Short Vacation Ideas: 10 Perfect Fall Weekend Getaways for the Whole Family

Go for hike, pick some apples, and do all the other quintessential autumn activities on these family-friendly fall weekend getaways.
Mount Washington Cog Railway (Photo: Visit White Mountains)
Mount Washington Cog Railway (Photo: Visit White Mountains)

Colorful foliage, cooler temperatures, pumpkin everything—what’s not to love about fall? It’s something of a Goldilocks time of year in most parts of the U.S., because it’s not too hot, not too cold, and an ideal time to travel. Unfortunately, it’s also back-to-school time for kids, which makes planning a full-fledged fall vacation a real challenge. The solution? Fall weekend getaways, especially if you can make it a three-day weekend to squeeze in a little extra fun.

Three days is more than enough time to take a picturesque hike, pick apples, sip a hot beverage, tell spooky Halloween stories, and do all the other quintessential fall weekend escape activities. And there are so many great places in the U.S. where you can enjoy just that kind of autumnal experience, including many within driving distance of major metropolitan areas around the country. Of course, you can use that extra weekend getaway day to hop on a quick flight, too, which really does open up the whole country for a three-day fall weekend.

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Three-Day Fall Weekend Getaways around the U.S.

When busy school and work schedules don’t allow for a longer trip, try one of these three-day fall weekend getaways that pack in all the fun and charm of a longer autumn vacation.

1. Hamilton County, Indiana

Bike share rentals are available along the trail Monon Trail (Photo: Carmel Bike Share)
Bike share rentals are available along the trail Monon Trail (Photo: Carmel Bike Share)

Just north of Indianapolis, Hamilton County has everything you need for a family-friendly fall getaway: good food, lots of things to do, and easy access from a number of nearby metro areas. Base yourself in Carmel for proximity to the Monon Trail, a 20-mile rails-to-trails paved path perfect for biking or walking. (Bike share rentals are available along the trail.) In the Carmel area, the trail passes a cool play space and Midtown Plaza, where your whole family can play a little ping-pong or corn hole, grab a bite to eat, or just relax on the bench swings.

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Browse the shops in the Carmel Arts and Design District, where the kids can undertake a DIY scavenger hunt to find the J. Seward Johnson Jr. sculptures dotting the area. Nickel Plate Express offers fall foliage train rides aboard historic 1950s-era train cars, while Flat Fork Creek Park is a great place to bike or hike amid the autumn leaves. At living history site Conner Prairie, your family can take part in special fall experiences like a corn maze and the spooky Headless Horseman Festival. After a long day of activity, reward the kids with a treat from The Cake Bake Shop or Graeter’s Ice Cream.

Where to Stay in Hamilton County 

If you’re traveling with teens, book your fall weekend getaway stay at Hotel Carmichael, where you can step right out onto the Monon Trail. For families with younger kids, Holiday Inn Indianapolis Carmel is a good option. 

2. Delaware County, New York

A covered bridge in Delaware County, New York (Photo: I Love NY)
Old-fashioned covered bridge add to the charm of fall weekend getaways in the Catskills (Photo: I Love NY)

Fall is a favorite time of year in Delaware County, New York, also known as the Great Western Catskills. The mountains are awash with vibrant autumnal hues, which can be admired by driving the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, biking the Catskill Scenic Trail, or hiking the many trails with sweeping views of the area. If you’ve got older kids, try a horseback ride at Skyhold Ranch or book a fly fishing guide to see what’s biting in what’s considered the birthplace of American fly fishing.

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Pick-your-own-produce opportunities and fall farm experiences abound throughout this upstate New York vacation destination at places like Maplewood Farm and Orchard and Echo Orchard and Farm. There are farmers markets all over the county offering everything from fruits and veggies to jams and maple syrup. Picturesque towns and villages like Fleischmanns, Walton, and Hobart provide scenic locales for strolling, shopping, and dining. (Hobart has seven bookstores!)

Where to Stay in Delaware County

Kids of all ages will flip for the over-the-top vibe at The Roxbury at Stratton Falls, an elaborately themed family resort where each Tower Cottage features a fantastical design scheme inspired by things fairies, super heroes, and even Dracula.

3. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Kids playing on the beach in fall in Cheseapeake Bay (Photo: Finn Partners)
Kids love playing on the beach in the fall (Photo: Finn Partners)

If you don’t think the fall is a good time to head to the beach, think again. While it might not be swimming weather, lighter crowds and cooler temperatures at the best fall beach destinations let you enjoy your beach time without ever breaking a sweat. And Virginia Beach is definitely at the top of the list for fall weekend getaways. There’s lots to explore in this East Coast vacation playground, including miles of bikeways and trails alongside a slew of parks and natural areas.

