Special Report

40 Charming Small Towns to Visit This Fall

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According to the 2000 Census, just over half of America’s population lives in small towns or rural areas with fewer than 25,000 people. People seek out small towns for their charm, history, and tranquility. Though they may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect place to live, they can make for ideal vacation destinations. With outdoor activities, unique shops and restaurants, plenty of attractions and more, most of these charming towns offer something year-round. 

24/7 Tempo compiled a list of small towns across the United States, notable for their charm and unique local attractions. With the changing leaves, cooler temperatures, and special seasonal events, autumn is the perfect time to visit some of these small American towns. 

And if you’re looking for more travel options, these are some of the best weekend trips to take in new england this fall, and these are some of the best weekend trips to take on the west coast

Click here to see 40 charming small towns to visit this fall.

1. Jasper, Arkansas

Located where the country’s first National River, the Buffalo, begins to flow, Jasper is described as a charming town surrounded by scenic nature. Once popular for its theme park Dogpatch, USA, which closed in the 1990s, it now draws visitors for activities ranging from watching the elk in the Buffalo National River Valley to motorcycle tourism. Check out the views along Scenic Byway 7 in Arkansas, the state’s first state-designated scenic byway or the Ozark Moonshine Run, which is a “motorcycle highway.” You can also tour the Mystic and Crystal Dome Cavern. In town, experience some unique shopping at Emma’s Museum of Junk, which promises an “ever changing inventory of forgotten treasures.”

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2. Calistoga, California

Beyond wine, visitors have been coming to Calistoga for over 100 years for its spa experiences, including hot springs and mud baths. Those looking for a wine-tasting experience, however, can’t miss Castello di Amorosa, an authentically styled Tuscan castle and winery. The area promises a full itinerary, whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, girls’ weekend, or family-friendly vacation. There are also options for dining and shopping, including the West End Antiques District. Visitors can enjoy nature by walking through the redwoods at the Petrified Forest or take a dog-friendly rafting adventure on the Russian River.

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3. Mount Shasta City, California

A challenge for climbers, Mount Shasta rises to 14,179 feet. This towering mountain, which is actually a volcano, and the surrounding alpine lakes, add up to an area ideal for outdoor lovers, no matter your age or experience level. Visitors travelling to Mount Shasta City can stay at a luxury resort or get back to nature by camping in the wilderness. There are hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, or you can try fishing, horseback riding, golfing, and more.

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4. Telluride, Colorado

In contrast to the towering Rocky Mountains that surround it, Telluride is small — only eight blocks wide and 12 blocks long. The town was named a National Historic Landmark District in 1961, and is known for its colorful Victorian homes and other historic buildings that sit among modern shopping and dining options. