Advertiser Disclosure

15 Affordable Autumn Vacation Ideas for 2023

Fall can be a magical time. The leaves begin changing colors, the cooler temperatures start to creep in at night, and the best holidays of the year are all just around the corner. Everything smells like cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and fresh baked pies.

Too much?

Sorry. We just love this time of year. From the football games to the crisp golden sunsets, from the apple orchards to the hayrides, fall is perhaps the sweetest time of year. But what really makes the autumn season awesome? The sweet deals you can get on affordable vacations, of course.

That’s because the autumn season often marks the beginning of off-peak season in many places. Naturally, places like Vermont, New Hampshire, and upstate New York are amazing for taking in all that beautiful fall foliage. But these are also among the most hyped and costly fall destinations. Indeed, tourism actually spikes during the fall months in these locations as leaf watchers travel from all over the U.S. to attend fall festivals, partake in pumpkin picking, go on guided ghost tours, and more.

That’s why, for those looking to save money, the best fall destinations may be those with slightly less of that autumn foliage hype. Whether you’re looking for an opportunity to take in some stunning fall foliage, seek out the small charming towns hosting Main Street harvest season celebrations, or you’re just looking for a fall getaway where there are fewer crowds, we’ve got tons of ideas that won’t cost you a fortune.

In fact, some of the best fall vacations are so awesome because they’re so low key. Cooler temperatures and busier school schedules often mean less packed National Park destinations, wide open hiking trails, and fewer tourists, at least as compared to the busy summer season. So how can you take advantage of the fall season, where the deals are better, the crowds are smaller, and the temperature is far more forgiving?

Well, you may want to start with a look at our tips for saving money on your road trip, no matter where you plan to go.

Otherwise, read on for a look at these 20 places you can visit this fall at a discount.

15 Fall Vacations That Won’t Break the Bank

Everybody knows that places like Burlington, Vermont and Portland, Maine are incredible during the early fall months. The changing leaves, the seasonal events, and the delicious food make these places highly desirable destinations for families and couples seeking fall vacations. But these destinations will cost you.

Fortunately, there are plenty of hidden gems that don’t command nearly the amount of attention or money as these well-traveled New England destinations.

1. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

If you’re looking for fall colors that are every bit as bright and brilliant as those in New England, but at a fraction of the price, you can usually do pretty well in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The shores of the Great Lakes region are chillier this time of year, but they also produce some of the best fall foliage around. 

For an economically savvy alternative to Vermont or Maine, Cheapism says, “Fall foliage usually peaks here in early October. Leaves aren’t the only attraction, though: The U.P. boasts more than 40 lighthouses, 300 waterfalls, and several casinos. Hikers will find more than 100 miles of trails and views of sandstone cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along Lake Superior’s southern edge.”

In fact, for lovers of outdoor activities, there are few better places to visit in the U.S. 

Check out some of the most breathtaking falls in Michigan with a visit to the Tahquamenon Falls State Park, or check out Mackinac Island State Park, which is actually one of the oldest parks in the U.S. It’s also home to the historical Fort Mackinac and the iconic Arch Rock. The point is, if you like being outside, you won’t run out of things to do here.

But you should be warned that the shores of the Great Lakes can get quite frigid, even this early in the year. Prepare for temperatures that may drop well into the low 40s at night. You can plan for sunny weather and highs in the low 70s during September days. But it can get chilly pretty quickly as the calendar turns to October. Depending on when you go, and what you plan to do, you may want to bring layers and plan for some crisp evenings.

2. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

For an affordable alternative to New England that boasts its own beautiful foliage at a steep discount, check out Sioux Falls, South Dakota. According to an article from Travel + Leisure, “Sioux Falls offers a range of locations for viewing prime fall foliage, including at Falls Park where visitors will find trails, viewing platforms, and an observation tower offering 360-degree views of the park and the skyline.”

It’s hard to describe just how spectacular the Falls Park really is. With 50 feet of vertical cascading falls across 200 horizontal feet of land, there is simply no way to capture the full scope of its majesty without visiting, which you can do for just $5 per person, or $10 per car. If you plan your trip for early fall, September 24th happens to be National Public Lands Day, which means admission to the park is free. Needless to say, you’ll get your money’s worth.

Of course, that’s true of this destination in general. Sioux Falls is a bit of a well-kept secret. Boasting incredible foliage and countless outdoor activities for visitors, Sioux Falls still carries an average nightly hotel rate in the fall that comes in at under $100 a night. It’s hard to beat that price.

While you won’t get the kind of nightlife that you might get in a Pigeon Forge, Tennessee or a Branson, Missouri, Sioux Falls is home to a number of affordable, accessible and educational attractions. Among them, the Good Earth State Park stands out as the single largest living history museum to the indigenous Oneota tribal culture.

