Looking to take your kids on a little weekend getaway to peep some leaves, enjoy the cooler weather and maybe take in a fall festival? Look no further. We’ve put together a guide to our favorite affordable fall vacations for 2019, all of which are rich on family experiences that won’t break your budget. Each destination offers activities for little or no cost, as well as cheap lodging options.
1. Tulsa, OK
Tulsa is a city that has come into its own in recent years, with an explosion of public art and family-friendly activities, plus low-cost dining and lodging options. This destination tops our list with the Gathering Place, which opened last fall. One of the largest parks in the U.S., its 100 acres are filled with recreation options such as hiking and biking trails, an interactive water maze, an enchanted fairyland, and towers linked by rope bridges—and it’s all free.
Cheapest Fall Weekend Hotel Stay: Clarion Inn & Suites Central I-44
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Tulsa Zoo, Oklahoma Aquarium, Tulsa Discovery Lab Children’s Museum, Tulsa Air & Space Museum and Planetarium, and Gathering Place
Fall Festivals and Family Events: Linde Oktoberfest, Flyover Fest, Tulsa Roots Rocks the Green, Tulsa International Wine & Jazz Fete, HallowZOOeen
2. Mesa, AZ
Fall in Mesa, Arizona, (located in the greater Phoenix area), is when everyone emerges from their air-conditioned homes and offices after a long summer’s hibernation. Take your kids for a hay ride to the pumpkin patch at one of many fall festivals, or get a jumpstart on the spooky Halloween season by visiting a ghost town or the nearby Superstition Mountains.
Cheapest Fall Weekend Hotel Stay: BEST WESTERN PLUS Mesa
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Arizona Museum of Natural History, Desert Arroyo Park, Goldfield Ghost Town and Mine Tour and several area farms that offer tours, petting zoos and more
Fall Festivals and Family Events: Celebrate Mesa, Garlic Festival at Queen Creek Olive Mill, Mesa Bazaar, Downtown Mesa Festival of the Arts and Farmers Market, Ride-in Movies at the Park, Spark! After Dark at the Mesa Arts Center, Dia de los Muertos Festival
3. San Diego, CA
One of the most inexpensive cities to visit in the U.S., San Diego has plenty to offer to families, from a wildly popular zoo to incredible beaches. The city also celebrates Kids Free San Diego throughout the month of October; at participating businesses, kids can eat free, stay free or enjoy free admission.
Cheapest Fall Weekend Hotel Stay: Ramada by Wyndham San Diego National City
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego, LEGOLAND California, Balboa Park, New Children’s Museum
Fall Festivals and Family Events: La Mesa Oktoberfest, Day of the Dead Festival, Balboa Park Halloween Family Day, Haunt Fest on Main
4. Catskills, NY
Fall color is the calling card of New York’s Catskill Mountains, and there are dozens of fall festivals providing cozy family fun on the cheap. Pick apples, ride wagons, enjoy a fresh-baked pie and enjoy live entertainment.
Cheapest Fall Weekend Hotel Stay: Hunter Mountain Resort
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Great Pumpkin Farm, The Farmer’s Museum and exploring New York’s Path Through History Weekends, where you’ll find special tours, reenactments and other programming across the state with special discounts or free admission
Fall Festivals and Family Events: Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival, Fall Festival and Agricultural Fair at the Genessee Country Village Museum, Ellicotville’s Fall Festival, Adirondack Balloon Festival, Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, Sheep and Wool Festival, Taste of the Catskills
5. Yosemite National Park, CA
Yosemite National Park is a dream in the fall (and even in the winter), with fewer crowds than in summer, cool weather, and fall foliage that bursts with color. Amid dramatic waterfalls and giant sequoias, you’ll find hiking opportunities for all skill levels, 12 miles of flat biking paths (with bike rentals available by day or hour through November 12) and iconic sites such as Tunnel View and Glacier Point (all of which are free to view once you’re inside the park, which costs $35 to enter). Another fun activity? Learning how to rock climb at the Yosemite Mountaineering School!
Recommended Hotel: Comfort Inn Yosemite Area
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Yosemite Museum, Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Tunnel View, Glacier Point, Hetch Hetchy, Scenic Drives
Fall Festivals and Family Events: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams, Vintners’ Holidays
6. Philadelphia, PA
This historic city holds a treasure trove of cheap and even free family fun. To start, look no further than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, both free attractions guaranteed to help bring history to life for your school-aged kids. Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution also has a section designed for children, called Revolution Place.
