10 Best Fall Shoulder Season Destinations for Families
In the fall, weather is still quite good, the crowds at top attractions are much smaller, and best of all, you can save loads of money on airfare and hotel stays. Here are our 10 favorite places to vacation as a family during the fall shoulder season.
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Niagara Falls, New York
Take in the spectacular fall colors of the Niagara Falls region from the hiking trails that make up the Niagara Gorge Trail System or from the cockpit of a helicopter high up in the sky. Kids will love cruising into Horseshoe Falls on board the iconic Maid of the Mist (only minus the massive summer crowds), then picking apples at nearby Becker Farms. Take the Niagara Scenic Trolley around Niagara Falls State Park to view the falls from various angles. A spin on the Niagara SkyWheel is a must, but it’s on the Canada side, so don’t forget your passport.
There’s no better time to visit Orlando than the fall when hotel rates are low and the summer crowds have gone back to school. As a bonus, the weather is still warm, making it a perfect time to splash around at Universal Orlando’s new Volcano Bay water park or book a stay at the bungalow-style LEGOLAND Beach Retreat. Beyond theme parks, kids will love hiking at Ocala National Forest and flying across the ziplines at Forever Florida (rent a GoPro to record how you do on all seven ziplines). The Juice Orlando Bike Share is a fun way to explore downtown Orlando on two wheels.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Escape to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado Springs in the fall when aspen trees turn the region to gold. Enjoy the changing leaves as you summit Pikes Peak on the cog train or with paddle in hand on a family rafting trip along the Arkansas River with Echo Canyon River Expeditions. Explore the dramatic red rocks at the Garden of the Gods, then hike the trails or take on all 10 ziplines at Broadmoor Seven Falls. Drive the Gold Belt Tour to re-trace travel routes of the world’s largest gold rush before settling in at the family-friendly Cheyenne Mountain Resort.
Branson is known for summertime fun at Silver Dollar City, an 1880s-themed adventure park, but there's even more to love about Branson in the fall. Dogwood Canyon Nature Park boasts waterfalls, ancient burial caves, and fishing holes with rainbow trout aplenty. Take a cruise at Table Rock State Park or rent bikes to ride along the Lakeshore Trail for idyllic lake views. A ride along the Branson Scenic Railway is a relaxing way to experience the delightful fall colors of the Ozarks. Stop in the Farmhouse Restaurant for blackberry cobbler before spending the night in a log cabin at Thousand Hills Resort.
Texas Hill Country
It can get plenty hot in Texas, making fall the perfect time to explore Texas Hill Country. Situated just west of San Antonio, the region boasts fall foliage said to rival that of the East Coast. Explore Chalk Bluff Park for miles of hiking trails, as well as horseback riding and kayaking. Grab a tube and float along the Frio River where you’ll pass the largest tree in Texas where the river merges with Buffalo Creek (get ready for a selfie). Sign up for a Frio Bat Flight Tour to be awed as 12 million bats fly out of Frio Cave just before sunset.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas may reach triple digit temperatures in the summer, but as the mercury dips in the fall, there’s a lot to see and do off the Vegas Strip. Make the short drive west for scenic desert cliffs, buttes and rock formations at Red Rock Canyon. Another favorite for families is Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, which wows with fantastic views of fossilized sandstone and petroglyphs. Stay at the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort in nearby Henderson for kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding. In town, visit the outdoor Neon Museum to learn the history of neon lights in Las Vegas.
In the fall, look to hurricane-free islands in the Caribbean, like Aruba. Kids and families will love building sand castles, hunting for shells, even taking merengue lessons. A favorite beach on the island is Eagle Beach where you can spend the entire day relaxing in a beach chair and splashing in the turquoise waters. Walk along the beach in search of the island’s famous Divi Divi trees. Water sports are popular, so rent a jet ski, a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard, or plan an afternoon of parasailing or snorkeling. When you’re ready to leave the beach, take a guided tour of the popular Butterfly Farm in Oranjestad. The Aruba Ostrich Farm is another fun pick.
Pay a visit to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert in the fall for fantastic hiking at Sabino Canyon and Tumamoc Hill. Saguaro National Park offers guided flashlight walks at night and programs that explore the more than 20 species of cactus in the park. Tucson’s night skies are ideal for stargazing, so attend one of the SkyNights programs at the University of Arizona’s Mount Lemmon. Kids will love a stay at a dude ranch, like Tanque Verde Ranch, which offers plenty of horseback riding, as well as fishing, hiking and mountain biking, even a daily kids camp.
National parks are a great pick for the fall when temperatures are still very pleasant, but the big summer crowds have gone home. Nearly every national park has a junior ranger program, enabling kids to earn badges or patches for completing various activities. Yellowstone National Park lets kids sign out toolkits to investigate the area around Old Faithful. Try horseback riding at Glacier National Park in Montana to experience wilderness trails or drive Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia for incredible fall foliage. Pitch a tent at a KOA or rent an RV to explore our national parks in a new way.
Cooperstown, New York
As baseball season comes to a close and the World Series approaches, is there any better place to be than Cooperstown, New York, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Dig into the history of baseball and test your knowledge of America’s favorite pastime. A short drive from Albany and Syracuse, there’s more to Cooperstown than baseball and fall is a great time to explore the town nicknamed "America’s Most Perfect Village." Go biking in the foothills of the Catskills Mountains or take a ride along the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad for views of the gorgeous fall foliage. Settle in for the night at the Otesaga Resort Hotel, which is right on the shores of Lake Otsego.