As summer turns to autumn, there’s no denying that the U.S. is home to many destinations worth visiting to admire the changing foliage. And while leaf peeping is certainly worth adding to your fall itinerary, consider mixing up this season’s plans with some unexpected events.
Check out these unexpected autumn experiences and make this fall unforgettable.
Help with Wet Harvesting Cranberries
Long Beach Peninsula, Washington
From late September through mid October, the 27 plus Long Beach Peninsula farms continue the tradition of wet harvesting cranberries. You can watch how machines work their way through flooded fields, shaking berries off the vine.
The berries float to the top of the water to be picked up, and if you’ve got hip waders, you can help out. Tip: Visiting a farm first — CranMac is a top pick — allows you to get to know the farmers and ask about helping out.
Tip: The best way to find out which bogs are being harvested on a specific day is to call the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau at 360-642-2400.
Bonus: Still craving cranberries? Check out the Cranberry Museum, attend the Cranberrian Fair (food, crafts and art, oh my!), pick cranberries through Cranguyma Farms’ U-Pick program, and sip a cranberry cocktail with an ocean view at the local Pickled Fish restaurant.
Savor a Taste of Oktoberfest
Wildwood, New Jersey
To celebrate this beloved German festival, Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey, goes all out for three celebration-filled weekends every fall. The entire event kicks off with the tapping of a keg of Warsteiner beer.
Don’t miss the hearty German fare from Jumbo’s Restaurant, with quirky eats like pumpkin funnel cake and pretzels topped with cheesy melted crab dip. There’s also an al fresco biergarten (as well as a kid-friendly “RootbierGarten”), souvenir steins, live entertainment by the Oompah-Delics and more.
If your sweet tooth is calling, the Serpent Sweets food stand will be serving up adult milkshakes. Boozy salted caramel, anyone?
Bonus: Nearby is Cape May, home to numerous wineries and breweries for indulging in fall flavors.
Raft the “Beast from the East”
Southern West Virginia
During the annual “Gauley Season,” which takes place for 22 days in the fall, the Army Corps of Engineers releases a surge of water from the Summersville Dam into the Gauley River — creating 26 miles of class III to V+ rapids (read: not for beginners!).
The tour outfitter Adventures on the Gorge offers trips to experience the rushing waters. Visitors can choose between a ride on the Upper Gauley River, which drops more than 335 feet in less than 13 miles, and the Lower Gauley, slightly less extreme, though still daring, including 12 miles of rapids with names like“Heaven’s Gate” and “Pure Screaming Hell.”
Don’t worry if you’re not an experienced rafter. Beginners can opt for the Lower New River trip, which takes you out on one of the world’s oldest rivers to traverse Class I to IV rapids.
Bonus: Still want to enjoy the fresh air after the trip? You’re in luck, as the area is near the Gauley River National Recreation Area and Bluestone National Scenic River.
Explore the Offbeat Arts
Each autumn Reno hosts the Off Beat Music Festival, where 100-plus performances — many by local artists and bands — take place across the city. This creates a fun, DIY “festival crawl” through downtown and midtown, so you can weave art, food and shopping between music stops.
Bonus: While in town, explore the 70-plus murals of the Midtown district (just follow this map); taste the season through farm-to-fork fare at Centro Bar & Kitchen (the pork belly laced with pickled mustard seeds is amazing), or make your own donut ice-cream sandwich at Simple Ice Cream Sandwiches. Recommendation: pumpkin spice ice cream inside a maple donut. Yum!
Immerse Yourself in Bourbon Pride (and Caves!)
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Of course, Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail is a great road trip — as long as you have a designated driver — any time of year.
What makes the attraction special for fall is the annual Bowling Green Bourbon and Brewfest, featuring hundreds of Kentucky craft brews, carefully curated Kentucky bourbons like Bulleit and Baker, live entertainment and free carnival rides, all at Bowling Green Ballpark.
Bonus: Work off the calories consumed at nearby Mammoth Cave National Park, home to the world’s longest underground cave system.
Eat up at an Oyster Roast
The Virginia tradition dates back to a time when locals used the oncoming chilly weather to determine that oysters — whether deliciously salty from the Atlantic or slightly sweet from the Chesapeake Bay — were safe to eat.
Today modern refrigeration and aqua farming make it possible to eat oysters year-round, though local Virginia eateries and outdoor spaces still carry out the tradition of catching and roasting local oysters.
There are numerous roast options, from small dinners in local parks to venues hosting oyster and wine pairing dinners.
One option: Head to the Ducks Unlimited Oyster Roast at the Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo, where Virginians fill up on oysters roasted over an open fire (as well as steamed local clams and barbecue fare). The venue is interesting, too: a historic almshouse turned history museum.
If you’re craving an upscale event, Chatham Vineyards hosts a Merroir & Terroir featuring local oysters roasted or served on the half shell and paired with the vineyard’s wine. Here you’ll see exactly where the oysters come from — the creek bordering the vineyard!
Bonus: Looking for a more in-depth oyster experience? Captain Rick Kellam of Broadwater Bay Ecotours, based in Exmore, can take you out around Virginia’s barrier islands to learn about oysters — and eat them straight from the water.
Fill up on the Finger Lakes Harvest
Finger Lakes Region, New York
When thinking of New York, many picture honking taxis and a fast-paced lifestyle taking place within a concrete jungle. However, head 4.5 hours north of the city and you’ll find the idyllic Finger Lakes region. This countryside getaway is the perfect road trip for fall, as this is when the local harvest season takes place.
During fall — and often into winter — you can see the harvest firsthand and do a tasting along the wine trails (there are three to choose from). Top winery pick: Americana Vineyards along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail does tastings in a whimsical 1820s barn and offers 20 plus varieties of homemade fudge!
Bonus: Most restaurants, like the delicious Ports Cafe and Kindred Fare, take advantage of the local bounty for farm-to-fork meals, and you can also visit the world’s largest hand-blown glass pumpkin at the Corning Museum of Glass (and make your own hand-blown glass beads and ornaments).