That cool, brisk, humid-free fall air is finally upon us. The days are getting shorter, and the green is fading from the leaves. People are talking about pumpkin spice everything and Halloween is just around the corner. I don’t know about you, but this time of year I’m ready for a little trip somewhere.
October is one of the best months of the year to travel. Rates at hotels and rental properties are cheaper in many tourist destinations, the crowds are thinner and the traffic better, and the weather is more agreeable. Not every October itinerary needs to be full of scenic overlooks and beautiful fall colors; this is a great time of year to visit museums, find some great local food, and do some early Christmas shopping. But where do you travel for the best adventure during the month?
The Southeastern United States has plenty to offer all kinds of tourists. Solo travelers, couples, and families can find things to do, places to shop, and restaurants to eat. Here are ten places that cover the spectrum from the beaches to the mountains, history to entertainment, boutique hotels and comfy bed and breakfasts, and just about everything in between. Where will you travel this October?
Chincoteague Island, Virginia
Nestled along Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Chincoteague Island is a beach town that sweeps you away from the hustle and bustle of larger urban areas and transports you to a quiet, friendly escape. Most commonly known for the annual Pony Swim and Penning (late July each year), visitors can see the wild ponies year-round with a visit to the Assateague Island National Seashore. While visiting the seashore be sure to climb the Assateague Lighthouse for unparalleled views of the local coastal landscape, then head out to the beach to get your toes in the sand. The island town is also equally known for their Virginia oysters, and plenty of restaurants in town feature them on the menu. But instead of a typical sit-down restaurant, try one of the many food trucks on the island such as Pico Taqueria or Woody’s Beach BBQ. Take a stroll along Main Street to explore the local art galleries and shops such as Sundial Books and Duck, Duck, Goose. If you really want to see the beautiful landscapes around the island, head over to Fun on Wheels and rent a scooter, bicycle, or golf cart that can hold up to 6.
If you’re looking for a small country town in the mountains with access to breathtaking views and fun filled nights, Abingdon is your place. With less than 10,000 residents you will almost feel like you have the town to yourself during the week in October, but on the weekends people flock to Main Street. The Virginia Creeper Trail, an old railroad converted into a pedestrian path, begins at an old locomotive near the middle of town. For the best adventure on the Creeper Trail, head to Damascus and rent a bicycle from one of the many locally owned businesses such as the Shuttle Shack. They will drive you and bicycle to the other end of the trail where you can enjoy a leisure three-hour ride down the 18-mile section. When you return to town be sure to catch a show at the Barter Theatre, then take a stroll up the cozy brick sidewalks to The Tavern for an authentic German meal from an authentic German. Head the other direction for a delicious BBQ meal at Bonefire Smokehouse, then continue on down the street to Anthony’s Desserts. You can easily find a comfortable room at a local hotel, or splurge a little for a luxurious room at the Martha Washington Inn & Spa or book a room at A Tailor’s Lodging or Creeper’s End Lodging. If you want to see some beautiful fall colors take a little road trip along Highway 58 through Damascus to Grayson Highlands State Park, hike the Massie Gap Trail, or meander around the historic buildings at the Homestead.
Known as one of the best access points to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roanoke is a bustling city with a small town, friendly vibe. Grab a room at the historic Hotel Roanoke to be at the center of attractions downtown, including great food at places like Lucky Restaurant and Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint. Take an afternoon to visit the Taubman Museum of Art and then stroll through downtown to the Virginia Museum of Transportation to learn about the local rail history. Take a drive up Mill Mountain to visit the infamous Roanoke Star and view the Roanoke Valley from an observation deck directly in front of the star. Also on the mountain you’ll find the Mill Mountain Zoo with a collection of interesting, cute, furry animals like red pandas and giant cats. For great views of the fall colors, get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and head north about 30 miles to the Peaks of Otter for hiking trails, scenic vistas, and a nice restaurant at the lodge.
Emerald Isle, North Carolina
Many people flock to the Outer Banks during October, but if you want a family-friendly place to spend a long weekend on a barrier island try Emerald Isle instead. The two-lane road through the middle of town is surrounded by a wide right of way, bicycle trails, and beautiful coastal landscaping. Book a condo or rental room through Emerald Isle Realty or Bluewater Real Estate to have a home away from home during your trip. You can enjoy some fishing on the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier or do some shopping at Emerald Plantation. You’ll find some great food at local places like Jordan’s House of Seafood and Flipperz Family Bar & Grill. Take a drive up the island to visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, or continue to the northern end of the island at Fort Macon State Park to tour the inside of an old Civil War fort. Take at least one evening to visit the nearby Beaufort waterfront for great local shops and eateries along a beautiful marina and boardwalk. While in Beaufort you can book a ticket with Island Express Ferry Service and visit the nearby Cape Lookout National Seashore which includes a lighthouse and wild ponies roaming on a nearby island.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Asheville is always a bustling place, and October is certainly no different. If you want to really explore one of the best sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway, head over to Blowing Rock. This small town has plenty of places to stay such as the Chetola Resort, an upscale mountain resort, and plenty of smaller cabins with amazing views. It won’t take long to stroll from one end of Main Street to the other, but you could spend all day hopping into the local shops such like Christopher’s Wine and Cheese. You’ll also spend quite a bit of time enjoying fantastic food and brews at the Blowing Rock Brewing Company and Six Pence Pub. If you want to learn about the town’s namesake and legendary story, head over to the locally owned The Blowing Rock attraction for a short walk to a couple of beautiful scenic overlooks. When you’re ready to get on the Blue Ridge Parkway head south to find places like Julian Price Park, the Linn Cove Viaduct, Grandfather Mountain, and Linville Falls. If you’re up for a day trip keep heading south on the Parkway to visit Mt. Mitchell State Park, the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and just a little further to Craggy Gardens for amazing views from Craggy Pinnacle or Craggy Knob.
