8 Family-Friendly Outdoor Getaways to Take This Fall

Fall Family Vacation
Photo: Getty Images / Andriy Prokopenko

By the time school rolls around in August or September, parents are usually thanking their lucky stars they survived another summer (relatively) unscathed. But a month or two into the school year and suddenly you start missing those slow days of summer when you weren't constantly darting off to soccer practice or dance lessons. More importantly, you start missing the uninterrupted time with your kids. When that feeling starts to creep in, it's time for a fall family getaway. Thanks to mild temperatures, the South is the perfect place to take a fall vacation that's all about enjoying the great outdoors. The mountains are delightfully crisp, and the beaches remain just warm enough to enjoy a cool dip and the hot sun on your skin. If you're looking for inspiration on long weekend destinations for the entire crew, look no further. From the gorgeous coastal sunsets in Tampa, Florida to the unbelievably vibrant foliage in Blue Ridge, Georgia, here are our recommendations for fall family getaways.

01 of 08

Chattanooga, TN

Chattanooga, Tennessee
Stephen DeVries

The list of family friendly attractions in this southeast Tennessee town is never-ending. Kids will love meeting penguins, otters, and thousands of colorful fish at the Tennessee Aquarium. The whole family can kayak or take a boat ride on the Tennessee River, which runs through the middle of the city. See it from above on Walnut Bridge, which connects downtown Chattanooga to the North Shore and is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world. On the North Shore, kids can play in a giant splash pad or climb aboard an antique carousel at Coolidge Park. For more family fun, check out Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, where you'll see everything from otherworldly rock formations to a mystical fairy cavern and one of the country's largest underground waterfalls.

02 of 08

Boone, NC

Boone, NC
Sean Pavone / Getty Images

The mountains are a fall-favorite vacation destination, and there's no better place to treat your family to some fresh mountain air than Boone. The western North Carolina town is a haven for Southern skiers and snowboarders once the winter chill settles, but in fall it's ideal for enjoying the great outdoors on Blue Ridge Parkway. Head to Grandfather Mountain State Park, Price Lake, and Elk Knob State Park for a variety of hikes suited for all ages. Fuel up for your adventure with giant cinnamon rolls at Sticky Boy Bread Company. Spend an entire day exploring Tweetsie Railroad, the area's premier Wild West-themed family fun park, where you can ride one of two historic narrow-gauge trains, see live shows, and enjoy a number of other kid-friendly activities.

03 of 08

The Great Smoky Mountains

Rustic Cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains
MoreISO/Getty Images

The Great Smoky Mountains and their surrounding cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville are a treasure trove of all-ages fun. Whether you want to explore the gorgeous cascading waterfalls and lush forests of Great Smoky Mountain National Park or head to an attraction like Dollywood, Anakeesta, or Ober Gatlinburg. A stroll through downtown Gatlinburg brings everything from mini golf, arcades, and earthquake simulators for the kids to moonshine tastings for grown-ups at Ole Smoky Moonshine. The whole family can agree on a walk across SkyBridge, the longest swinging bridge in North America, and a stack of flapjacks at the Pancake Pantry.

04 of 08

Tampa, FL

Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

Between zoos, museums, theme parks, beaches, and waterfront activities, even the hardest-to-please kiddos will be astounded by how much they love Tampa. If you've got several days to fill, consider purchasing the Tampa Bay CityPass that includes admission to the following attractions: Busch Gardens, the Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa, and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. You'll also have the choice between taking a dolphin or sunset boat ride or visiting the Museum of Science & Industry. When you're ready for a day of relaxation, take the whole family to nearby beaches in Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

05 of 08

Orlando, FL

Orlando Theme Park
Getty Images / Orlando Sentinel / Contributor

No list of family vacation destinations in the South would be complete without Orlando. On top of being home to "The Happiest Place On Earth," Orlando also boasts several other attractions that make it ideal for a fall getaway. When school starts back up in the fall, you'll find diminished crowds and lower rates than during high season in the summer. Outside of Disney, head to Universal Studios for character-driven magic and adrenaline rushes. Fans of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and Spider-man will especially love it. When you want to escape from the crowds, head just north of Orlando and visit Blue Springs State Park or De Leon Springs State Park for outdoor adventure by way of swimming, fishing, and picnicking near crystal-clear blue springs.

06 of 08

Virginia Beach, VA

Cape Charles Beach Neptune Statue
Robbie Caponetto

If your idea of a vacation well spent includes long days letting your kids roam free as they discover the wonders of the great outdoors, a trip to Virginia Beach might be in order. There, you'll find the best of both worlds—shady hikes through natural maritime forests and marshlands, as well as miles of pristine beaches and coastal landscapes. When you're ready to return to civilization, spend some time roaming Virginia Beach's famous three-mile boardwalk. Be on the lookout for seafood restaurants with plentiful outdoor patio space, nautical statues, an expansive fishing pier, and a giant beachside playground called JT's Grommet Island Park.

07 of 08

Blue Ridge, GA

Go Apple-Picking
Robbie Caponetto

Have a quintessential autumn weekend complete with apple picking, waterfall chasing, and leaf peeping in this North Georgia town. Nestled in the Chattahoochee Forest, a perfect day in Blue Ridge starts with a visit to Mercier Orchards. At Mercier, you can pick your own apples, then sample apple goodies ranging from fried pies and apple cider donuts to fritters and hard cider for the parents. Burn off your sugar buzz with a hike to Long Creek Falls or to Toccoa River Swinging Bridge by way of the Benton MacKaye Trail. Cap off your unforgettable trip with a ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, a vintage train experience that begins at downtown's historic depot and transports riders to the Georgia-Tennessee state line.

08 of 08

Williamsburg, VA

Colonial Williamsburg
Getty Images / L. Toshio Kishiyama

Part of Virginia's famous "Historic Triangle" which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown, your kids will love Williamsburg and you'll love that they'll have so many opportunities to learn while visiting. All trips should start at Colonial Williamsburg, a historic district and living-history museum where actors in period costumes depict daily life during Colonial times. From live demonstrations to games and arts and crafts, the attraction does a great job of getting young people involved, so they can truly feel like they're transported back in time. For modern day fun, treat the family to a day at Busch Gardens theme park, where everyone can enjoy thrilling roller coasters, virtual reality rides, and more.

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