Northeast: Portsmouth, N.H.
Though traditionally a summer tourist destination, this New England city belongs on your autumn to-do list, says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of Budget Travel Magazine.
Located on the outskirts of Portsmouth is the Urban Forestry Center, a 182-acre reserve of scenic fields, trees, and salt marshes.
Firpo-Cappiello recommends the family-run Port Inn (late October weekday stays from $149 per night), which he calls “an ideal base of operations for enjoying peak foliage season on the New Hampshire coast.”
A great low-cost activity to see the foliage: Portsmouth Harbor Cruises’ inland river and fall foliage cruise ($25 for an adult ticket).
Southeast: Birmingham, Ala.
The largest city in Alabama by population, Birmingham sees its fall foliage peak toward the end of October. “The heat has finally subsided, which means you can check out all of the cool outdoor offerings in this Southern hot spot,” says Rebecca Warren, Lonely Planet’s eastern U.S. destination editor.
A short drive from Birmingham is Oak Mountain State Park, which offers 9,940 acres of pine-studded ridges and bottomland hardwood forests; the park includes two fishing lakes and more than 50 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.
Stay in the city’s historic Five Points South district at The Hotel Highland (late October weekday stays from $125 per night).
A fun low-cost activity: The Oaks Golf Course (18-hole weekday games for $23, plus $5 entry fee to Oak Mountain State Park).
Fall travel to Cincinnati promises stunning views of changing leaves, as well as fun attractions (including the American Sign Museum) in one of the fastest-growing cities in the Midwest.
With almost 1,500 acres, Mount Airy Forest is the largest park in Cincinnati and offers hiking and horse trails, an arboretum, and Ohio’s only wheelchair-accessible public tree house.
Prefer to stay in the car? Drive along the Ohio River Scenic Byway, a picturesque stretch of rolling hills that extends through Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.
Getting around Cincinnati is easy on your wallet thanks to the city’s new streetcar system ($2 for a day pass), which connects downtown, the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and the Cincinnati riverfront.
Stay in the city’s financial district at the Millennium Hotel Cincinnati (late October weekday stays from $93 per night).
To enjoy the outdoors at minimal cost, consider apple picking at Brumbaugh Fruit and Fun Farm in nearby Arcanum ($8 per person; free for ages 3 and younger and 65 and older).
Rocky Mountains: Estes Park, Colo.
Autumn is the best time of year to visit Estes Park.
For nature lovers, Firpo-Cappiello likes Estes Valley, a recreation and park district that offers fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Drive on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway—“one of the prettiest drives in Colorado, if not the whole U.S.,” Firpo-Cappiello says—to see the rich fall foliage and soaring crags that attract rock climbers.
Moreover, “a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad is a memorable way to see the fall colors and learn about the area's mining history,” Firpo-Cappiello says. He recommends staying at the Rocky Mountain Park Inn (late October weekday stays from $120 per night).
A low-cost activity: fishing at Trout Haven Ranch Trout Pond ($1 rod rentals; $1 per inch for what you catch).
West: Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
Fall marks shoulder season in California. That means as crowds drop off from late September to early December in Mammoth Lakes, hotels slash rates.
“With fewer visitors until the snow arrives, you can get some good bargains” in this town of fewer than 8,000 people, says Lonely Planet’s California destination editor, Clifton Wilkinson.
Take one look at visitmammoth.com’s Instagram feed and you’ll see why Mammoth Lakes is a fall travel destination. You can read more about Mammoth Lakes Basin and Sherwin Creek Campground in the city’s Fall Colors Pocket Guide.
If you want to fully embrace the outdoors, pitch a tent at one of the town’s many campsites. Travelers who prefer indoor accommodations can stay at the pet-friendly Edelweiss Lodge (late October weekday stays from $65 per night).
A great activity to see the area: Go mountain biking (bike rentals through Footloose Sports starting at $10 per hour, $20 for 4 hours, or $30 per day).