Fall breaks are the perfect opportunity for a mini family vacation — especially since you can enjoy outdoor pursuits amid changing foliage in many destinations. Whether your idea of a family-friendly fall vacation involves U-pick farms and corn mazes, visiting a theme park for Halloween events, exploring a new city, or simply getting off the grid for a few days, you’re guaranteed to find something you like on this list of fall break ideas for families.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
With nearly two dozen water parks, Wisconsin Dells begs for a weekend getaway with the kids. Since many of the water parks are indoors, fall is an especially great time to visit the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” Take your pick from well-known names like Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari, or explore other local favorites like Mt. Olympus, featuring the first “slidewheel” — part Ferris wheel, part waterslide — in the U.S. When or if you need a break from the water, there are plenty of other fun things to do in Wisconsin Dells.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta takes place in mid-October, making fall a popular time to visit this Southwestern city. While the annual event draws hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists, you can avoid some of the crowds and enjoy a unique experience at a nighttime Balloon Glow. Other things to do in Albuquerque include riding the Sandia Peak Tramway, exploring Old Town and seeing Petroglyph National Monument.
Where to stay: One of the best hotels in Albuquerque, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa offers a variety of family-friendly amenities, including four swimming pools (one with a waterslide) and trail rides courtesy of the hotel’s horse rehabilitation program.
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park — and in particular, Skyline Drive — draws more than a million tourists each year. The 105-mile-long public road runs parallel with the Blue Ridge Mountains, making it one of the most scenic drives in the U.S., especially in the fall. But even outside of Shenandoah National Park, there are other reasons to visit this region, from exploring Luray Caverns to enjoying hands-on fun at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester.
Where to stay: Massanutten Resort is the ultimate place to stay with kids in the Shenandoah Valley. One of the top indoor water park hotels in the U.S., this fun-filled, four-season resort features an indoor water park, an outdoor family adventure park and more.
Boone, North Carolina
There are a number of places to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, including popular Asheville. For something a little different, base your family in Boone, where local attractions include the Tweetsie Railroad theme park and the Daniel Boone Native Gardens. Of course, outdoor adventures abound, with fly-fishing, zip lining, canoeing and more on offer. While you’re in town, make the short drive to The Blowing Rock, a famously mysterious cliff where the force of the wind is so strong, it can return light objects that are thrown into the air.
Where to stay: Rent a cozy cabin in the woods, or consider overnighting at the new Graystone Lodge, part of the Ascend Hotel Collection.
Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania
The Pocono Mountains remain one of the best places for a family-friendly escape, particularly in the fall when the trees burst with hues of red, orange and yellow. Go for a hike at Bushkill Falls, get out on one of the region’s many lakes, or take in the views from the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway in Jim Thorpe. Horseback riding, whitewater rafting, adventure parks (think: zip lining and rock climbing) and family fun centers (with go-karts, mini-golf and the like) also make for a fun day in the Poconos. When it’s time to slow down, go for a scenic drive, perhaps stopping off at a local brewery like Wallenpaupack Brewing Company or Barley Creek.
Where to stay: You’ll find vacation rentals aplenty, including secluded lakeside retreats. But for the ultimate escape, book a stay at the all-inclusive Woodloch Pines, one of the best all-inclusive family resorts in the U.S. You might also be interested in one of the area’s indoor water park resorts, which include Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari and Camelback Resort & Indoor Waterpark.
North Conway, New Hampshire
One of the best places to experience fall in New England, the Kancamagus Highway leads to North Conway, a popular vacation destination in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Ride the famous Mount Washington Cog Railway to the highest peak in the Northeast for even more stellar views and a history lesson — this is the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world. You’ll also want to take the kids to one of the area’s adorable amusement parks, which include Story Land, Santa’s Village and Clark’s Bears.
Where to stay: Adventure Suites offers themed rooms like the Treehouse, with a faux tree trunk and kid-sized picnic table. If you’re looking for resort accommodations, the Omni Mount Washington Resort can’t be beat.
Sleepy Hollow, New York
Located in the Hudson Valley, the town that inspired “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a must-visit around Halloween. Take a tour of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, explore Washington Irving’s former home, or visit Horseman’s Hollow: a haunted house experience based on the book. Whatever you do, don’t miss The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze in nearby Croton-on-Hudson. This annual fall festivity displays more than 7,000 illuminated pumpkins on an 18th-century estate.
Where to stay: Many of the local hotels — such as Castle Hotel & Spa or Tarrytown House Estate on the Hudson — cater to adults, so a vacation rental is your best bet. Alternatively, you might consider accommodations in nearby Katonah, another Hudson Valley town worth exploring.
Because of its elevation, Breckenridge is one of the first places in the U.S. to see the leaves change each year — usually in early to mid-September. There are countless ways to witness the transformation. Try the family-oriented Upper Colorado Float (ideal for kids ages 3 and older) with Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting, cruise down the Blue River Rec Path on bicycles, drive along Boreas Pass for up-close views of the aspens, or make a short trek to the Isak Heartstone troll sculpture. You can also attend a local festival or stroll down historic Main Street, replete with restaurants and shopping.
Where to stay: Breckenridge accommodations span vacation rentals, resorts and ski lodges.
Get a taste of New Orleans‘ famous food and music at a variety of fall festivals, including the Beignet Festival, the National Fried Chicken Festival, the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival, and the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival. You can also learn about Mardi Gras at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, where various floats and costumes from past parades are on display. If your kids are old enough, a New Orleans ghost tour is not to be missed.
Where to stay: Family hotels in New Orleans include the Omni Royal Orleans and The Royal Sonesta New Orleans.
Fall in San Diego is especially appealing to families thanks to the annual Kids Free San Diego event. Spanning the entire month of October, the budget-friendly event features waived or reduced fees for children at attractions, restaurants and hotels throughout the city. That means paying adults can take kids to iconic family attractions like the San Diego Zoo, Legoland California and Sesame Place San Diego for free. While the event largely applies to children 12 and younger, promos vary by participating businesses; you can see full details for this year’s participants on SanDiego.org.
Where to stay: Browse the best family hotels in San Diego, which include options downtown and in nearby Coronado.
Universal Studios Florida: Orlando, Florida
If you have teens, an autumn visit to Universal Studios Florida is in order. Each year, the theme park celebrates the spooky season with Halloween Horror Nights, featuring extravagant haunted houses with different themes. In 2023, themes include “Stranger Things 4,” in which parkgoers must escape the curse of Vecna, and “The Last of Us,” where you can experience the suspenseful video game-turned-TV show in real life.
Where to stay: The Loews Portofino Bay Resort Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort provides complimentary transportation to the theme parks.
Smugglers’ Notch Resort: Jeffersonville, Vermont
Smugglers’ Notch is the ultimate playground for families, and a visit in the fall comes with the bonus of fall colors. Autumn activities span fall foliage e-bike tours, mushroom hunting, farmers markets and zip lining, and other on-site amenities include heated outdoor pools, playgrounds and a skate park. The FunZone 2.0 indoor complex boasts laser tag, a climbing wall, mini-golf, an arcade and more. There are a variety of condo-style accommodations on-site, perfect for families of all sizes.
If you decide to venture off-property, take the Smugglers’ Notch Pass Scenic Highway to nearby Stowe for all the best fall things: foliage, farms, breweries and more.
Nothing says fall in Omaha like Junkstock, an annual festival with nearly 200 vendors from across the country selling their unique finds. The event, which takes place over two weekends in October, also features live music and food. While you’re in town, visit the beloved Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium as well as the giant slides at Gene Leahy Mall along The RiverFront.
Where to stay: Omaha offers a diverse array of hotels, from boutique options like The Farnam, Autograph Collection to budget-friendly lodgings like Courtyard by Marriott.
Rochester, New York
Before the first snowfall blankets upstate New York, head to Rochester for some hands-on fun at The Strong National Museum of Play. Widely considered one of the best children’s museums in the U.S., The Strong features exhibits about everything from puzzles to pinball machines and houses just about every toy imaginable.
You can also teach the kids a lesson in women’s history at the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House and maybe even enjoy a wine tasting at one of the local wineries, which include some of the best in the Finger Lakes.
Where to stay: There are a couple of chain hotels in town, including the Hyatt Regency Rochester, which is a short walk from The Strong. However, you may have better luck finding kid-friendly accommodations at a vacation rental.
Providence, Rhode Island
Head to Providence for WaterFire, an annual fire sculpture installation that spans select weekends from April through November. The free event hosts full or partial lightings along the river downtown, and often includes food and art vendors plus other activities.
While you’re in town, pay a visit to the Providence Children’s Museum or take the kids to the Roger Williams Park Zoo, considered one of the best zoos in the U.S. In October, the zoo celebrates Halloween with the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, featuring thousands of illuminated pumpkins and a new theme each year.
Where to stay: If you prefer traditional accommodations, check in to the Omni Providence Hotel, which offers an indoor pool.
Nicknamed the Scenic City, Chattanooga makes the perfect fall vacation destination for families and couples alike. Outdoor activities, which range from hiking and biking to hang gliding and skydiving, afford some of the best views of the city. Ride the historic Incline Railway at Lookout Mountain for a different vantage point, or take in the scenery from a sightseeing cruise on the Southern Belle Riverboat. Chattanooga has no shortage of kid-specific attractions either, with options including the Tennessee Aquarium and the Creative Discovery Museum.
Where to stay: The historic Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel offers comfortable, kid-friendly accommodations, and its downtown location makes it an ideal jumping off point for exploring.
Choose Pittsburgh for a fall vacation filled with kid-friendly fun. Families can explore museums ranging from the Carnegie Science Center to Randyland as well as amusement parks like Kennywood. Enjoy skyline views and leaf peeping courtesy of the Duquesne and Monongahela inclines.
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
The Berkshires epitomizes the season, with myriad trails for enjoying the outdoors, roadside farm stands, U-pick orchards, corn mazes and sweet little towns dotting the region. Especially fun for kids is Hoosac Valley Train Rides, which offers one-hour fall foliage train rides on select dates. If you can, time your visit with the Lenox Apple Squeeze in September; the free event features delicious food, live music and a kids carnival.
Where to stay: Look for vacation rentals in Lenox, Williamstown, Adams or Great Barrington.
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Update 09/11/23: This slideshow was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.