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10 Fall Vacation Ideas Beyond Leaf Peeping

Every year in late September and early October, travelers are flooded with suggestions for when and where to see the autumn explosion of color. I love fall as much as anyone, but driving through a covered bridge in New England isn’t the only way to enjoy it. Below are 10 fall vacation ideas that go beyond leaf peeping.

Fall Vacation Ideas

Not willing to give up on seeing autumn’s annual display? Many of these options will put you in the midst of colorful foliage (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least), so you won’t miss out even as you’re pursuing other unique fall vacations.

See the Northern Lights

Are the northern lights on your bucket list? After the fall equinox, your chances of seeing them increase considerably as long days give way to long nights in the higher latitudes. Iceland is one good place to check them out without paying a mint; Icelandair and WOW air offer inexpensive flights from a number of U.S. cities.

If Iceland seems too cold, try the Lofoten Islands in Norway, where the Gulf Stream creates one of the largest positive temperature anomalies in the world (that is, these islands are way warmer than they ought to be).

Watch a Meteor Shower

There are three major meteor showers this fall. The Orionids go through November 19, peaking on October 22; the Leonids from November 5 to December 3, peaking on November 18; and the Geminids from November 30 through December 17, peaking on December 13. All three are viewable from anywhere in the world, with the Leonids being stronger in the Northern Hemisphere; just make sure you get as far out of town as possible to escape light pollution.

Look at the Stars

Fall is also a great time to stargaze; many of the best viewing places are less crowded than they are over the summer months, but they’re not yet so chilly at night as to make them uncomfortable.

The National Park Service offers tips and recommendations for star gazing, including a list of parks with night-sky programs, and this roundup from National Geographic offers a heap of international options as well. Or consider planning your fall vacation around the Jasper Dark Sky Festival in Jasper, Canada, in mid-October.

You don’t have to go into the deep wilderness to see the stars; there are several resources for finding dark-sky locations near home. Try Dark Site Finder or LightPollutionMap.info.

Go Bird-Watching

Migratory birds are on the move during fall, and bird-watchers are on the move following them. There are countless bird-watching locations, and many have festivals to match; All About Birds has an interactive map of some of the best ones.

Go on Safari

Fall is part of the dry season in many parts of Africa, a time when animals begin to gather near water sources in large numbers. The dry season varies considerably by region, with fall marking the end of dry season in some locations, and the beginning in others. This calendar is a helpful resource.

Witness a Butterfly Migration

Who needs to go leaf peeping when you can take in the magnificent colors of thousands of monarch butterflies? The annual monarch migration starts in October each year, and there are several places to see them in large numbers. Big Sur is an excellent choice; find more information here.

Go Whale-Watching

Whales are on the move during fall as well, in oceans around the world. For U.S. locations and dates, see these recommendations from Local Adventurer. For several international options, see 10 of the Best Whale-Watching Destinations.

Check Out a Fall Festival

Festivals are one of my favorite fall vacation ideas because there are so many to choose from. The most famous one is—of course—Oktoberfest, which takes place in dozens of cities around the world, not just Munich. Check out The 10 Best Places to Celebrate Oktoberfest 2017 for ideas on where to raise your beer stein this year.

If you’re more interested in religious cultural festivals, travel to Mexico at the end of October for the Day of the Dead, a popular holiday celebrated in destinations across the country. Or consider Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which is a visually rich experience featuring countless candles, costumes, decorations, and fireworks.

Finally, there’s nothing like the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest balloon festival. Each morning you can turn your eyes to the sky and see balloons in all shapes, sizes, and colors drifting overhead.

Enjoy the Wine Harvest

The annual vineyard harvests in California, Italy, and France are the perfect fall vacation ideas for oenophiles in late summer or early fall. By the time of this writing the harvest season is winding down, but there are still plenty of grapes to be picked; this calendar can help you figure out where and when to go.

Celebrate the Solstice

To mark the end of the fall, consider one of these winter solstice celebrations, including a lantern festival in Vancouver, the Burning of the Clocks in Brighton, England, and the Dongzhi Festival in China.

For a few more ideas, see 8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World.

What are your favorite fall vacation ideas? Let us know in the comments!

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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a biweekly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.

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