessee travelers in a seasonal spirit. Jump-start the holiday season amid hundreds of decorated trees, take photos with Santa and knock out some holiday shopping at the festival’s crafts market.

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About the Author

Lisa Zimmermann is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and has previously written for Boston magazine, Boston HomeBoston WeddingsThe Dallas Morning NewsThe Jersey JournalNew England Travel and Atlas Magazine. Every autumn, she loves nothing more than shooting fall foliage photos. Follow her on Twitter @lisazimm or Instagram @lzloveslife.