Low gas prices and a lineup of holiday weekends scattered throughout the fall provide the perfect excuse for a quick getaway. There's no better time to take advantage of reduced rates on lodging while checking out the profusion of fall festivals, partaking in cool-weather activities, and gazing at the visual delights of a changing landscape. Here are 15 ideas for a mini vacation or one-day road trip, many in driving distance of major cities.
15 Spots for a Cheap Fall Weekend Getaway
Nothing says fall quite like pumpkins. And Johnson's Giant Pumpkin Farm in Saginaw, Michigan, features a day's worth of inexpensive fall-themed fun. Parking and admission are free, as are most of the activities, including the petting zoo and trebuchet, which lofts pumpkins weighing up to 80 pounds high into the air. Others come with minimal fees: $3 for a horse ride, $2 for a child's ride on the barrel train, $1 for the soybean maze. The priciest is the 13-acre corn maze, which costs $6 a person and is free for kids under 4. Take a pumpkin home -- prices range from 50 cents to $20 -- and cook up a storm or carve a funny face. The farm and festivities are open Sept. 10 through Oct. 31.
Spend a weekend golfing in Idaho's scenic mountains with end-of-season deals at the Sun Valley Inn. In August, a standard queen room at the inn ran about $329 a night. But Sept. 6-26, the Aspen Glow package costs $180 a night for a room plus 18 holes of golf and a cart. And from Sept. 26 until closing day, the Golden Eagle package starts at $145 a night. The deals also apply to the Sun Valley Lodge, although they're a bit more expensive there.
Dawson County is home to the Mountain Moonshine Festival. The fest provides a glimpse into the Prohibition- and Depression-era history of the Georgia foothills -- especially the moonshine runs. During Prohibition, men transporting moonshine would drive their cars at top speeds, often racing each other. That heady competition eventually evolved into Nascar racing. Understandably, cars are a big part of the festival. The event runs Oct. 21-23 and includes a parade, a swap meet, live entertainment, and a car show featuring moonshine-hauling and vintage race cars.
Bask in the sun with a golf deal at CasaBlanca Resort in Mesquite. A one-night stay for two and 18 holes of golf for one cost $99. Another $55 entitles the second person to try out the links. That brings the total cost of lodging and a day of outdoor activity to less than $160. The resort's two golf courses will be closed for parts of September, so dates are limited, but things should be back in full swing come October.
For a fun weekend getaway, Arkansas locals recommend Eureka Springs. The central downtown area, full of Victorian buildings and lots of shops, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Jazz lovers should aim to arrive for Jazz Eureka Weekend Sept. 8-11. All the music is free, except the Saturday night show, which costs $30 for an adult ticket. The town also hosts the Ozark Folk Festival, which runs Oct. 13-15. As with the jazz fest, most events are free, except for one concert that costs $25 a person. This is the festival's 69th year, and it's the longest continuously running folk extravaganza in the nation.
A visit to Fulton, Missouri, combines history and small-town charm. The brick streets of downtown are lined with shops and restaurants. The site of Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain speech, Fulton is home to the National Churchill Museum and a piece of the Berlin Wall. Museum admission is free for children under 5, then ranges from $4.50 to $7.50, depending on age. Atop the museum sits the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, which was brought to the United States from England stone by stone in the mid-1960s. The town is just 25 minutes from the state capital, Jefferson City, and 90 minutes from Ha Ha Tonka State Park, which features hiking trails and castle ruins.
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For those who love organic produce and fall foliage, the Common Ground Country Fair in Maine offers a tasty and colorful diversion. It runs Sept. 23-25 and draws about 60,000 visitors. Admission is $15 for adults at the gate or $10 in advance, with discounts for those 65 and older; children 12 and under enter for free. For those who want to forgo a hotel, there are several campsites and guesthouses located near the fairgrounds.
Richmond, Indiana, is an antique-lover's dream -- there's a reason the area is locally known as Antique Alley. The town is the starting point for two antique trails that lead buyers and browsers to different shops in the Wayne County area and into parts of west-central Ohio. One of the routes features 30 different stores and the other passes by 27. The area is also home to an Amish community, and there's an Amish market in nearby Fountain City.
Western Massachusetts is known for its fall foliage and outdoor recreation, and a quick getaway to Hampshire County is cheaper than a trip to Boston. There are numerous opportunities for biking, hiking, and kayaking. Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke boasts 22 miles of trails and views of the Connecticut Valley, Berkshire Mountains, and Pelham Hills. Parking is just $5 for Massachusetts vehicles and $6 for cars with out-of-state plates. Weekend warriors with a taste for culture could visit Amherst, the home of poet Emily Dickinson. The area also lays claim to a vibrant art scene with exhibits and museums.
Glendale, Wisconsin, is home to the oldest Oktoberfest in the Midwest. It's just minutes from downtown Milwaukee, and Lake Michigan isn't far. Festival entertainment includes brass bands, folk dancing, and yodeling, and there's no shortage of authentic German food. This year the event runs Sept. 9-10, 16-17, 23-24, and Sept. 30 to Oct. 1.
The seven villages of the Amana Colonies offer a break from the bustle of modern life. This National Historic Landmark was originally settled by German Pietists in 1855. They were seeking an isolated place to practice and live their beliefs, and they maintained a self-sufficient communal lifestyle until the 1930s. Now, tourists visit the town for its historic charm, restaurants, and craft shops. There are several festivals throughout the year, including Oktoberfest from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. Lodging is available at nearby bed and breakfasts, hotels, campgrounds, and RV parks.
New Ulm, Minnesota, is known for its German heritage and was dubbed "the most German city in America" according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Along with German restaurants and shops, the town is home to a glockenspiel, a tall bell tower with figurines that make an appearance three times every afternoon. New Ulm also knows how to celebrate, laying claim to several festivals throughout the year. Its Oktoberfest has been ranked among the top 10 in the country by several media outlets, including Condé Nast Traveler. This year, the festivities take place Oct. 7-8 and 14-15.
This Western town located near Bighorn National Forest is home to several historic spots and a lot of outdoor recreation. Historic sites in the area include Connor Battlefield, Fort Phil Kearny, and the Trail End State Historic Site, a mansion that gives visitors a window into the lifestyle of a successful rancher and politician during the early decades of the 20th century. King's Saddlery and Museum is full of cowboy memorabilia, and the Sheridan County Museum gives a history of the area. Get a glimpse of buffalo and elk in the wildlife area next to Kendrick Park.
Avoid the crowds swarming through the national parks and escape into the scenic mountains of Umatilla National Forest. For prices ranging between $40 and $100 a night, visitors can stay in a historic Forest Service cabin or fire lookout, each with a unique story. There are traditional camping opportunities, as well. Along with hiking, biking, and fishing, visitors can enjoy several scenic driving routes. The forest also is home to sites for geocaching and letterboxing.
Take a weekend day trip through the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile stretch of old Highway 101. Winding through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, this part of the road boasts some of California's most magnificent redwoods. There are three trees to drive through -- Klamath, Shrine, and Chandelier -- with a small fee attached to each for the thrill of doing so. Beyond marveling at the enormous redwoods, there are plenty of things to do along the way. Enjoy a picnic, explore a trail, or visit the shops in the small towns.