And if you’re traveling by car, it’s worth noting that you’re just four to five hours away from both the Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore, which sits in the Black Hills. Both are excellent destinations in the early fall, when crowds are smaller than in the summer months, but the weather remains temperate.

3. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

The rocky coasts of New England usually see peak tourism during the summer months, when wealthy visitors flock to the beautiful beaches of places like Cape Cod. But the crowds thin out considerably after Labor Day. Use this to your advantage by taking a long fall weekend in this idyllic Massachusetts seaport. In addition to boasting incredible seafood any time of year, Cape Cod’s mild temperature and late breaking peak harvest season make it an excellent place to go any time between mid October and early November.

According to Cheapism, “Highs around 70 in September and in the 60s during October make autumn prime time for other outdoor activities, such as biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Fall foliage is also a draw, but it doesn’t peak on the Cape until late October or early November.”

While you’re there, check out the stunning Heritage Museums & Gardens, learn about the coast’s long history of shipwrecks and rescues on Race Point Beach, and browse the colorful shops and amazing restaurants at the LGBTQ mecca on Commercial Street

4. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Pigeon Forge is actually one of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S. You can thank Dolly Parton for that. The Dollywood theme park draws more than 3 million visitors every single year. While Pigeon Forge is generally a popular destination throughout the year, the summer is the peak time for vacationers and visitors. Pigeon Forge is a particularly family-friendly destination, noted for its theme parks and natural attractions. When schools let out, families flock to Pigeon Forge. 

Here’s the thing about Pigeon Forge–it’s not exactly a secret. In reality, the summer peak season usually continues into the fall. Visitors come from all over the nation to watch the verdant Smokies turn to a gorgeous palette of autumn colors. In other words, Pigeon Forge is packed with leaf-watchers throughout the month of October.

Still, according to The Travel, “Pigeon Forge is an attractive and affordable fall vacation spot. The vibrant autumn leaves paint the landscape with warm hues, setting the perfect backdrop for a memorable getaway.”

You just have to know how to hunt for the best deals when you visit. While Pigeon Forge can be crowded with visitors in the fall, the savvy traveler can find ways to make this an affordable fall vacation. For tips on how, check out our look at ten ways you can save on a trip to Pigeon Forge at any time of year.

5. Branson, Missouri

Branson, Missouri is simultaneously one of America’s most rapidly growing tourist destinations and one of the Midwest’s best fall vacations. While Branson draws more than 9 million visitors every year with its vibrant theater district, its numerous theme park attractions, and the magnificent Ozark Mountains, the autumn actually marks a slowdown in tourist traffic.

That’s great news for fall travelers. Champion Traveler notes that you’ll score your best prices on flights, lodging, park passes and performance tickets by visiting between January 8th and March 11th; or between August 13th to November 25th. Champion Traveler also notes that tourism numbers are generally lower in the last two weeks of April and that the “absolute cheapest time to take a vacation in Branson is usually mid to late September.”

If you’re seeking a family-friendly trip with tons of inbuilt attractions, Branson is a great option. You can visit the world-famous Silver Dollar City amusement park, enjoy live country music at Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Show, view the performance of a biblical epic at the Sight and Sound Theatre, or ride the massive Branson Ferris Wheel that was once proudly displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

But wait. There’s more. You can see an historical reenactment at the Shepherd of the Hills outdoor theater, visit the Talking Rocks Cavern, hike the trails in Table Rock State Park, or stroll the shops at Branson Landing.

And again, as long as you’re visiting in September, you’re getting pretty much the best possible rates. So if you’re planning to visit Branson in the fall, you’re off to a good start on an affordable vacation. But as long as you’re traveling to this colorful family destination, check out our tips for saving money on everything from lodging to theme park passes.

6. Niagara Falls, New York

Niagara Falls is the classic American road trip, and with good reason. A manageable drive from any major city in the northeast, Niagara Falls Park combines one of the 7 Wonders of the World with a region marked by colorful fall foliage and a specific kind of vintage appeal. And remarkably, it remains among the most affordable National Parks to visit in the U.S.

According to Real Simple, the New York destination “is not to be missed—nor will it cost an arm and a leg. The most established hotels in the Falls area—the Sheraton, Marriott, and Doubletree, for example—all ring in under $140 per night.Hike the Niagara Recreation Trail for great views of the Falls, or explore the Niagara Glen Nature Centre trail to gaze at the breathtaking fall foliage.”

This makes Niagara Falls one of the best fall vacations for your money and a fall trip your family won’t soon forget.

7. The Grand Canyon, Arizona

And if you’re interested in iconic American road trips, it doesn’t get much better than the vistas at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. But if it gets too late in the season, the North Rim actually becomes inaccessible. September and October are the very best months to visit this point, just before the ice and snow make the famous Widforss Trail impassable.

