updated 9/25/2008 2:13:09 PM ET 2008-09-25T18:13:09

Colorful hot-air balloons, with colorful fall foliage nearby in the Blue Ridge Mountains. How much more could you ask for autumn travel?

They come together in North Carolina at the Carolina BalloonFest at Statesville on Oct. 24-26, the 35th rendition of a weekend of mass balloon ascensions, rides, competitions, food and entertainment. They promise 50 of the multicolored balloons, with liftoffs off in the morning and late afternoon. Click on "Gallery" for a visual taste. For other tastes, you can sample North Carolina wines, and chow down on local foods. And if you can take the thrill, click on "Rides" to see about joining in the fun (expensive fun, at $200 per hour). The town is easy to find, at the intersections of Interstates 77 and 40, about 40 miles southwest of Winston-Salem and roughly the same north of Charlotte.

Previous visitors have put a video of last year's festival on YouTube with bluegrass banjo accompaniment, and another YouTube videographer posted a video of a nighttime balloon "glow."

About that reference to wines. Check in with the grape section of the state travel Web site to learn a little about the vineyards.

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While you're there, take time to explore Statesville with its historic homes such as Dashana Hall Plantation, train depot built in 1911, and the Gov. Zebulon Vance Museum. Then stick around for a few days after the BalloonFest and you can take in the Crossroads Pumpkin Fest on the town square.

Take in the local Fort Dobbs site of a frontier fort in the French and Indian War in the late 1700s. Look through their photo gallery for shots of reenactments staged at the fort.

Statesville's Web site calls the city a gateway to North Carolina's mountains, due west on I-40. Take the off-ramp at Hickory for a look around at shops and museums. Along with antiques and crafts, Hickory is in the center of the nation's furniture-making industry and has probably more furniture stores and malls than you can visit in one day.

A little farther west on the four-lane, Asheville has a little bit of everything, from popular shops and galleries to the hiking, hiking and scenery of the area's mountains. Look for "Fall Insider Tips" for a guide to the area's autumn foliage, and just next to that is a link to a "Fall Pictures" gallery of shots by visitors. Both of those autumn sections also have links to fall crafts, fall scenic drives, fall adventures and more. And since you're probably driving there from the BalloonFest, look toward the bottom of the page for "Cool Asheville Savings" that might offset the cost of your gasoline.

Asheville also is the home of the Biltmore Estate the palatial preserve set in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

And if you want to see more of the mountains, one of the easiest methods is a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway which passes right by Asheville.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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