Nov. 9, 2012 at 11:07 AM ET
The small town of Keene, N.H., has been buzzing with tourists for weeks. Some stop for photo-ops by the white-steepled church and four covered bridges. Others hike up Mount Monadnock for spectacular panoramic views. But really, they've all left the city to be here among autumn’s eye-popping colors.
Mix those brilliant reds and yellows together, and you get a whole lot of green. In many states, leaf-peepers spend more than a collective $1 billion on fall getaways annually. It’s no secret that the season inspires the urge to take off for a long weekend, whether you’re out among the Rocky Mountains’ golden aspens or New England’s yellow birches and flame-hued maples. And while some small inns do book up well in advance, it’s not too late to hit the road for a spontaneous day trip or overnight before winter closes in.
Poet William Cullen Bryant called autumn “the year’s last, loveliest smile,” and we've plotted easy weekend getaway from major U.S. cities to help you take advantage of the season’s charms. Each loosely-themed itinerary includes suggestions for where to stay, eat and play in a picturesque, revel-in-the-crisp-air setting. Take South Bend, Ind., for instance, where Chicagoans can make a weekend out of college football and whitewater rafting.
Outdoor adventure fans who spend weekdays cooped up in the office will appreciate the appeal of ditching D.C. for a hike in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park or Boston for sea kayaking in Maine’s rugged Acadia National Park. In fall, Acadia’s tourist crowds dissipate, it’s blissfully quiet, and you can tuck into seasonal dishes like slow-braised ribs with maple glaze by the fireplace at Red Sky restaurant.
Every U.S. state cultivates wine, and if celebrating this fall’s grape harvest is more up your alley, set your GPS for the ridiculously-scenic Finger Lakes region of Central New York or for Walla Walla, Wash., where a Main Street of Victorian-era buildings meets wineries known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.