30 Fall Family Vacation Ideas

Play, learn and explore nature together during one of these fun autumn trips.

By Kyle McCarthy, ContributorOct. 17, 2018
By Kyle McCarthy, ContributorOct. 17, 2018, at 9:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

30 Fall Family Vacation Ideas

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These are the best fall family vacations

(Getty Images)

Take advantage of shoulder season savings, superb weather and spectacular scenery.

What are families looking for in a fall vacation? According to Phocuswright's "U.S. Consumer Travel 2018: Family Travel" report, 76 percent of millennial and Generation X parents enjoyed outdoor activities on their last family trip. It's no wonder why getaways between Columbus Day and Thanksgiving beckon to families. Take advantage of sublime weather for outdoor pursuits and enjoy incredible, affordable experiences together on one of these 30 family-focused autumn vacations.
Mount Sutton in Sutton, Quebec is one of the best fall family vacations

(Getty Images)

Bike the trails at Mont Sutton in Sutton, Quebec

With 70 percent deciduous tree cover, family-owned Mont Sutton, an Eastern Townships ski resort roughly 65 miles southeast of Montreal, is a dazzling mountain biking destination in autumn. Through Nov. 4, bundle up for the Plein Air Sutton / MTB program, which provides guides and rental bikes on nearly 19 miles of double- and single-track trails. Visitors can also practice tricks on Scott Bike Park's custom terrain, roller coaster and teeter-totter until Oct. 29. Day passes for the trails include admission to the park.

Take advantage of shoulder season savings, superb weather and spectacular scenery.

What are families looking for in a fall vacation? According to Phocuswright's "U.S. Consumer Travel 2018: Family Travel" report, 76 percent of millennial and Generation X parents enjoyed outdoor activities on their last family trip. It's no wonder why getaways between Columbus Day and Thanksgiving beckon to families. Take advantage of sublime weather for outdoor pursuits and enjoy incredible, affordable experiences together on one of these 30 family-focused autumn vacations.

Bike the trails at Mont Sutton in Sutton, Quebec

With 70 percent deciduous tree cover, family-owned Mont Sutton, an Eastern Townships ski resort roughly 65 miles southeast of Montreal, is a dazzling mountain biking destination in autumn. Through Nov. 4, bundle up for the Plein Air Sutton / MTB program, which provides guides and rental bikes on nearly 19 miles of double- and single-track trails. Visitors can also practice tricks on Scott Bike Park's custom terrain, roller coaster and teeter-totter until Oct. 29. Day passes for the trails include admission to the park.

Go birding at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in San Antonio, New Mexico

September through February is high season at this 57,331-acre preserve 95 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Starting in late October, thousands of migrating sandhill cranes from northern climes join snow geese, wild turkeys, ducks, red-winged blackbirds and other bird species seeking water in an otherwise harsh desert. Get an up-close look at the changing leaves of cottonwood and black willow trees while driving the auto tour loop, or attend the annual Festival of Cranes to enjoy nature and photography tours, birding and workshops led by naturalists. The festival takes place Nov. 14 to 17.

Soar above or through peak foliage in Breckenridge, Colorado

Fly on an Arkansas Valley Adventures hot air balloon with kids 5 and older for a bird's-eye view of the historic mining town of Breckenridge and its vibrant fall foliage. The tour operator also offers scenic family-oriented Colorado River float trips through Class II rapids until Oct. 28. For a slower-paced vacation, check out the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival in October. Families who attend the festival have access to $10 dining passports (which cover discounts or free items at participating restaurants) and fee-based walking tours around historic areas, like a gold mine and a cemetery.

Start holiday traditions at Disneyland in Anaheim, California

If you can't swing an October visit to take part in the Halloween parties at Knott's Berry Farm, Legoland California Resort and SeaWorld San Diego, consider getting a jumpstart on the winter holidays and shopping – without the crowds – by visiting the Disneyland Resort on or after Nov. 9. This day is when holiday programs, fireworks and parades start and festive decorations take over favorite attractions like Radiator Springs Racers and the Haunted Mansion. The inclusive Disney Festival of Holidays celebrates diversity at the theme parks with light displays, live shows and specialty food kiosks inspired by Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day.

Get a dose of history and learn to cook in Fez, Morocco

Immerse your kids in Moroccan culture by staying in a riad (traditional guesthouse) and touring the medieval walled city of Fez. The locale's ninth-century medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site undergoing restoration, houses the world's oldest university, palaces and markets where skilled metal, leather and tile craftsmen sell their wares alongside fresh produce. Autumn here is cool, making this season great for sightseeing. On rainy days, families can try Ruined Garden's cooking classes. Bread-making workshops are followed by two-course lunches, which are served in the garden if the weather clears.

