Our Travel editors share their favorite fall places to visit
Sometimes we find fall in unexpected places. When we do, we like to tell you about our discoveries. These spots make the region proud when it comes to blazing color. You’ll also experience so much more than the brilliant foliage. One of Kentucky’s highest points shelters buildings from a long-gone settlement, along with an unparalleled view. An upscale South Carolina city harbors an amazing urban park in its midst. And Oklahoma offers up a lively festival to match the crisp air. Give these fall destinations a try; you’ll find them worthy of further exploration this harvest season.
Related: 10 Secrets of Big Cedar Lodge
1. Cumberland Gap, KY
by Les Thomas
When I travel, I like to be comfortable. I would have made a lousy pioneer. But as I stand in their footsteps in the embrace of the Cumberland Gap on this autumn morning, I realize I have something in common with them. They didn’t like crowds either. That’s why I slipped away to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia meet. I wanted to leave the bustle of the city for a getaway that isn’t overrun with tourists.
Related: Kentucky's Red River Gorge
Room To Roam
“This park is a gem off the beaten path. We get a lot of people who are trying to escape the crowds of the Smokies,” ranger Scott Teodorski says. “It’s a nice piece of wild mountains.”
It was a snap to get here. I only had to drive two hours on the interstate south of Lexington, Kentucky, and then take an easy 20-minute walk to stand in the saddle of America’s first mountain retreat. Up to 300,000 pioneers―ancestors to millions of us in the South―passed this way. I watch a lacy curtain of clouds melt away and think of what this view once meant to them. It was the promise of a new frontier. “It’s hard to imagine Kentucky being the Wild West,” says Scott, “but in those days it was.”
Mighty efforts have gone into restoring the wilderness during the past 10 years. The largest project rerouted U.S. 25E through a nearly mile-long tunnel so the Cumberland Gap could return to the rustic path it once was. More than half of the national park’s 24,000 acres is wilderness.
Discover a Lost Village
One morning, I head over to the national park to see a secret place that many travelers often miss. The gap is the centerpiece of the park, but part of its soul rests atop one of Kentucky’s highest mountains, where Scott and other rangers take visitors on guided tours. We drive to Hensley Settlement on a winding gravel road that makes the Blue Ridge Parkway seem like a superhighway. A sourwood tree, bright as a Roman candle, gleams in the light that bathes a rustic schoolhouse and the weathered cabins of the settlers who once lived here. “The thing that makes it unique is that it’s isolated even to this day,” Scott says. “The solitude is wonderful.”
Autumn whispers a benediction over these mountains. Sunlight dances on tawny meadows. On a day like this one, it’s paradise.
Going to the Gap
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park: U.S. 25E, P.O. Box 1848, Middlesboro, KY 40965; www.nps.gov/cuga or (606) 248-2817. Visitors center hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Tours to Hensley Settlement continue daily through October 31. Reservations are required. Admission: $10 adults, $5 ages 12 and under. Bring bottled water, snacks, warm clothing, and comfortable shoes. The tour lasts about four hours.
- October 3-5―Cumberland Mountain Fall Festival: Middlesboro Arts and crafts festival with live entertainment, kids’ stage, petting zoo, and lots of food; www.thefallfestival.com.
- October 11 and October 18―Elk Viewing Tour: Pineville Guided elk tours at Pine Mountain State Resort Park; www.pinemountainpark.com or (606) 337-3066.
- Interpretive Center at Pine Mountain State Resort Park: Learn about the area of Pine Mountain, the wildlife, and the plants that turn golden in fall. An interactive kiosk and exhibits help tell the story of the park; www.parks.ky.gov/findparks or (606) 337-3066.
- Gap Cave Tours: Explore a cave, along with park rangers, on this 1.5 mile tour located at the Cumberland Gap. Two hours of stalagmites, cascades, and maybe a bat or two await. No children under 5. Tickets: $8 adult, $4 ages 5-12; www.nps.gov/cuga/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm or (606) 248-2817.
- Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum: Just a few minutes away in Harrogate, Tennessee, sits a repository filled with amazing Abraham Lincoln memorabilia. Included in the artifacts are the cane Lincoln carried to Ford’s Theatre and a tea set belonging to Lincoln and wife Mary Todd; 6965 Cumberland Gap Parkway, Harrogate, TN; www.lmunet.edu/museum/ or (423) 869-6235.
- Holiday Inn Express: 1252 North 12th Street, Middlesboro, KY 40965; (606) 248-6860. Rates start at $79.95.
- Pine Mountain State Resort Park: U.S. 25E, 2 miles south of Pineville; (606) 337-3066. Rates start at $104.95.
- Avenue Café & Antiques: 1915 West Cumberland Avenue, Middlesboro, KY; (606) 248-3958. Known for its daily specials and home cooking, this bistro also has great knickknacks and antiques for sale. Try the homemade chicken salad and soup.
- The Flocoe: 122 West Kentucky Avenue, Pineville, KY; (606) 337-2034. Another local favorite, this spot offers down-home cooking at its finest. Don’t miss the chicken and dumplings.
- Webb’s Country Kitchen: 527 Colwyn Avenue, Cumberland Gap, TN 37724; (423) 869-5877. This is biscuits-and-gravy land. Open for three meals a day; check out the Pinto Special at lunch, which comes with beans, greens, fried potatoes, cornbread, and onions.
- Nothins Perfect Craft Store: 521 Colwyn Avenue, Cumberland Gap, TN 37724; www.nothinsperfect.com or (423) 869-4410. Pick up some primitive dolls, candles, or potpourri.
- The Cumberland Gap General Store: 503 Colwyn Avenue, Cumberland Gap, TN; www.cumberlandgap.com or (423) 869-2282. More than 6,000 items fill this fun spot, including chimes, gnomes, teddy bears, and kitchen items.
2. Greenville, South Carolina
by Wanda McKinney
I hear the sounds of tumbling water, the click of a swing swaying in a light breeze. Bright foliage filters the October sunshine, and I feel as if I have been plopped into a country setting. However, I’m smack dab in the middle of cosmopolitan Greenville, South Carolina. Here, I discover big leafy scenes of the season.
Urban Park Deluxe
The centerpiece of Greenville’s lovely downtown is stunning Falls Park. Down Main Street, I find a perfect setting of greenspace, gardens, the Reedy River, and a gorgeous waterfall. The Liberty Bridge spans it all, with its curved, 355-foot-long pedestrian walkway. I can’t think of a finer view than from that bridge, which overlooks nature trails, landscaped flowerbeds, and people enjoying the season. Fall remains the first attraction here in October, but there is certainly more to see.
This month includes Fall for Greenville, a hugely popular food festival that features more than 40 of the city’s best restaurants. Music, ice-carving demonstrations, and a chili cook-off add to the festive atmosphere.
A few miles away, Furman University, just outside Greenville, boasts one of the most beautiful campuses imaginable. Walking trails and radiant foliage provide a perfect backdrop for the Bell Tower, reflected in a 30-acre lake. Home to events throughout the year, this scene is a postcard-perfect salute to autumn. Note: While visiting Furman, don’t miss The Cliffs Cottage, the Southern Living Showcase Home. Dedicated to Green living, this house features eco-friendly building materials. For more information see page 86, or visit www.furmancliffscottage.com.
Speaking of picture-perfect, I love the Greenville County Museum of Art, with its Southern collection and Jasper Johns paintings. One last beautiful spot is the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University. I am awestruck by the 450 Old Master paintings that reside here. A 500-year-old tapestry from Brussels completes my journey into a city filled with color, personality, and beauty.
- October 10-12―St. Francis Fall for Greenville: Features more than 40 of the city’s finest restaurants, four stages with live music, a chili cook-off, and ice-carving competition, a waiter’s race, cooking demonstrations, and more. www.mainstevents.com or (864) 235-5525.
- October 25―Spinx Run Fest: Promotes healthy lifestyles with speakers, training programs, runs and walks, and seminars; www.spinxrunfest.com or (864) 284-1238.
- First Fridays: On the first Friday of each month from 6-9 p.m.; around 25 art galleries open doors, showcasing watercolors, acrylics, pottery, photography, and jewelry. Contact Metropolitan Arts Council at (864) 467-3132, or visit www.firstfridaysonline.com.
- The Saturday Market: Saturday mornings from 8 a.m.-noon through November 1, you’ll find fresh produce, breakfast, and live entertainment; www.saturdaymarketlive.com or (864) 467-4494.
- Falls Park on the Reedy River: 601 South Main Street; www.fallspark.com or (864) 467-4350.
