The Best Small Towns for a Fall Getaway

These 7 U.S. towns are perfect places to welcome the new season.

Fall Leaves and Tree-lined Sidewalk in Manchester Village Vermont
Photo: Robert_Ford/Getty Images

The arrival of autumn, whether signaled by the calendar or a chill in the air, creates a restless feeling that can often be cured by a vacation, even just a long weekend to somewhere new. Aside from being an antidote to that seasonal itch, fall travel is convenient with smaller crowds at airports and on the roads.

Experiencing the change of seasons in a new place is fun, whether you're ready to jump into colder weather or you're trying to extend summer a bit by finding somewhere warm. You may have noticed that small towns have been popular destinations this year. For some travelers, it's the pleasurable feeling of nostalgia; for others, it's simply the convenience of encountering fewer tourists.

Here are a few "off the beaten trail" small towns to explore. Several are near other interesting destinations, and some are destinations on their own. All are perfect places to welcome the new season.

Cashiers, North Carolina

Fall colored trees in Cashiers, North Carolina
Stacy Redmon/Courtesy of Shadow of the Bear ­

Located in western North Carolina's Jackson County high on a plateau in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Cashiers is a quiet village of fewer than 2,000 residents, but the population swells in summer and fall when visitors come to enjoy the mild weather, hiking trails, waterfalls, boating, golf, and outdoor activities. Town life centers around the Village Green, a 13.5 acre park offering botanical gardens, art displays, walking paths, and seasonal events. Fall weather is mild, and leaf peepers who visit to witness the vibrant fall colors get a special treat with the nearby "Shadow of the Bear," when, for just 30 minutes a day, the shadows creep over the mountains and form the shape of a bear.

Cape May, New Jersey

Southern Mansion in Cape May, NJ
Courtesy of New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism

Summer crowds have gone, leaving the historic Victorian-style seaside town for the fortunate few who call it home or drop by for an autumn visit. With nearly 600 well-preserved Victorian buildings, the city is a National Historic District as well as a perfect beach town with a promenade for strolling or biking, along with a myriad of excellent restaurants serving local seafood. Visitors can tour the historic district, climb the Cape May lighthouse, taste wine at the Cape May Winery, or browse the Washington Street Mall. For special fun, plan a visit around Sherlock Holmes Weekend, Oct. 29-31 or Nov. 5-7, and join the festivities while you try to solve the mystery.

Bardstown, Kentucky

Old log schoolhouse cabin in historic Bardstown, KY, USA
wanderluster/Getty Images

Kentucky's second-oldest city, Bardstown was first settled in 1780. Nearly 200 buildings in the historic downtown district are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including a 1779 stagecoach stop that today is the Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest bourbon bar in the world. Since the 18th century, bourbon has been central to Bardstown, home of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival. In fact, along with Covington and Frankfort, Bardstown is part of a collaboration called Come Find Bourbon. These quaint towns offer some of the most respected bourbon distilleries in the world as well as restaurants, pubs, diners, boutique hotels, and of course, distillery tours and tastings. Fall weather is mild in this part of Kentucky, but if evenings get a bit brisk, there's always a glass of bourbon to take away the chill.

Cambria, California

Pacific Ocean landscape. Cambria, California, United States, North America
John Elk/Getty Images

This historic coastal town located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles is lovely year round, but when the air cools a bit in autumn, it's ideal for strolling through town or biking along many of the nearby picturesque trails. Victorian architecture dates to the 1800s, when Cambria was a busy mining town. Today, visitors can explore beach trails, art galleries, boutiques, and vintage buildings or enjoy local wildlife like the elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas Rookery, especially fun in autumn when juvenile seals arrive. Visitors can also venture less than 30 miles inland to Paso Robles for wineries and the stunning art installation Sensorio with its new light towers exhibit.

Manchester, Vermont

Fall Leaves and Tree-lined Sidewalk in Manchester Village Vermont
Robert_Ford/Getty Images

Located in the southwestern part of the state, Manchester is a quintessential autumn destination with fall foliage at its best around mid-October, according to the Vermont Foliage Forecaster. Set between the Taconic and Green Mountain Ranges, the area is perfect for hiking along leafy trails to look for waterfalls and stunning views. Restaurants, shops, boutique hotels, inns, and historic buildings attract visitors to its downtown, recently updated but still maintaining its welcoming atmosphere with new benches, landscaping, and vintage-style streetlights. Take a drive out of town to discover country roads and covered bridges as well as farms, antique shops, apple orchards, and breathtaking scenery. Classic fairs and festivals add to the appeal of an autumn visit.

Gretna, Louisiana

Blacksmith Shop in Gretna, LA
Courtesy of City Of Gretna

On the west bank of the Mississippi, just across the river from New Orleans, Gretna is the seat of Jefferson Parish, home of Louisiana's largest national historic districts. Fall is a great time to visit, when summer's heat has passed, and festivals and special events commemorate the harvest season with music, dancing, food, and local culture. The Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival, hay rides, corn festivals, pumpkin patches, are a few ways to celebrate the season, but the famous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is reason enough to head south in the fall. With New Orleans and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport nearby, Gretna is a perfect home base as well as a historic destination. A free pedestrian ferry makes it simple to travel between New Orleans and Gretna.

Torrey, Utah

2nd School House in Torrey Utah
DaleBaxter/Getty Images

With fewer than 200 residents, according to a recent census, Torrey is best known as the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park. Set at 6,800 feet above sea level, the tree-filled town sees cool weather in autumn, and by November, temperatures average between 30 and 50 degrees. Settled in the 1880s by Mormon pioneers, Torrey is said to have been named after one of Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, Colonel Torrey. Hiking, biking, and enjoying the small town's casual, welcoming atmosphere are the main attractions. If you enjoy peaceful surroundings, a chill in the air, friendly folks, stargazing, and a comfortable place to relax near Capitol Reef, be sure to visit Torrey, Utah.

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