Zip through colorful trees in Pine Mountain, Georgia

For heart-pumping thrills amid gorgeous fall foliage, check out TreeTop Adventure at Callaway Resort & Gardens. Ten family-friendly zip lines and a ropes course are available, though kids must be at least 4 years old and 36 inches or taller to participate. After completing the course, travelers of all ages can enjoy the 6,500-acre resort's AutumnFest activities, including family scarecrow making, pumpkin painting and quilting demonstrations in the pioneer-era log cabin. Don't miss the colorful Collegiate Football Topiary Display, which features mascots from top Southeastern schools.

Experience Vienna's cultural highlights

Cultural events abound in Austria's capital city every autumn. Kids will love the ORF Long Night of Museums, an annual October event when 700-plus museums, galleries and other cultural attractions stay open until 1 a.m. National Day, on Oct. 26, offers opportunities to watch military parades at Ringstrasse and Heldenplatz, as well as tour Austria's state president's office at the imperial palace. For an additional glimpse at Habsburg imperial culture, book the Grand Suite at Schönbrunn Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage-designated Baroque royal residence. The two-bedroom apartment costs 519 euros (about $600) per night and includes breakfast for two people.

Eat well and take it easy in New Orleans

Get a taste of New Orleans' famous food and music at the Crescent City Blues & BBQ, Oak Street Po-Boy and Tremé Creole Gumbo festivals. Spend a weekend between the JW Marriott New Orleans' outdoor pool and Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, where visitors can see various Mardi Gras floats and costumes. Local family itineraries that emphasize culture and creativity are part of the hotel's "Family by JW" initiative to encourage adults and kids ages 4 to 12 to explore together.

Enjoy the arts in Budapest, Hungary

Bargain hotels, baroque architecture, world-renowned pastries and ornate bathhouses attract travelers to Budapest in the summer. For more elbow room at the city's top attractions, don jackets and visit in October. Most of the month features activities affiliated with the CAFe Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival, which pays tribute to the city's arts scene and historic cafe culture. You and your kids will have your pick of roughly 110 events (many free), including choreographed dances, modern art installations, book fairs and live performances by symphonies and pop bands in more than 40 local venues.

Take advantage of San Diego's free or discounted kids activities

San Diego's fall season appeals to families thanks to its Kids Free San Diego promotion. Spanning the entire month of October, this event features waived or reduced kids fees at more than 100 hotels, restaurants and attractions. Each paying adult can bring two kids for free on a speedboat adventure, a two-hour harbor cruise or a tour of the USS Midway aircraft carrier in addition to visiting the city's famous zoo and safari park.

Celebrate Halloween at the theme parks in Orlando, Florida

Whether your family wants to attend Mickey's Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party starring Vampirina and pals at Walt Disney World Resort or Universal Orlando Resort's terrifying Halloween Horror Nights, odds are you'll enjoy vacationing in Orlando. Both events, plus SeaWorld Orlando's Halloween Spooktacular and Legoland Florida Resort's Brick or Treat festivities, are available at the parks until late October or early November. If you're traveling with teens, time your visit during the last weekend of October when the country's largest horror convention, Spooky Empire, takes place.

Enjoy Outdoor Fun at Smugglers' Notch Resort in Jeffersonville, Vermont

Every September and October, families flock to Smugglers' Notch Resort, which sits less than 13 miles northwest of Stowe, Vermont, to enjoy the property's AutumnFest activities. With midweek savings (including 50 percent off rates for supervised Kids' Connection programs) and a fourth night free in spacious condos, families can enjoy quality time together without breaking the bank. On-site amenities include heated outdoor pools, a mini-golf course, a skate park, a volleyball court and an indoor play area with laser tag, a climbing wall and more. Those who want to leaf peep while in town should arrive between mid- and late October.

Embrace local culture in Gallup, New Mexico

Autumn brings cooler weather to the small, culture-rich city of Gallup. Located near the Arizona border within 60 miles of the Zuni Pueblo and Navajo Nation reservations, Gallup is a hub for Native American crafts, especially locally made turquoise and silver jewelry. Plus, Gallup boasts an array of outdoor activities (think: rock climbing, hiking and biking) for active families. Budget-friendly accommodations are plentiful here, but for historic digs, stay at Route 66's El Rancho Hotel. The property once boarded celebrities starring in Westerns filmed in the area.