- Greenville Zoo: 150 Cleveland Park Drive; www.greenvillezoo.com or (864) 467-4300. Open daily 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission: $6 adults, $3 children ages 3-15.
- Downtown Parks: Peace Center Amphitheater, Cleveland Park, and McPherson Park (the city’s oldest and home of the Senior Citizens of Greenville's country store). For all parks and gardens: www.greatergreenville.com/city_services/parks.asp (864) 467-4355.
- The Peace Center for the Performing Arts: 300 South Main Street; www.peacecenter.org or (864) 467-3000. Broadway, pop, comedy, and classical music all sing out at this fabulous venue.
- The BI-LO Center: 650 North Academy Street. State-of-the art entertainment facility. www.bilocenter.com or (864) 241-3800.
- Fluor Field at the West End: Features the Greenville Drive, Minor League, Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox; www.greenvilledrive.com or (864) 240-4500.
- Furman University: 3300 Poinsett Highway; www.furman.edu or (864) 294-2185.
- Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University: 1700 Wade Hampton Blvd.; www.bjumg.org or (864) 770-1331.
- Greenville County Museum of Art:420 College Street; http://antiques.greenvillemuseum.org or (864) 271-7570.
- Westin Poinsett: 120 South Main Street; www.westin.com/poinsett or (864) 421-9700. Rates start at $169.
- The Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Riverplace: 171 Riverplace; www.hamptoninnandsuitesgreenville.com or (864) 271-8700. Rates start at $159.
- Hyatt Regency Greenville: 220 North Main Street; www.hyatt.com or (864) 235-1234. Rates start at $149.
- Restaurant O: 116 South Main Street; www.restauranto.com or (864) 331-0007. George Clooney’s favorite meal here (while he was filming Leatherheads in Greenville) included shrimp cocktail, a wedge of iceberg lettuce with Italian dressing, ahi tuna, and apple cobbler with ice cream.
- High Cotton: 550 South Main Street; www.high-cotton.net or (864) 335-4200. Open for dinner nightly and known for their buttermilk fried oysters with Green Goddess dressing.
- Soby’s New South Cuisine: 207 South Main Street; www.sobys.com or (864) 232-7007. This restaurant is housed in a 100-year-old building and serves New Orleans BBQ Shrimp, grits, and fried green tomatoes.
- Larkin’s on the River: 318 South Main Street (at the Peace Center); www.larkinsontheriver.com or (864) 467-9777. Open for lunch and dinner, look for the she-crab soup and shrimp and grits in this fine-dining favorite.
- Mast General Store: 111 North Main Street; www.mastgeneralstore.com or (864) 235-1883. Housewares, candies by the barrel, footwear, travel gear, and clothing await in this regional favorite.
- Llyn Strong Fine Jewelry: 119 North Main Street; www.llynstrong.com or (864) 233-5900. Local artisans, as well as national designers, show off fine jewelry and art glass.
- The Beaded Frog: 241C North Main Street; www.beadedfrog.com or (864) 235-2323. Fine selection of semiprecious stones, sterling silver, and glass beads.
- Go Fish: 612 South Main Street; www.gofishgreenville.com or (864) 250-0200. Situated right across from Falls Park, this shop sells handmade goods from all over the world.
Just 37 miles from Greenville, another natural beauty awaits. Caesars Head State Park―a granite outcropping on top of the Blue Ridge Escarpment―gives a gaspingly gorgeous view of the fall foliage below. Hiking trails, both easy and challenging, wind through the park. Pack a picnic, and breathe in the scenery. 8155 Geer Highway, Cleveland, SC 29635; www.southcarolinaparks.com or (864) 836-6115. Trail admission: $2 adults. Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Greenville Convention & Visitors Bureau: 631 South Main Street, Suite 301, Greenville, SC 29601; www.greenvillecvb.com or 1-800-717-0023.
3. Broken Bow, OK
by Karen Lingo
Deep into the corner of Oklahoma, I discover autumn rising over the Ouachita Mountains. Here, Beavers Bend State Resort tucks into the land just off U.S. 259 near the town of Broken Bow.
The terrain in Beavers Bend State Park, one of two parks that make up the state resort, reminds me of areas of the distant Appalachians. Turning into it, I suddenly leave rolling hills behind. Pine trees give way to hardwoods. Dense forests frame the road and fringe the banks of pretty mountain streams. As I drive, the elevation climbs. Cool air turns crisp, and trails of smoke drift from cabins built amid the red oaks and maples.