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Go leaf peeping and wildlife watching at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge or First Landing State Park (where you can spot bioluminescent waters during the fall), or take a dolphin tour to spy the marine mammals still in the area before migrating to warmer waters for the winter. Spots like Hunt Club Farm and Flanagan Farm amp up the fall fun with pumpkin patches, hay rides, and other kid-friendly activities.

Autumn is a great time of year to climb to the top of the Cape Henry Lighthouse (kids must be at least 42 inches tall to do so) or take on the ropes courses at The Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium. Plus you can still indulge in some classic family beach vacation activities like mini golf even when the weather is cooler.

Where to Stay for Fall Weekend Getaways in Virginia Beach 

With three hotels to choose from, The Cavalier Resort can suit just about anyone’s unique travel needs. Stay at the Cavalier Virginia Beach for a more refined stay, the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront for proximity to the sand and great views, or the Embassy Suites Virginia Beach Oceanfront Resort for a little extra space for the whole family.

4. Branson, Missouri

Fall foliage zip lining in Branson, Missouri (Photo: Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau)
Fall foliage zip lining is one of many fall weekend getaway attractions in Branson (Photo: Branson CVB)

The fall foliage puts on just as much of a show as any of the performers in Branson, a perennial favorite among Midwest family vacation destinations. And you can enjoy it in all kinds of ways, whether that’s a scenic drive along Highway 165, a hike through spots like the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area, riding the rails on the Branson Scenic Railway, or a mountain coaster ride or zip line excursion amid the autumn leaves. 

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The popular Harvest Festival at theme park Silver Dollar City and Shepherd’s PumpkinFest are among the abundance of fall festivals in the area. There’s also 10,000 acres to wander at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, and Top of the Rock offers sweeping scenic views and a range of fun activities. And the area’s many year-round shows and attractions means your family will never be bored here.

Where to Stay in Branson 

Just a few minutes from all of the action in Branson, Big Cedar Lodge is just right for outdoorsy fall weekend getaways with a range of lodging options and an almost overwhelming (in a good way) range of dining spots and activities.

5. The White Mountains, New Hampshire

Get a bird's eye view of New Hampshire's fall color on the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway (Photo: Visit White Mountains)
Get a bird’s eye view of New Hampshire’s fall colors on the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway (Photo: Visit White Mountains)

For a classic New England fall getaway, head north to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Home to family-favorites amusement parks for kids like Story Land and Santa’s Village, this year-round vacation destination especially shines during the autumn months. Driving the Kancamagus Highway is a well-known way to take in the fall foliage, but you can also view it by foot at spots like Franconia Notch State Park and White Mountain National Forest, from the sky via the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, or by train with a journey aboard the Conway Scenic Railroad or the Mount Washington Cog Railway. (Check the region’s foliage tracker for up-to-the-moment info.)

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Ski season’s not in swing yet, but ski resorts like Cranmore Mountain Resort and Loon Mountain offer fall weekend getaway activities like bike parks and scenic chairlift or gondola rides during the season. The area’s also great for taking in easy-to-walk-to waterfalls like Glen Ellis Falls and Arethusa Falls, and the kids will enjoy venturing around the Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves.

Where to Stay for Fall Weekend Getaways in the White Mountains

For a luxurious escape with the kids, I always recommend the Omni Mount Washington Resort, which offers year-round family activities in a stunning setting that comes to life with fall colors.

6. The Great Rivers and Routes Region, Illinois

Fall is a picture-perfect time to explore the Great Rivers and Routes Region of Illinois (Photo: Pere Marquette Horseback Riding)
Fall is a picture-perfect time to explore the Great Rivers and Routes Region of Illinois (Photo: Pere Marquette Horseback Riding)

Spanning multiple counties in southwest Illinois, the Great Rivers and Routes Region celebrates three great U.S. rivers (the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois) and famous roadways like Route 66 and Great River Road. So, it’s not surprising that fall is a picture-perfect time to visit the area. You can take in the views while someone else does the driving on a Fall Foliage and History Tour, or just set off on your own family road trip along the historic routes.

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Go for a hike at spots like Pere Marquette and Beaver Dam state parks or opt for more high-speed thrills at the Aerie’s Resort Alpine Coaster. There’s no shortage of U-pick farms and fall festivals in the area, and the Great Godfrey Maze can be navigated by flashlight on Friday and Saturday nights for an extra-spooky experience. If you have older kids, explore the eerie side of Mississippi River town Alton, Illinois, which has been named one of the most haunted small towns in America.

Where to Stay in the Great Rivers and Routes Region 

Choose your way to stay at Aerie’s Resort, which has guest rooms up on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers as well at a location on Main Street in downtown Grafton, Illinois.

