These seven getaways on the East Coast will help you take the break you need this fall—while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.
In the travel world, the end of summer marks the start of a slow crawl into the shoulder season; many travelers’ suitcases go into storage as they bemoan the coming winter months and begin planning the next year’s adventures.
But I, for one, think fall can be the best time of year to hit the road, and especially on the east coast. As summer crowds disperse, the few weeks between peak season and holiday leave usually-busy destinations peaceful—and put the best scenery on display as trees exchange their green summer clothes for new coats of crimson and gold.
While the coronavirus has taken us all by storm, we’re still finding ways to get away and enjoy the season. (Plus, celebrating the arrival of fall may be helpful in a time when all the days seem to blend together.) Before heading out, be sure to check local governments’ travel advisories and guidelines; then, once you’ve done your due diligence, it’s time to throw on that sweat, pour yourself a cup of cider, and go out in search of fresh air and a brief mental break.
1. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
New Hampshire is often eclipsed by destinations like Upstate New York and Maine (which, if you keep reading, you’ll see are still favorites of ours). But in a year like this one, this is what makes the Northeastern state such an ideal destination: the more underrated, the lesser the chance of encountering crowds. Start by taking a lap around the 134-mile Lakes Loop, whose series of highways will take you on a tour through some of the state’s prettiest small towns and best fall foliage (castles, too!). Then, on Lake Winnipesaukee, check into a local inn, relax lakeside, and enjoy the small town life amongst the autumn views.
2. Lake Placid, New York
For my fellow New Yorkers desperate to take a break from city life, the thought of an upstate adventure couldn’t be more appealing right now. For your next weekend trip, consider renting a cabin near or on Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. Here, say a bittersweet adieu to your favorite summertime activities like canoeing and hiking before the weather turns cold—and welcome autumn with a hearty dose of leaf-spotting as the trees transition from green to bright orange.
Also nearby (and a fan-favorite fall activity), a variety of apple picking farms are ready to welcome guests in limited quantities: Rulfs Orchard, where you can explore orchards, a pumpkin patch, and more; Bowman Orchards, where you’ll find over 50 varieties of apples; and Hick’s Orchard, which claims to be the oldest U-pick farm in the state and offers hard cider tastings after a hard day’s work.
3. The Berkshires, MA
For our Boston folks (who, living in a college town, would usually be thriving around this time of year), the Berkshires are to fall as Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod are to summer. Head inland from the coast toward Western Massachusetts, where autumn vibes exist in abundance; near towns like Lenox and Lee, you’ll find wineries, apple orchards and pumpkin patches, hiking and biking trails, charming B&Bs and boutique hotels—we like Tourists Welcome—and, of course, beautiful fall foliage.
4. Stowe, Vermont
There are two things we think of when we think of Vermont: Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and the fall foliage season. While Vermont is the quintessential fall destination for many travelers in the Northeast, its small towns and farmlands make it easy to keep your distance from others while still getting out into the world. There are plenty of tranquil options for leaf-peeping in autumn: Stowe, known for the iconic Community Church spire and overlooked by Mount Mansfield; Montpelier, the cozy (but tiny!) state capital; Jeffersonville, the highlight of the Green Mountains; and Grafton, which reminds us of Gilmore Girls in the best possible way, make the top of our list.
5. Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina
North Carolina has a perhaps surprisingly diverse landscape: popular beaches like the Outer Banks to the east, a forested central zone, cityscapes like those in Charlotte. But best of all, the Old North State is prized for its mountains—and the Blue Ridge Mountains, in particular. During the fall, the area comes to life with vibrant foliage, coating the hills in blankets of red, orange, and yellow. There are plenty of Airbnbs in the areas surrounding downtown Asheville, the jumping-off point from which most visitors head up into the mountains. There, you’ll have plenty of space to hike, relax, and enjoy the view without the crowds.
6. Great Smoky Mountains
Also in Appalachia, the Great Smoky Mountains are a sight to behold come fall. While destinations like Nashville and Memphis may be too crowded for comfort this year, those looking for a quick getaway near North Carolina and Tennessee can seek solace in one of the most vibrant forested regions in the American South. Despite being one of the most visited National Parks in the country, there’s no shortage of space for all visitors here; with 816 square miles of nature to explore, it’s quite difficult and highly unlikely for crowds of any sort to form.
7. Acadia National Park
There’s really no bad time of year to embark on a trip to Maine—and Acadia National Park, a destination we know well and love, only grows more relaxing in the fall. Long hikes here become especially good in autumn as the breeze off the coast cools you down, even as you make your way to the tops of rocky seaside vistas and forested hills. Even nearby Bar Harbor, often considered a summer destination, settles down a bit in fall, making more room for guests ready to wrap up in a sweater, take brisk strolls along the beach, and settle into one of the town’s cozy historic inns—after a hot buttered lobster roll or a steamy cup of clam chowder, both must-eats while visiting.