While you may not get the same lush foliage that you might see when you travel north, the fall is actually one of the best times to visit this popular destination if you’re trying to avoid the crowds.

An article in Lonely Planet points out that September and October are the start of the “shoulder season” at the Grand Canyon. The early fall months see a clear drop off from the busy summer season. This is the best time to score deals on flights, hotels, park passes, and more. 

According to Lonely Planet, “During September and October expect fewer people, cooler temperatures and cheaper lodging compared to the summer months. However, it’s not uncommon to have a fall thunderstorm roll in during the afternoon. If safe to do so, embrace these storms as they thin out the crowds and can make the snaps of a lifetime for photographers. If it’s a non-stormy day, a hike to Phantom Ranch, located deep within the canyon, makes for a prime day trip or stay.”

This is an excellent time to visit if you’re going for the photographs. Come away with a few snapshots worthy of a museum gallery…or at least Getty Images.

8. Phoenix, Arizona

Just a three and a half hour drive from the Grand Canyon, an entirely different experience awaits you in the rapidly growing city of Phoenix. Of course, you’re in the desert, so you probably shouldn’t expect the same lush and enveloping changes in color that you’ll get in places like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or the Blue Ridge Mountains.

But what you will get is a city that takes a distinctive pleasure in celebrating this time of year with seasonal events. According to an article from Travel + Leisure, “Phoenix comes alive with festivals in the fall, ranging from beer celebrations and donut festivals to pizza parties, while a range of scenic drives provide views of red rocks, soaring mountains, and colorful foliage to admire.”

One of our favorite annual events is the Ales on the Rails. An event now in its 20th year, Ales on the Rails invites ticket-holders ($149 a head) to celebrate Oktoberfest while trundling down the rails on the Verde Canyon Railroad and sampling local brews.

You also don’t want to miss the GoldRush Music Festival, usually held in early October, or the Dia de Las Muertes (Day of the Dead) Festival that typically takes place in late October.

9. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

It may be more traditional to head north for fall foliage in the early fall. But this popular National Park in Virginia is an excellent destination in the late fall months. The famous Blue Ridge Parkway offers a gorgeous scenic drive that looks out over a lush valley of forest.

At the approach of late October, the colors spilling out across the Shenandoah Valley are unmatched. As the National Park website notes, “Fall weekends bring two things: gorgeous fall foliage and large crowds. As the weather begins to cool and the trees exchange their leaves of green for reds, oranges, and yellows, visitors come from all over to experience all that Shenandoah National Park has to offer. The typical fall season in Shenandoah National Park encompasses late September, October, and November with average daytime temperatures ranging from 49°F to 60°F.”

While the park may draw crowds this time of year, it nonetheless remains a uniquely affordable place to visit in the fall. This is especially true if you’re planning to camp out. Campsites will typically cost between $15 and $45 per night. But you will be camping in the mountains, where the overnight temperature can drop pretty fast. Make sure you bring plenty of layers.

10. Chicago, Illinois

Most of the destinations included on our list combine outdoor activities and beautiful autumn scenery. There aren’t too many major metropolitan cities on our list. But here’s why Chicago is different. The peak visiting months for Chicago stretch from spring to summer. But as the average temperatures start to go down, so do the tourism numbers.

This is your opportunity to see one of America’s most culturally, commercially, and historically important cities at a bit of a discount. Indeed, if you’re looking for an excuse to visit the Windy City, consider the travel rates in October a pretty good one. 

You may not get the fall colors you’ll see when you travel north, but you’ll get great prices all over a city with amazing architecture, restaurants, music venues, art galleries, and more. And you can snag an amazing deal on an early October flight, before the mercury bottoms out and Chicago inches toward those notoriously frigid late-autumn temperatures.

See Chicago when the prices and crowds have gone down, but the temperature is still high enough to be bearable. Once the winter hits, we’d advise looking elsewhere for your getaway.

11. New Orleans, Louisiana

Technically, fall is the off season in New Orleans. This is when the rainy season begins, so the weather can be hit or miss. But the nightlife is never hit or miss in New Orleans. Nor are the world-class entertainers, artists, musicians, and restaurants that make the Crescent City an amazing year round destination.

Travel blog Cheapism suggests, “It’s a wise idea to keep an eye on the weather — tropical storms and hurricanes are a risk in the Big Easy during the fall — but hotel rates remain low through the beginning of winter. Wait until October or November for the most comfortable temperatures, with highs in the 70s, but be sure to visit before tourists come storming back for Mardi Gras and other festivals in the spring.”