Tour forests and castles in Loch Lommond, Scotland

Situated about 30 miles northwest of Glasgow, Scotland, inside Loch Lommond & The Trossachs National Park, this lake region is known for its spectacular fall foliage. In Loch Lommond's Great Trossachs Forest National Nature Reserve, visitors will find Western Atlantic oak trees showcasing vivid red, orange and yellow hues. Stay in nearby Aberfoyle's 500-year-old, pink Duchray Castle, a fairy-tale property that serves a fortifying Scottish-style breakfast and boasts 90 tranquil acres with a pond and rose garden. Autumn rates begin at 150 pounds (approximately $199) per night.

Spend a spooktacular weekend in Omaha, Nebraska

Before temperatures drop to the 30s in November, Nebraskans like to celebrate fall outdoors. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium hosts its annual Spooktacular event for eight nights from mid- and late October. The occasion gives kids of all ages the chance to trick or treat in costumes and observe nocturnal animals like fruit bats and tammar wallabies. Or, families can attend mid-October's One Sky, One World Kite Festival. Those who arrive before Oct. 29 should venture 45 miles southwest of Omaha to Avoca, Nebraska's Bloom Where You're Planted Farm, to pick their own pumpkins, see farm animals, savor caramel apples and more.

Strike autumn gold in Aspen, Colorado

When snow begins dusting Aspen's ski resorts in October, travelers can enjoy mountain biking and hiking without crowds and sky-high prices. Local outfitters Aspen Velo and Bike Butlers offer mountain bike rentals, trail advice and even guided tours through the area's colorful aspen trees. Meanwhile, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies runs family-friendly wildlife hikes that may include glimpses of animals like beavers, bears and hawks. Two-bedroom condo rentals start at $80 per person, per night for midweek stays; rates may cover perks like health club passes and airport transfers.

Savor tasty cuisine and listen to top-notch music in Paris

Paris boasts lower prices, shorter lines and terrific outdoor cafe weather in autumn. In mid-October, check out the Montmartre Grape Harvest Festival, which features food and wine tastings, plus experiences ideal for children, such as a kids snack event and a performance by a children's choir. Also visit Versailles to witness dancing waters set to baroque music during the Musical Fountains Show. The performance is available every fall weekend until Oct. 28. Travelers who have little ones with sweet tooths can't miss the chocolate-focused Salon du Chocolat celebration from Oct. 31 through Nov. 4.

Get your fill of apples and nature in Bayfield, Wisconsin

More than 60 orchard and food booths and 140 craft vendors make October's three-day Bayfield Apple Festival a prime tourist event. This small Lake Superior city roughly 85 miles east of Duluth, Minnesota, is also close to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, where the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center offers family programs, interactive trails and a five-story observation tower for leaf peeping. Off shore, explore the lighthouses and wildlife on the scenic Apostle Islands, accessible by ferry, cruise tour, canoe and kayak.

Take in incredible panoramas in Hong Kong

October through December, subtropical Hong Kong's drier and cooler months, are ideal for sightseeing. Ride the more than 130-year-old Peak Tram up Victoria Peak, the island's highest point at 1,811 feet. Ascend higher to the futuristic Peak Tower's 360-degree viewing platform, or stroll the easy (and free) hiking trails that show off the island's forests and neon-lit skyscrapers. No Hong Kong vacation would be complete without a ride across Victoria Harbour aboard the iconic Star Ferry.

Play all day in Rochester, New York

Squeeze in a visit to Rochester before the city's first snowfall to learn about Brownie cameras at the George Eastman Museum, women's rights history at the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House and iconic games at The Strong National Museum of Play. The Strong comprises exhibits about everything from puzzles to pinball machines, as well as a school, a library and research institutes for electronic games, video games and every toy imaginable. This year's National Toy Hall of Fame Celebration, on Nov. 10 and 11, honors the 75th anniversary of Slinky, the 50th anniversary of Hot Wheels and the facility's 2018 inductees.

Feast on gourmet fare at the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival in the Hawaiian Islands

The eighth annual Hawaii Food and Wine Festival kicks off this year between Oct. 6 and 28. Co-founded by James Beard Award-winning chefs Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong, the festival's various food and wine events help raise money for local communities. From cupcake decorating with YouTube star Rosanna Pansino on Maui to children's cooking classes on Oahu, families have access to all kinds of activities made for budding foodies. Plus, several sponsoring resorts offer special rates, including kid-friendly properties like Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa and the Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina.

Illuminate jack-o'-lanterns and enjoy spooky activities in and around Providence, Rhode Island

While some families head to Providence in October to join evening Providence Ghost Tour outings, others visit the nearby Blackstone Valley for peak foliage viewing, historic sites and the Underland haunted experience for kids 12 and older. But the area's most well-known fall activity is the Roger Williams Park Zoo's Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular. This Providence event features 5,000-plus intricately carved jack-o'-lanterns displayed throughout the zoo. The 30th anniversary edition runs from Oct. 4 to Nov. 4 and offers special family nights with wizard, fairy-tale and superhero themes.