I find that early risers catch the best scenes here. Especially along the streams, where fly fishermen cast for rainbow and brown trout. At daybreak, the anglers appear as apparitions, floating atop the mist that swirls across the water.
Sunrise over Broken Bow Lake, edged by Hochatown State Park, paints the most impressive picture. To see it, I stay at Lakeview Lodge, get up early, and settle into a front row seat on my balcony. As daylight peers over the distant peaks, it reveals small islands in the mist-shrouded lake.
Take a Hike
The temptation runs strong to just sit and marvel at nature’s beauty, but I don’t give in. Big Oak Nature Trail in Beavers Bend State Park covers an easy quarter of a mile. Slightly more challenging, Beaver Lodge Nature Trail winds for a mile through the park’s hickory, sweet gum, oak, and red maples. It parallels a stream and crosses a log bridge, a perfect spot to watch fly fishermen in their quest for rainbows and browns.
Looking at leaves or hiking the hills, I can always catch my favorite colors in this small slice of the Ouachitas.
Two Parks, One Resort
Beavers Bend State Resort includes Beavers Bend State Park and Hochatown State Park, with Lakeview Lodge and Cedar Creek Golf Course. For more information visit www.beaversbend.com.
Lakeview Lodge features 36 rooms and 4 suites and offer views of Broken Bow Lake; rates start at $80. 1-800-435-5514 or (580) 494-6179. Beavers Bend State Park: Two types of cabins are available. Parkview cabins: Rates start at $63. Riverview cabins: Rates start at $90. (580) 494-6300.
- November 7-9―Folk Festival and Craft Show: Watch turn-of-the-century crafts demonstrations in Beavers Bend State Park.
- Look for eagles November through February.
- Fish the streams and Mountain Fork River year-round for bass and trout.
- Canoe or kayak Mountain Fork River. Find rentals at Beavers Bend River Floats; (580) 494-6070.
- Cruise Broken Bow Lake by boat. Rentals available from Beavers Bend Marina; (580) 494-6455.
- Tee off at Cedar Creek Golf Course in Hochatown State Park; (580) 494-6456.
- Steven’s Gap Restaurant: Ten miles north of Broken Bow on U.S. 259; (580) 494-6350. This restaurant is our pick for a good breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s known for fried catfish, but the menu offers something for every taste. Save room for the delicious homemade pies.
- Abendigo’s Grill & Patio: On U.S. 259, north of Broken Bow, near the entrance to Steven's Gap Lake Road; (580) 494-7222. This spot tops our list of dinner choices (open for lunch also). It serves chicken tenders to youngsters with the same care it devotes to their parents’ wild Alaskan king salmon. Locals go for the generous serving of chicken-fried steak that covers the plate.
- Beavers Bend Restaurant: Located near the nature center in Beavers Bend State Park; (580) 494-6551. This favorite offers a convenient dining option for park guests and visitors. Breakfast choices include blueberry pancakes. For lunch or dinner choose from burgers, fried catfish, and hand-battered chicken-fried steak.
- Lakeview Lodge: All 36 rooms and 4 suites offer views of Broken Bow Lake, with value rates $80-$100 Sunday-Thursday, August 16-November 30; 1-800-435-5514 or (580) 494-6179.
- Beavers Bend State Park: Park-view cabins range $73-$113, and river-view cabins range $108-$135 during value season (Sunday-Thursday, August 16-November 30); (580) 494-6300. Find information about additional lodging, including motels and cabins, through the Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce; www.brokenbowchamber.com or (580) 584-3393.
Fish the Streams
Cold waters flowing from the base of Mountain Fork River make this a year-round destination for fly fishermen. Find everything you needs, including an experienced guide, at Three Rivers Fly Shop on U.S. 259 North. Owner Jesse King leads guided trips and conducts fly fishing schools; www.threeriversflyshop.com or (580) 494-6115. Another local guide, Ethan Wright, also knows all the hot fishing spots; (580) 236-0600.
For more fall color, take U.S. 259 North approximately 55 miles to the Talimena Scenic Drive (State 1 in Oklahoma, State 88 in Arkansas). This scenic byway rides the crest of the Ouachitas from Talihina, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas. Have lunch at Queen Wilhelmina Inn in Queen Wilhelmina State Park, six miles east of the
Arkansas/Oklahoma state line; www.queenwilhelmina.com or 1-800-264-2477.