Experience Mother Nature’s majesty with these make-a-weekend-out-of-it ways to view stunning displays of fall foliage like never before.
1. Cross-country rail trip
When I read about how blogger Derek Low booked himself a cross-country Amtrak trip from San Francisco to New York for $187, I was skeptical. So I reached out to Low — who now helps people like you and me book excursions for a $49 consulting fee (he does all the work for you) — and it’s legit folks.
My trip, which departed October 1 from New York’s Penn Station, cost about $450 with overnight stops in Chicago, Denver, and Salt Lake City. You can still take the 3,400-mile journey for around $200 — where you’ll see the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows of Autumn, coast to coast, from your cozy coach seat (how many people can say they’ve done that?) — but the lower price is dependent on when you’re traveling and includes no stopovers. I recommend spending the extra cash to get off the train and spend a couple of days in the scheduled cities. Steamworks Baths in Chicago is a great place to unwind after the first 18-hour leg.
Aside from being one of the best ways for new and local tourists of an area to enjoy that destination’s main attractions, CityPASS also provides a unique way to encounter exceptional autumn vistas. For instance, you can elevator to Top of the Rock Observation Deck in midtown Manhattan to peer over Central Park — the pinnacle of municipal foliage — as burnt colors cover the green space’s 51 blocks. CityPASS is available in a dozen other cities throughout North America, most of which include opportunities to visit their tallest structures for 360-degree views.
3. LGBTQ camps and wooded resorts
If camping is up your alley, plan a trip to one of the many LGBTQ-focused or gender-exclusive grounds where you can pitch a tent (literally and figuratively) or rent a cabin for a weekend in the great outdoors. Nineteen states across America offer a gay camping experience, information for which is available on GayCampingUSA.com, where you can make friends over fires, participate in traditional camp activities, and take leisurely hikes around the campuses or nearby trails to get up close and personal with fall foliage’s last hurrah.
4. Helicopter and hot-air balloon rides
If you’re a risk taker and adventure lover, consider lifting off to cover grand expanses of changing leaves via helicopter or hot-air balloon. While many areas (especially those in proximity to major cities) offer helicopter rides, hot-air balloon rides are scarcer, but you can find both — and save money — by searching Groupon and other daily-deal sites. You may have to drive a bit to get to the launch locations — hot-air balloons are usually in rural areas, but it’ll be worth the road trip and photo memories that’ll awe all your followers on Instagram.
5. Hiking state and national parks
Head into any of the state and national parks (by car or on foot) that include forestland in a seasonal climate to surround yourself with reach-out-and-touch-it foliage. If you’re crafty, take some of it home with you and DIY a project like leaf napkin rings for your Thanksgiving tablescape, an autumnal welcome sign for your front door, or 28 other fun ideas from Country Living’s “30 Gorgeous Ways to Craft Fall Leaves.” Great for neighborly gifting, too.
6. Road trip
My boyfriend and I are big on road trips, especially in the fall, because we’re both keen on local outdoor festivals, fresh markets and orchards, and anything made from harvest fruits like apple and pumpkin. Recently we spent a weekend discovering South Jersey (because who knew it was so quaint and rural?).
We drove from cute town to even cuter town (you’ll absolutely love Mullica Hill), popping into small shops, beer tastings at craft breweries, eating our weight in donuts from Amish markets, attending a rodeo, and joining festivities, like the Smooch-a-Pooch event we happened upon at the Human Village Brewing Company in Pitman, N.J., to save the lives of three puppies with holes in the hearts. Of course, we smooched all the pooches and enjoyed our drives on county back roads where the trees were just on the cusp of changing. It doesn’t get more romantic than that.
Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He spends his time writing from the beach with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyrox.