Fall is about apple festivals, hayrides, pumpkin spice and everything nice. Sweater weather doesn’t mean you have to hunker down for the season. Celebrate the colorful leaves with a fall family getaway. Take your little pumpkins on a low-budget, long weekend. You’ll be grateful you did!
Traverse City, Michigan
Leaf peepers unite! TripAdvisor has named gorgeous Traverse City, Michigan one of the best fall foliage destinations. Take in the fiery reds, blazing oranges and sunny yellows on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, then go for a hike in the outdoor playground that is Sleeping Bear Dunes. Climb the towering sand dunes and soak in the rewarding, blue views of Lake Michigan 450 feet below.
Gallagher’s Farm Market and Bakery is a family-run farm with a pumpkin patch, corn maze, steamy cider and pumpkin donuts. Pahl’s Pumpkin Patch and Country Store in nearby Buckley is also a great place to harvest your fall family memories. This working farm features U-pick pumpkins, wagon rides, barrel train rides and ponies. You can purchase treats as well as Pahl’s fresh meats from their country store.
Great Lakes Children’s Museum is a fantastic place for kids ages 8 and under to have some indoor fun. Scoop up some smiles no matter the weather at Moomers Homemade Ice Cream. Craft brews and regional wines abound in Traverse City for parents who wish to partake.
We have stayed at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and enjoyed every moment of it. There’s an indoor water playground, pools and hot tubs to splash away in. Early October features fall spa specials and you’ll definitely want to take advantage of. Traverse City is also offering Fab Fall discounts off lodging and activates September through early December.
Cedar Point and Lake Erie Shores & Islands, Ohio
Fall is the perfect time to go to the “Rollercoaster Capital of the World” because it’s typically not too hot or crowded. Cedar Point, located in Sandusky, Ohio, is about a six-hour drive from Chicago and open weekends through October. There you’ll find all the thrills your family could possibly ask for, with 70 spellbinding rides, including 18 world-class roller coasters.
My 8-year-old daughter and I rode Millennium Force, voted the best steel coaster in the world. It goes crazy high (up 300 feet) immediately upon take off, reaches speeds up to 93 mph and is insane fun. We couldn’t stop grinning. More tame options include Gemini, the racing coaster, and Cedar Downs, the derby carousel. Their HalloWeekends offers up haunted attractions to get you in the Halloween spirit.
Stay at beachfront Hotel Breakers, next to Cedar Point, and enjoy discount tickets to the park as well as early park entry. Surrounding Lake Erie Shores and Islands is a fun area to explore, especially Put-in-Bay, which you can visit via Miller Ferry. There, rent a golf cart or see the sites on a train tour. Families enjoy classic entertainment like mini golf, a butterfly house, cave tour and merry-go-round. Most Put-in-Bay attractions are open weekends through mid-October.
Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nevada
Lake Tahoe is a mesmerizing alpine lake surrounded by the picturesque Sierra Nevada Mountains. North Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side, is tranquil and perfect for families. Fall is a fantastic time to explore its Instagram-worthy landscapes hiking, biking and breathing in the fresh, outdoor air.
Lone Eagle Grille is right on the lake and serves up a charcuterie board to die for and the most delicious Baked Tahoe dessert, which is filled with vanilla toffee ice cream, then blanketed in torched meringue that tastes like toasty marshmallows.
About an hour from Lake Tahoe, you can find some family fun in Reno. Tackle the Guinness Book of World Records’ World’s Tallest Outdoor Rock Climbing Wall at Whitney Peak Hotel. Take a walk with Art Spot Reno and discover countless impressive murals around town. Visit the Nevada Museum of Art, which offers free kids’ admission and Hands ON! activities the second Saturday of the month. Sunday brunch with live music makes a Sunday Funday visit to the museum even more memorable. Save room for ice cream sandwiches! At Simple Ice Cream Sandwiches, you can make your own—with donuts! Select which ice cream and warm donuts you want to make your tasty donut ice cream sandwich with.
Stay at Circus Circus and enjoy the huge arcade at The Midway. Atlantis offers the only Forbes four-star spa experience in Northern Nevada, and let me tell you, it is fantastic. Fall spa features include a Cinnamon Spice Body Scrub and Food Rub.
Ski season starts in November, and Lake Tahoe boasts the highest concentration of world-class ski resorts in North America. Whether you’re a family of skiers or first-timers, there are many ski schools to help you and the kiddos gain some sick ski skills.
Galena is a close by getaway (at about a 1.5-hour drive) that offers picturesque, panoramic views of three states (Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin). It’s a small town with a rich history (Ulysses S. Grant’s Home is there) and rolling hills that are fun to hike and candy for the eyes on crisp, clear days. Glide down the Alpine Slide weekends through early October. Go horseback riding or spook yourselves on a ghost tour. Oktoberfest is fun for families with wiener dog races, polka dancing, bounce houses and pumpkin decorating.
Curious about goat yoga? Give it at try at Original Goat Yoga, Galena. Families are welcome, and it’s just as much about having fun, relaxing with animals as it is about stretching your body with yoga. The goats are likely to jump on your back, lay on your mat and give you some snuggles. You can also take a hike with goats and bottle feed kids (baby goats) by a bonfire with Hoof It Goat Treks.
Kayaking, fishing and riding electric bikes are other adventurous ways to explore Galena. Nuts Outdoors offers guided tours on electric bikes that make the hill climbs easy, can take you to some favorite fishing holes, or show you the best kayaking and wildlife viewing spots.
Truck Camping, at a local campsite or in your own backyard
You don’t have to go far for your next adventure! Try truck camping in your very own backyard or a local campground for a close change of scenery. We borrowed a GMC Sierra pickup truck and pitched a tent in the back (there are air mattresses and tents built for truck beds). Truck camping is an awesome, relatively easy, totally fun, novel experience in the great outdoors! The tents are tall, making it airy with plenty of room for two people in the back of the truck. Plus, you’re not sleeping on the cold, hard or wet ground.
My kids took turns truck camping with me over a weekend. What a joy to hear owls hooting and birds chirping in the crisp air. We added to the whole backyard camping experience with campfire s’mores, semi scary stories and outdoor oatmeal in the morning. Perhaps you saw our adventure on Chicago Parent’s Instagram page?
The 2019 GMC Sierra Denali is super cool because it features a MultiPro Tailgate, which allows the back of the truck to adjust for multiple activities, even bending into stairs, which make it easy for kids to climb in. My husband (and most of the dads in the neighborhood) was impressed by the truck’s power, sound system and technology. It was incredibly fun to have a truck to take to a farm for a sunny, fall day.
South Haven, Michigan
About a three-hour drive from Chicago, quaint South Haven, Michigan provides an idyllic fall escape. The Covert/ South Haven KOA is a family favorite because they have cabins as well as tent and RV sites and tons of activities, such as a jumping pillow, trampoline basketball, crafts, movie nights and more. South Haven has a cute downtown with antiques and ice cream shops, a beach with lighthouse and sand dunes. St. Joseph, Saugatuck and Holland are also close by.
Farmers’ markets, microbreweries and the Kal Haven Trail are perfect to enjoy in the fall. Bike or hike the 33.5-mile trail from South Haven to Kalamazoo, across bridges and through adorable small towns, where you’ll feel the friendliness and warmth of the season.
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