Opt outside in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga rocks in autumn, when the Chattanooga Zoo hosts toddler-friendly Halloween activities like animal encounters during its yearly Boo in the Zoo event. What's more, Oct. 5 to 21 is when RiverRocks occurs. This fitness-focused festival presents many opportunities for outdoor competition set to live music, whether you and your loved ones are into paddleboarding, biking, running, swimming or rock climbing. Be sure to check out the festival's Sculpture in the Sky event, which features parachute kite races, professional kite performances and more. On October weekends, venture 6 miles southwest of Chattanooga to Lookout Mountain, Georgia, to celebrate German culture at Rocktoberfest.

Catch a flick in Amsterdam

Though Amsterdam's events calendar is full in fall, families won't want to miss the Cinekid Festival in late October. This event features a full program of children's movies, shorts, multimedia installations, toddler-oriented cartoons and family activities like DJ workshops. For those with teens in tow, consider attending the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, which shows autobiographical films every November. After getting their fill of films, families can snap pictures of the 400,000-plus colorful trees lining the city's famous canals and waterways.

Foster creativity in Asheville, North Carolina

Come together over the transformative power of music at Asheville's Lake Eden Arts Festival. This mid-October event features an international music roster, as well as dancing, puppet shows, a youth poetry slam and even medieval sword fights. After a busy day, families can retreat to the posh Omni Grove Park Inn 2 miles northeast of downtown Asheville. On-site amenities include a kids club, a spa, a golf course, six tennis courts and a family pool. The property also offers seasonal guided walking tours where guests can forage mushrooms and wild foods that the staff prepares for supper.

Explore Pittsburgh's waterways and attractions

On select October dates, the Gateway Clipper riverboat is a scenic way to get oriented to Pittsburgh, a dynamic city located at the confluence of three rivers. Canoe or kayak the Three Rivers Water Trail, tour world-class museums and visit the Rivers of Steel historic site. Also check out the Duquesne Incline, a cable car that has transported residents and visitors uphill to different neighborhoods since 1877. The summit is home to a fun little museum and boasts panoramic city views.

Stroll through gardens and past castles in Kanazawa, Japan

Comparable to Kyoto, one of Japan's most culturally rich cities, Kanazawa features samurai architecture, geishas, traditional crafts and simple guesthouses that co-exist with modern comforts. In fall, the city's Japanese maple trees in Kenrokuen Garden turn stunning shades of red; admire them and passers-by in kimonos from the garden's traditional ryotei restaurant. History buffs will also love seeing the reconstructed white fortress in Kanazawa Castle Park.

Cruise from a port near home

Cruise vacations offer activities for all ages and interests, and they've never been easier or more affordable for families. This autumn, Carnival Cruise Line is offering refreshed itineraries that depart from 18 year-round and seasonal U.S. ports, making it possible for nearly half of Americans to catch a cruise without spending more than a day driving to a cruise terminal. Whether you're interested in a fall foliage cruise that travels from New York City to Halifax, Nova Scotia, or you want to enjoy ample onboard activities (think: aerial bikes and waterslides) while cruising between Galveston, Texas, and Caribbean locales, there's a route that guarantees fun for the whole family.

See stunning scenery, art exhibits and college campuses in Williamstown, Massachusetts

Williamstown is centrally located for leaf peeping in the Berkshires and hiking on Mount Greylock. Plus, families with art enthusiasts can spend a day in town perusing MASS MoCA's contemporary art installations and learning more about visual arts at The Clark Art Institute. Having 36 colleges – including the prestigious Williams College – within 50 miles makes this small New England town east of Albany, New York, an ideal base for campus visits with teens. Travelers can find affordable lodging at the Williamstown Motel (an alumni favorite) or the Willows Motel, which offers an outdoor pool and free breakfast.

Surf in Sagres, Portugal

Autumn is a superb time to visit the Algarve region of Portugal. During this shoulder season, the summer crowds are long gone but ocean temps are still warm, meaning families can focus on quiet beach time and perfecting their surfing skills at Sagres' beaches. The all-inclusive Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort Hotel offers family-friendly villas and rooms, kids clubs, sports facilities, a spa for all ages and dining venues with supervised children's play areas. Rates, which drop between the summer and winter seasons, include two meals per day and most activities.
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Kyle McCarthy, Contributor

Kyle McCarthy is the author of a dozen Frommer guidebooks, contributor to many publications, ...  Read more


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