Cheapest Fall Weekend Hotel Stay: BEST WESTERN PLUS Philadelphia Convention Center Hotel
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Please Touch Museum, One Liberty Observation Deck, Benjamin Franklin Museum, Museum of the American Revolution and the U.S. Mint
Fall Festivals and Family Events: Parks on Tap, Spruce Street Harbor Park, various Oktoberfest celebrations, Supper Sessions on the Avenue, Wands and Wizards (formerly the Harry Potter Festival), Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary
7. Reno Tahoe, NV
With an average hotel nightly rate of $100, Reno, Nevada, is a good choice for a cheap fall getaway. This is also where you’ll find The Great Reno Balloon Race, the world’s largest free hot air balloon festival! It’s located about 25 minutes from Mt. Rose, which offers great fall hikes in the Sierra Mountains. And check out the upcoming fall festivals—they are some of the most unique we’ve ever seen.
Cheapest Fall Weekend Hotel Stay: BEST WESTERN Airport Plaza Hotel
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Simple Ice Cream Sandwiches, Discovery Museum, The Eddy, The Depot
Fall Festivals and Family Events: International Camel and Ostrich Races, The Great Reno Balloon Race, Reno Snaffle Bit Futurity, Food Truck Fridays at Idlewild Park, Pumpkin Palooza, Reno Lantern Fest, Holi Festival of Colors
8. Nashville, TN
Music City is perfect for a weekend getaway with kids, especially in the fall. And new service from Spirit Airlines (which began late last year), plus new routes via Sun Country (which started last spring), means more competition and lower fares on all airlines traveling to and from Nashville, according to airfare deals site, Airfarewatchdog.com. While hotel rates typically remain steep throughout the year, it’s easy to find affordable accommodations on Airbnb if you look outside of downtown Nashville.
Recommended Hotel: Homewood Suites Nashville Vanderbilt
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Radnor Lake, Gaylord Opryland Resort Gardens, Musicians Corner, Cumberland Park
Fall Festivals and Family Events: Tennessee Craft Fair, Nashville Oktoberfest, Music City Bacon & Barrel Festival, Wizard Fest, Pumpkinfest
9. Charlotte, NC
Similar to Nashville, Charlotte is more affordable to reach by plane thanks to expanded flight options on Spirit Airlines and increased competition among airlines, according to Airfarewatchdog. Popular attractions in Charlotte, North Carolina, include Carowinds, which offers the Great Pumpkin Fest and other Halloween-themed fun in September and October.
Recommended Hotel: Drury Inn & Suites Charlotte University Place
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: ImaginOn, Reedy Creek Park and Nature Reserve, Reed Gold Mine
Fall Festivals and Family Events: Queen City Fall Festival, Charlotte October Festival, Family Fall Festival in Indian Trail, Charlotte Grilled Cheese Fest
10. Lehigh Valley, PA
Just an hour north of Philadelphia and 90 minutes west of New York City, the Lehigh Valley is an amazingly affordable fall destination to explore with kids. Visit Historic Bethlehem to browse the oldest book store in the U.S.; explore the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown; and create your own crayon at the original Crayola Experience in Easton.
Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Bethlehem
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Lehigh Valley Covered Bridge Tour, Jacobsburg State Park, Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Historic Bethlehem
Fall Festivals and Family Events: The Great Pumpkin Fest & Halloween Haunt at Dorney Park, Celtic Classic Highland Games & Festival, Oktoberfest at SteelStacks, PA Bacon Fest
11. Loveland, CO
The city of Loveland, Colorado, isn’t just beautiful in the fall; it’s also affordable. You’ll find plenty of free or low-cost things to do with kids, and will appreciate that many hotels don’t have two-night minimum requirements. Bonus: Loveland is located just 35 minutes from Rocky Mountain National Park!
Recommended Hotel: Candlewood Suites Loveland
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Loveland Museum, Osborn Farm, Benson Sculpture Garden
Fall Festivals and Family Events: Loveland Farmers Market, Loveland Oktoberfest, Pastels on 5th, Night on the Town
12. Corvallis, OR
Located in Oregon’s Williamette Valley, Corvallis offers inexpensive outdoor adventures for families. Just one hour from the coast and 1.5 hours from Portland, Corvallis also offers affordable and unique accommodations, with everything from camping to spending the night on a farm!
Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Corvallis
Budget-Friendly Family Activities: Benton County Historical Museum, Thompson’s Mill State Park, Biking, Hiking
Fall Festivals and Family Events: Septembeerfest, Corvallis Fall Festival, Harvest Festival, LUNAFEST
Cynthia J. Drake is a travel writer based in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Since becoming a mom, she’s been stranded at sea with her family, gotten lost in the Rocky Mountains, dealt with more than her fair share of public vomiting, and still can’t wait for the next trip. She writes regularly for AAA magazines, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Highways and Cruise Critic. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.