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.
For day-trippers, check state tourism websites for foliage reports with dates and locations for the best leaf-peeping. To find a pick-your-own orchard near you, visit PickYourOwn.org. For pumpkin-picking, pumpkinpatchesandmore.org. And to find a corn maze, check out cornmazesamerica.com.
Festivals are also a popular way to celebrate the season. Vermont hosts the Northeast Kingdom Fall Foliage Festival, Sept. 27-Oct. 2 in six towns over six days: Walden, Cabot, Plainfield, Peacham, Barnet and Groton; http://bit.ly/9PcTzt. In Massachusetts, the Wellfleet OysterFest runs Oct. 16-17, with arts and crafts, kids' activities, an oyster-shucking contest, and of course, food. In Springfield, Mass., the Big E Fair, billed as New England's largest fair, runs Sept. 17-Oct. 3, with concerts, parades, a midway and the fair's trademark cream puffs. Keene, N.H., celebrates the 20th anniversary of its Pumpkin Festival — featuring thousands of carved and lit pumpkins — on Oct. 16, pumpkinfestival.org.
And the fun is not limited to New England. In Versailles, Mo., the Old Tyme Apple Festival, scheduled for Oct. 2, 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; 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. Some 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 bird-lovers, 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.
A little later in the season, Indianapolis hosts "Food for Thought," Nov. 5-14, — http://bit.ly/b2YCxP — 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 literally played on instruments made 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; http://www.virginia.org/fall/. The website for Great Smoky National Park has a special section recommending autumn drives and hiking trails at http://bit.ly/aB0ZZN.
Thomas Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, Va., hosts its first wine festival Sept. 18, with a second event there Sept. 29 to kick off October as the state's designated wine month; monticello.org/wine. The wine cellar at Monticello was recently restored and open for tours. Jefferson was an early advocate of American wine, and Monticello now raises grapes and bottles and sells several varieties of wine, drawing on Jefferson's early experiments with a vineyard. Virginia's wine industry is booming, from six wineries in 1979 to more than 160 in 2010, and wine month will feature events around the state.
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 very 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.
Vermont has a "Midweek Peek" promotion where dozens of inns, hotels, attractions, historic sites and museums offer specials. Details at VermontVacation.com/midweek. The Appalachian Mountain Club is also offering a deal for Sunday-Friday travelers: Stay two nights at AMC's New England lodges and White Mountain huts and get a third night free. Details at http://bit.ly/bPGH0T.
Many hotels offer packages themed on the season. Saybrook Point Inn & Spa in Old Saybrook, Conn. — http://www.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 Spa at Woodstock Inn & Resort in Woodstock, Vt., just opened a new spa, with a $278-a-night package that includes accommodations for two, a $100 credit toward spa treatments and full breakfast for two, http://www.woodstockinn.com.
The New England Inns & Resorts Association, which represents nearly 250 lodges, hotels and B&Bs, lists a variety of seasonal specials at NewEnglandInnsandResorts.com. The Inn By The Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, near Portland, offers a "Pumpkin Harvest on the Harbor" package, Oct. 15-31, with rates starting at $784 per couple, including two night's stay, a four-course dinner for two, and local pumpkin beer with pumpkin chips.
Earlier this month, Yankee magazine anointed Kent, Conn., the best town in New England for viewing fall foliage. Also in Yankee's top 10 were Bethel, Maine; Manchester, Vt.; Williamstown, Mass.; Middlebury, Vt.; Camden, Maine; Waitsfield, Vt.; Conway/North Conway, N.H.; Sandwich, N.H.; Rangeley, Maine; and Blue Hill, Maine. The magazine's website, yankeefoliage.com, is a goldmine of information and trip ideas for the area.