© Matt VillanoBy: Matt Villano
As days get shorter and temperatures drop, the reality of the season settles in: Summer is outta here and fall has fallen, right in our collective laps.
For family travelers, cooler temps and changing leaves provide a great opportunity to get out and explore nature in new ways. Here are four fun ideas for your next fall family getaway (or daytrip).
Pick some fruits
Whether your family comprises farmers, city slickers or anything in between, autumn is harvest time, which means it's the perfect season to pick some fruits and veggies. U-Pick pumpkin patches are, without question, the most popular destinations that enable this activity, but U-Pick apple orchards are pretty fun, too. Most places charge by the pound; some have peripheral diversions such as corn mazes, petting zoos, hay rides and more. Depending on where you go, a handful of communities also offer fall festivals. Just be sure to dress the kids warmly and bring hand sanitizer in the event that farm animals are present.
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Love the leaves
Having grown up in the Northeast part of the U.S., I always looked forward to watching leaves change color during this time of year. While the act of leaf-peeping is a bit passive for young kids (imagine: "Mom, it's just another red tree!"), jumping into piles of fallen leaves is a perfect activity for just about anyone under the age of 12. State and county parks are great places to engage in this activity, especially since so many local park systems are struggling to stay afloat. To guarantee the best piles, buy a small rake and nominate a grown-up (or a teen-ager) to be the Designated Raker between jumps.
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In most parts of the country, autumn brings rain. Rain, in turn, makes for some pretty awesome waterfalls (again, of course, depending on region). I admit: these spectacles are best to witness in spring, since that's when they're really raging. Still, considering that most falls are dormant in summer, it's always fun to see 'em once they start anew again. Park rangers say the best time to see waterfalls is 12-16 hours after a storm. To find cascades in your area, check with local departments of parks and recreation. Also, when you go, be sure to bring raingear, just in case the younger members of your party get splashed.
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Go for a hike
The best way to appreciate fall is to just get out and do it-find a trail, schlep the kids and start hiking. Autumn is one of my favorite times to hike because a) crowds are smaller than they are in summer and b) cooler temperatures mean you don't get tired as quickly. Another reason to go: National Public Lands Day is Sept. 29, and national parks offer free entry to celebrate (many also offer opportunities to volunteer). My advice? Plan to stay out for a full day, and bring snacks to reward your kids for good behavior along the way. (Also, if you're interested, here's a video I shot in 2011 about camping with kids.)
For more Family Travel Ideas, visit the "Are we there yet?" blog!