If you’re worried about missing out on the music, fun, and feasting that make New Orleans a one of a kind destination, we can assure you that won’t be an issue. While peak-season tourism drives this town, the residents of New Orleans live to party all year round. You’ll find no shortage of opportunities to hear incredible music, eat delectable food, and experience unique cultural performances no matter when you visit.

And trust us when we say you’re doing yourself a favor by waiting for the oppressive summer heat to pass before planning your trip to Louisiana.

12. Montreal

Montreal is one of the coolest and most culturally engaging cities in the world. And of course, because it is in Canada, it gets incredibly cold there during the winter months. But it’s actually an amazing place to visit in the fall, especially if you’re trying to avoid the crowds this season.

Cheapism notes that “Many tourists venture to Canada only during the summer months, making fall an opportune time to score cheaper hotel rates at the country’s top tourist destinations. Among them is French-Canadian mecca Montreal, which offers beautiful parks, impressive museums, and a unique fusion of old cobblestone streets and modern cityscapes. If the weather gets too chilly — expect highs in the 50s in October — head down into the Underground City, which boasts an array of shopping and several connections to the city’s metro system.”

Or just bundle up and stroll down to Old Montreal for a true taste of the French culture imprinted on this Canadian city and its surrounding province.

13. Albuquerque, New Mexico

If you’re looking for a destination with unique seasonal events and its own distinctive fall flavor, consider venturing to the American southwest. New Mexico’s blend of indigenous culture and pioneering Western expansion make it a particularly rich backdrop for a celebration of the harvest season.

Not only that, but Albuquerque is home to one of the season’s most colorful traditions. An article from U.S. News & World Reports notes that “Albuquerque’s desert plains and stunning landscapes provide a respite for visitors year-round. However, visiting in fall allows you to enjoy the famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which takes place in October. Book a trip to Albuquerque in early October to see hundreds of brightly colored balloons dot the sky – you can even take a balloon ride yourself with a local tour operator. Because this hot air balloon festival is such a popular event, you’ll want to secure accommodations well in advance.”

If you’re looking to avoid the festival crowds, expect mild temperatures and plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure in September and early October.

14. Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville is a mid-sized city in Western North Carolina that serves as a gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains and stands at the confluence of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers. Its reputation as a destination for art, music, culture and cuisine has only grown in recent years.

But what most distinguishes Asheville for our purposes is its uniquely long autumn. For those who like to savor the harvest season, Asheville makes for an excellent destination. According to one of the city’s tourism websites, “Fall in Asheville, North Carolina is one of the most sought-after places to go leaf peeping. Due to the area’s vast elevation changes, the Asheville area is home to one of the longest fall color seasons in the nation.”

So while that does make Asheville a popular tourist destination during the fall months, the season stretches out long enough to make room for travelers, leaf watchers and outdoor enthusiasts of every budget. While you’re there, make sure you check out amazing (and totally free) attractions like Pisgah National Park, which contains the magnificent Sliding Rock falls, Mount Mitchell State Park, and French Broad River.

You’ll also want to visit the Biltmore Estate. It was constructed by George Washington Vanderbilt II and is, in fact, the single largest home in the United States, at a staggering 178,926 square feet. If you’re looking to save on a tour of this opulent mansion, try to get there before September 30th. Rates for admission are $85 until that point, but jump up to $94 in October, and then $109 from November through the holidays.

In other words, it matters when you visit in the fall. Time your fall vacation to Asheville correctly for maximum savings. Do your due diligence in hunting for discounts and you should be able to score reasonable deals on lodging, park passes, museum entry, and more.

15. Billings, Montana

Looking for fresh mountain air and wide open spaces? You can actually get these on your fall vacation at a pretty reasonable price. Consider checking out Billings, Montana, where you can get history, outdoor activities, and a taste of the Old West. The biggest city in the midwestern region known as Big Sky Country, Billings sits between Beartooth Mountain and a unique geological formation called Rimrocks.

The bustling town at their confluence is something of a hidden gem, especially for fall travelers. As the article in Travel + Leisure notes, “Cooler days provide prime opportunities to gaze at animals like America’s largest herd of wild horses and a range of bears that call the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area home. Billings is also home to Montana’s only walkable brewery district, offering visitors a range of breweries, distilleries, and a cider house to explore alongside art galleries, museums, and more.”

And of course, since we know you’re curious about the foliage, it’s hard to beat the majesty of colors that Billings has to offer from the Pryor Mountains to Phipps Park to the Pictograph Cave State Park.


We assume that wherever you choose to go, you’re driving. How else are you going to take in all the amazing scenic overlooks, pop-up farmer’s markets and quirky roadside stands that make fall vacations so enchanting and magical?

If that is indeed your plan, don’t let high prices for gas, restaurants, or lodging break the spell. Check out our look at the very best credit cards for saving money on your road trip this autumn.