Autumn travel means harvest festivals, classic New England inns, and hikes and drives to see fall foliage.
But it can also mean whitewater rafting in West Virginia, birding on Lake Erie, wine at Monticello, and a concert in Indianapolis where the instruments are made from vegetables. Either way, for people who live in the Tampa Bay area, it means traveling north to see the leaves turn red, orange and yellow.
Check state tourism websites for foliage reports with dates and locations for the best leaf-peeping. Visit pickyourown.org to find a pick-your-own orchard near you. For pumpkin picking, try pumpkinpatchesandmore.org. And to find a corn maze, check out cornmazesamerica.com.
Though New England has the biggest reputation for fall colors, the color show is not limited to the far northeast section of the country. North Georgia might be the closest place to see the changing leaves, and the best time is the last week of October. For a list of suggested autumn drives there, go to ngeorgia.com/travel.
Elsewhere, the Old Tyme Apple Festival in Versailles, Mo., scheduled for October's first weekend, typically attracts more than 30,000 visitors. The Apple Butter Days Fall Festival, Oct. 8-9, is held at the Camden County Museum, in Linn Creek, Mo. Also worth visiting in Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks region is the 95-mile Art & Ambiance Trail, with vineyards, galleries, museums, studios, shops and eateries; check funlake.com.
In West Virginia, whitewater rafting season on the Upper Gauley River takes place now through Oct. 17, corresponding to water releases from the Summersville Dam. About 60,000 people visit annually to ride the Class III to Class V-plus extreme rapids. Outfitters include Adventures on the Gorge, adventurewestvirginia.com.
For birders, a new checklist of what to look for on the freshwater shoreline of New York and Pennsylvania, also called the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, has been posted at seawaytrail.com/birding. The route is 518 miles long, from the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation on the St. Lawrence River to the Pennsylvania-Ohio border on Lake Erie, and includes the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.
Indianapolis hosts Food for Thought from Nov. 5-14, www.indianahumanities.org, a culinary event with more than the usual tastings and demonstrations. There will be edible artwork, seminars on raising bees and chickens, and conversations about subjects ranging from hunger to eating disorders. A Nov. 6 concert features music played on instruments crafted from vegetables, like a pepper trumpet and a leek violin; a Nov. 10 concert features kitchen implements (bring your own pots and pans and join in). An orphan's feast on Nov. 7 features a menu of cornmeal and water as diners see a documentary and photos of African orphans celebrating their food.
Virginia is promoting scenic drives for fall, including Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park; the Blue Ridge Parkway, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year; and the heritage music trail known as the Crooked Road; virginia.org/fall. The website for Great Smoky National Park has a special section recommending autumn drives and hiking trails at nps.gov/grsm/.
For bargain hunters, fall travel is ripe with opportunity — and not just for eating corn, apples and pumpkins. In many destinations, fall is considered the "shoulder season," which Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie described as "a transition period between high and low season, usually defined by occupancy going down and pricing going down."
Cruises, for example, are most popular in summer when consumers have vacation time, and in winter, when travelers yearn for warmer climes. But in the fall, cruise operators offer lots of last-minute deals as they try to fill cabins, especially for cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico, where the threat of hurricanes leads to dramatic price drops both on ships and at land resorts, Saglie said.
Also popular in the fall are annual foliage cruises to New England and Canada. While some cruisers book these well in advance, Saglie says, "There are always some last-minute opportunities out of New York, Boston or Canada. Flexibility is key when it comes to taking advantage of the bargains."
And you don't have to worry about your cruise getting caught in a storm; cruise operators are cautious about weather in the region this time of year and change itineraries as needed.
Travelzoo.com offers links to "seasonally driven deals," but consumers looking for travel bargains might also sign up on the site for a weekly newsletter e-mailed each Wednesday highlighting the top 20 deals.
Many hotels offer packages with themes of the season. Saybrook Point Inn & Spa in Old Saybrook, Conn. — saybrook.com — offers a "Best of Autumn" package with a two-night stay, Friday and Saturday, starting at $885, including cider and cookies, breakfast both mornings, one dinner for two, tickets for a foliage cruise on the Connecticut River and a picnic lunch for the boat, with a take-home gift of produce from a local farm.
The New England Inns & Resorts Association, which represents nearly 250 lodges, hotels and B&Bs, lists a variety of seasonal specials at newenglandinnsandresorts.com.
This month, Yankee magazine anointed Kent, Conn., the best town in New England for viewing fall foliage. Yankee's top 10 also included Bethel, Maine; Manchester, Vt.; Williamstown, Mass.; Middlebury, Vt.; Waitsfield, Vt.; Sandwich, N.H.; Rangeley, Maine; and Blue Hill, Maine. The magazine's website, yankeefoliage.com, is a gold mine of information and trip ideas for the area.