In many parts of the country, school starts at the beginning of August. As such, these school districts have a weeklong school vacation break in late September or October. It’s an ideal time for a family trip to a new city, a national park, or some other fun and educational locale.
Traveling in the fall is often more affordable and less crowded. Fall’s the time to take the kids on that trip to Washington, D.C., Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown that you’ve been planning for years—or perhaps visit a city you’ve always wanted to explore.
Here are 10 fantastic educational learning destinations to visit in the fall (the final two are outside the U.S.):
1. New Orleans: “The Big Easy” is sweltering in the summer and crowded during Mardi Gras in late winter, which makes autumn a great time to see this fascinating city. Taste beignets at the famous Café Du Monde. Explore Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter. For older kids, take a harbor cruise on the Steamboat Natchez and a Hurricane Katrina Tour through the most devastated areas. For nature lovers, take Honey Island Swamp Tour, about an hour and a half drive from New Orleans.
2. Asheville, N.C.: For glorious fall foliage, you can’t beat this region. Asheville is busy during the fall, but the town has a laid-back vibe that’s great for families. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Chimney Rock State Park. Kids will also love the Western North Carolina Nature Center, which features plants and animals native to the Appalachian region.
3. Jekyll Island, Ga.: This a hot spot for beach and golf vacations in the summer that offers more serene pleasures in the fall. Jekyll Island is home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where injured sea turtles are nursed back to health. The 4-H Tidelands Nature Center leads walks through Jekyll’s beach, forest, and marsh ecosystems. For bird lovers, take a boat ride from nearby St. Simons to Little St. Simons. Sapelo Island, also accessible by boat, offers a look into the history of the African-American community of Hog Hammock.
4. Killington, Vt.: This is a great choice for families who enjoy bike riding. More than 100 miles of trails surround Killington, a town known for spectacular fall foliage. You can take a gondola ride up Killington Peak, which offers views of five states and Canada. While there, you can explore miles of hiking and biking trails for all experience levels. Visit the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, which is housed in a dairy barn and offers a close look at 25 species of hawks, eagles, and owls.
5. Kalamazoo, Mich.: For kids who love cars and airplanes, a Michigan vacation has it all. The Air Zoo has amusement park-style rides as well as 50 rare and historic aircraft. The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is free and fun for families with younger kids. Enjoy fishing and hiking at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. Kalamazoo is also known for its Bank Street Farmers Market. Harvest Moon Acres in nearby Gobles has classic fall activities such as a giant corn maze and hayrides. And the Henry Ford Museum near Detroit is just two and a half hours away by car.
6. Collinsville, Ill.: For a child who is fascinated by ancient history, a visit to the prehistoric Cahokia Mounds will make a lasting impression. Once one of the great cities of the world, the site today is home to the 100-foot Monks Mound. The Interpretive Center has exhibits and a theater to help explain the impact of the ancient city. Guided tours are available on weekends, and self-guided tours—including a 6.2-mile nature hike—will help you and your kids understand the culture of the Mississippians. Collinsville is just outside St. Louis, which abounds with family attractions, many free.
7. Keystone, Colo.: Amy Whitley, a travel writer and founder of the blog “Pit Stops for Kids,” loves ski resorts for fall family getaways. Since rates at ski resorts are lowest before the snow starts falling, families can take in other attractions besides skiing. “There’s still plenty to do for an outdoorsy vacation,” Whitley says. In Keystone, hiking trails offer spectacular views, and nearby Lower Cataract Lake has a family-friendly two-mile loop. In early fall, you can try paddle-boarding, kayaking, and canoeing on Keystone Lake. Horseback riding, rock climbing, and zip-lining are also fun. Keystone Bike Park appeals to mountain bikers of all skill levels.
8. Carlsbad, N.M.: Are you and your kids game for cave exploration? Michael Joseph Oswald, author of Your Guide to the National Parks, recommends Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the Guadalupe Mountains as a fall family destination. The park offers a variety of tours of its 110 limestone caves, from self-guided adventures to guided crawls through narrow passageways. The Natural Entrance self-guided tour is incredible, though steep. The park is also ideal for looking at the stars, and holds occasional “Star Party” events.
9. London: In this adventure “across the pond,” kids and parents who love Harry Potter can take one of the many Harry Potter tours through London, Gloucester, the Cotswolds, and other places featured in the Harry Potter books and films. Fans can also visit the Warner Bros. film studio in Hertfordshire where the movies were made and see King’s Cross Station, where platform 9 3/4 started Harry on his journey. Take a day trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, by train and see where J.K. Rowling wrote the first book.
10. Vancouver, B.C.: This Canadian city offers the exotic appeal of foreign travel—without an overseas flight. It’s a cosmopolitan city, yet there is plenty of nature to behold. Roam around Stanley Park and visit the Vancouver Aquarium. Other must-sees are Science World British Columbia and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Kids of all ages will enjoy Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown. For shopping, explore the Kids Only Market and the Public Market.
These are just some of the places you can explore during your kids’ fall school vacation, or anytime you want to go somewhere other than the beach or that sprawling park in Florida with the famous spinning teacups.
Wherever you choose to go, vacations create lasting family memories. And trips that combine fun and education give your kids a deeper understanding of their world to go along with the great memories.