7. Salt Lake City, Utah

Sunset over Salt Lake City and the mountains (Photo: S. Greenwood)
Fall brings spectacular sunsets to Salt Lake City and the mountains (Photo: S. Greenwood)

Combining the vibrancy of a city with views of the Wasatch Mountains and easy access to outdoor fun, Salt Lake City is an ideal fit for long weekend getaway in the fall. Spots like Memory Grove Park and City Creek Canyon are full of walking, hiking, and biking trails awash with fall colors. Liberty Park is another good option for not only fall foliage but also playgrounds, paddle boats, and Tracy Aviary, home to more than 300 birds from around the world.

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The Salt Lake Connect Attractions Pass gives you admission to the aviary and 17 other Northern Utah attractions for a single price, including perfect-for-fall sites like Red Butte GardenThis Is the Place Heritage Park, and Thanksgiving Point, which has a full calendar of fall events. Hogle Zoo always offers a range of special October events for spooky season, and Snowbird’s annual Oktoberfest features live music, family-friendly activities, traditional Bavarian food, and more than 50 varieties of beer for the grownups.

Where to Stay for Fall Weekend Getaways in Salt Lake City

The Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City has 700 guest rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of the Wasatch Mountains, along with amenities like fire pits and multiple dining options.

8. Hershey, Pennsylvania

Animal encounter at ZooAmerica (Photo: Hershey, PA)
ZooAmerica gets into the fall action with special tours (Photo: Hershey, PA)

Enjoy the sweet side of fall in Hershey, where Hersheypark becomes a hotbed of Halloween fun with fall events including include trick-or-treating along the Hershey’s Trick-Or-Treat Trail, the Creatures of the Night flashlight tour at ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park, and five haunted houses at the Dark Nights event. Hershey’s Chocolate World also adds a layer of fall fun with trick-or-treating throughout the world’s largest candy store, a seasonal version of its trolley tour, and new treats to try.

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But there’s more to enjoy in the area than just chocolate. Fall foliage is on full display at places like Hershey Gardens and Wildwood Park, and the Hershey Harrisburg Adventure Trail is a go-to spot for hiking, biking, and bird watching. Head to Patchwork Pumpkin Farm for hayrides and other fall activities, or stop by the Fresh Market at Hershey Towne Square to find locally grown produce, baked goods, and other offerings from more than 40 vendors and retailers.

Where to Stay in Hershey 

Perched on a hillside, The Hotel Hershey has family-friendly guest rooms, suites, and cottages; amenities and activities like hiking trails and family s’mores roasts; a special kids check-in process; and various perks and benefits for visiting the local attractions.

9. Portland, Maine

Colorful harbor in Portland, Maine (Photo: Shutterstock)
Colorful harbor in Portland, Maine (Photo: Shutterstock)

From its working waterfront to its 19th-century architecture, Portland can’t be beat for three-day fall weekend getaways. Cobblestone streets add extra charm to the Old Port district filled with shops, restaurants, and galleries. Visit the Portland Head Light for great photos ops where fall foliage meets the ocean, then explore the Children’s Garden, arboretum, and trails at Fort Williams Park.

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At the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the Alfond Children’s Garden features two acres of woods and theme gardens inspired by well-known children’s books by Maine authors like Blueberries for Sal (by Robert McCloskey) and Charlotte’s Web (by E.B. White). Fuel up with an apple cider potato donut from The Holy Donut or a variety pack of 25 bite-sized donuts from Eighty8 Donuts, then head to the shopping outlets in nearby Freeport to stock up on fall and winter essentials at the L.L.Bean flagship store.

Where to Stay in Portland 

The Cambria Hotel Portland Downtown Old Port puts you within walking distance of downtown Portland’s waterfront, restaurants, and attractions. Stylish rooms and suites are ideal for a family weekend escape.

10. Buellton, California

Buellton is home to California’s longest and fastest zip (Photo: Highline Adventures)
Buellton is home to California’s longest and fastest zip (Photo: Highline Adventures)

Just north of Santa Barbara and about 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Santa Ynez Valley, Buellton has a mild climate that’s well-suited to producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. And while that might be enough to excite the grownups in the family, the kids will love the fact that the city recently became the home of California’s longest and fastest zip line at Highline Adventures, an adventure park where you can get bird’s-eye views of the area.

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Fall is a great time to visit places like Ostrichland USA, where you can observe and feed the resident emus and ostriches. For more animal fun, head to Santa Ynez Valley Horseback Rides, which has trail rides along the Santa Ynez River for ages eight and up, plus family fun rides for ages six and up and a pony encounter for families with younger kids. Check out the fall colors at the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden, then travel a short trail at Nojoqui Falls Park to admire its namesake waterfall. 

Where to Stay for Fall Weekend Getaways in Buellton 

The well-situated Santa Ynez Valley Marriott has rooms and suites with private balconies or patios and amenities like a heated outdoor pool and 24-hour fitness center.

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Beth Luberecki
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and teenage daughter. Visit her website at or find her on Instagram at @bethlubereckiwrites and @findingfloridafun.