Cherokee, North Carolina
Another destination substitution is to skip past Gatlinburg and instead head to Cherokee, North Carolina. Located on the eastern side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cherokee is an often-overlooked mountain destination with plenty to offer October visitors. Just a thirty-minute drive into the national park will take you to Newfound Gap Scenic Overlook, the Morton Overlook for the best sunsets, and Clingman’s Dome (the tallest point in the park). You can also head out for a thirty-minute drive on the Parkway to reach Waterrock Knob for one of the best sunrise and sunset views in the state, then continue a little further north to Richland Balsam, the tallest point on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. Take a thirty-minute drive south along scenic Highway 19 to Bryson City for a chance to take a scenic train ride with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Back in Cherokee pay a visit to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian for a fascinating walk through history, then head across the street to Qualla Arts and Crafts for some authentic Native American crafts made by locals living on the reservation.
Additional Reading: 6 Things I Learned at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, NC
Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort and the Sea Islands of South Carolina offer one of the greatest opportunities in the Southeast to see amazing coastal wildlife, landscapes, learn about local history, and enjoy some fantastic Southern food. Grab a room at beautiful Beaufort Inn, which features several different buildings on the block-sized property, then take a stroll down to Bay Street for shopping and food. Enjoy a wood-fired pizza from Old Bull Tavern, or continue down the street to more great eateries like Plums Restaurant and Q on Bay. Enjoy a guided tour beneath massive oak trees covered with Spanish moss with Southern Rose Buggy Tours, or schedule a tour with Janet’s Walking History Tour. Nearby Hunting Island State Park, about a half hour drive from Beaufort, is the most-visited state park in South Carolina. Climb the Hunting Island Lighthouse, the only lighthouse open to the public for climbing in the state, then take a stroll along the deadwood trees on the beach. You get the best sunset views year-round on the Marsh Boardwalk while surrounded by great egrets and calm marshes.
Upstate South Carolina
The Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway is a 118-mile route from Gaffney to I-85 just west of Greenville, skirting the southeastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains. Along this stretch of highway in Upstate South Carolina you’ll find six unique state parks: Jones Gap State Park, Caesar’s Head State Park, Table Rock State Park, Keowee Toxaway State Park, Devil’s Fork State Park, and Oconee State Park. Each park has a unique attraction such as hiking trails, lakes, campgrounds, and amenities that make for great places to pitch a tent or park an RV for a weekend. Along the scenic byway you’ll find beautiful views of the mountains, lots of waterfalls such as the Upper Whitewater Falls in Cashiers, North Carolina, and historic places like Poinsett Bridge in Landrum. Sassafras Mountain, the tallest mountain in South Carolina, is about a thirty minute drive off the Foothills Parkway near Cleveland (and well worth the curvy, twisty road). About half an hour to the south is Greenville, a bustling small city with plenty of places to shop and eat around Falls Park on the Reedy, a beautiful cascading waterfall right in the center of the city.
Chattanooga has more attractions, activities, and local shops to offer than some cities ten times bigger. Located along the Tennessee River at the Georgia border, this city was a site of the famous Civil War Battle Above the Clouds on Lookout Mountain. Today Lookout Mountain is host to the Big Three tourism attractions: Ruby Falls, The Incline Railway, and Rock City. If you want to do all three be sure to buy a combo package at any one of the attractions for a discount (and I strongly recommend you do all three because it’s just too hard to pick only one or two). Also on Lookout Mountain is Point Park, part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. After entering through a stone castle entrance into the park, take one of the flat concrete paths around the edge of the park for views of the city far below, but be sure to visit Ochs Observatory for the best view of the Tennessee River and Chattanooga. Head downtown and find a place to park the car for the day to enjoy everything Chattanooga has to offer visitors. Spend a few hours between the two buildings comprising the Tennessee Aquarium. After leaving the aquarium (if you can tear yourself away) take a walk up E. Aquarium Way to Walnut Street, turn left, and stroll across the pedestrian-only Walnut Street Bridge. When you come back challenge your fear of heights by walking across the glass bridge to the Hunter Museum of American Art, then explore some of the great places to eat at the little village nearby. You’ll find great southern food at restaurants like Maple Street Biscuit Company and Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken, but if you want something more unique try Cheeburger Cheeburger downtown or head over to the North Shore to Aretha Frankenstein’s. Before you leave the city behind be sure to check out the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum for a chance to hop on an old train car for a trip through the scenic area.
The nation’s capital is always a fun place to visit, and October is one of the best months to beat the heat and humidity while exploring the National Mall, Smithsonian Museums, and all the monuments and memorials. You’ll find plenty of great hotels in the city, but you can beat the prices by going over to Arlington or Alexandria and taking the Metro system. If you prefer to drive, try parking at Union Station which serves as a hub for just about every mode of transportation in the city: hop on the DC Circulator to visit everything around the National Mall, take the Metro to different neighborhoods of the city, or take a DC Duck Tour that ends with a splash in the Potomac River. Spend a day exploring the Mall from the US Capitol Building and the Botanic Gardens, past seven different Smithsonian Museums, on to the Washington Monument, finally ending at the National World War II Memorial and Lincoln Memorial. For an interesting day trip hike around The Tidal Basin to see more monuments and memorials, ending with a paddleboat excursion on the water. October is also the best time of year to explore the Smithsonian National Zoo as most of the animals are more active in the cooler weather and you don’t melt while walking the wide asphalt paths. Take a little trip outside the city to either Great Falls National Park in Virginia or the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Park in Maryland to see the cascades along the Potomac River.