The summer is over and the kids have traded in their goggles, beach towels and popsicles for notebooks and bagged lunch. But before you pack away the carefree summer attitude, banish the back-to-school blues with a fun-filled fall staycation at a local theme park, museum and beyond.
Theme Park Day Trip
When the kids go back to school and the temperatures drop, Six Flags shuts down its parks on weekdays and closes the wild water rides designed for the hottest summer days. But the fun carries on during the weekend when the park welcomes guests with cooler days, shorter lines and some frightening fun during the Halloween-inspired Fright Fest. The parks are open during the weekend throughout October to celebrate with daytime tricks and treats for everyone. Little ones can fill up their goody bags and enjoy pint-sized rides during the day before the undead take over the park for nighttime escapades including spooky shows, haunted mazes and gory bands of costumed characters that might even impress the coolest teenagers.
Sample the Best Fall Festivals
As the season changes, small towns around the country gear up for fall-themed festivals to celebrate autumn's bounty and traditions. You can do some research to find the best local festivals in your area, but here are some of our favorites around the country.
Many zoos host a Halloween bash for kids similar to the multi-weekend wonder at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. The Boo at the Zoo happens the last 2 weekends in October with costumed characters and treat stations in addition to the usual animal fun.
Just 10 miles from Gettysburg in Arendtsville, PA, the National Apple Harvest Festival celebrates this fall harvest for the first 2 weekends in October. If the sweet smell of apple butter or apple fritters or tart homemade apple sauce doesn't tempt you, there's barbecue, pit beef and even freshly made scrapple to fill your belly. In addition to the food, you can expect chainsaw carving, petting zoos, live music and stalls filled with arts and crafts for sale.
Celebrate fall's other harvest star at New Hampshire's Keene Pumpkin Festival in mid-October, and see thousands of carved pumpkins of all shapes and sizes aglow in the town's Central Square. The family can don their Halloween costumes for the parade around town followed by pie-eating and seed-spitting contests, live music and a grand fireworks display.
Get your hands and feet dirty at the World Championship Grape Stomp at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. The kids will love the mess factor as teams of 2 work together to smash grapes with their feet and fill jugs of grape juice. While stomping is serious competition for some, there's a designated stomp just for kids 13 and under and costumes are encouraged all around.
Set Off on a Nature Walk
Enjoy the cool fall weather, and catch up on the new school year on an extended nature walk or hiking excursion in a nearby state park. If you're fortunate enough to live near any of the country's great national parks, check the schedule for ranger activities or guided hikes to explore the park during the seasonal change. In Tennessee, the entire family can appreciate the crisp mountain air on the trails in Smoky Mountain National Park. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, take a scenic stroll through the family-friendly and accessible trails in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Bring along snacks (just remember to take any trash away with you), a magnifying glass to observe cool finds along the way and a camera to capture the scenery.
Take the Plunge at an Indoor Water Park
Before you pack away your bathing suit, make a post-summer splash at an indoor water park with water slides, sprinkler parks and wave-pool fun. Great Wolf Lodge has locations around the country making it an easy overnight getaway. Book a night in a family-friendly room, and let someone else make the beds and keep things tidy while the family splashes around these watery wonderlands. And while check-out at the hotel is 11 a.m., you can stay and play until the park closes for the day.
Learning in Action at a Museum
Prepare for the new school year with some hands-on learning at a local museum. Get schooled in social studies with a visit to a history museum like DC's National Museum of American History. If you're nurturing an artist, explore the masterpieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, or check out outsider art at Baltimore's Visionary Arts Museum. Budding paleontologists and scientists can learn about ecosystems and check out dinosaur bones, including the massive T. Rex Sue, at the Field Museum in Chicago. Or keep things light and inspiring at a preschooler-friendly kids museum with plenty of stimulation and hands-on fun including the playful Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia or the inspiring Children's Museum of Indianapolis.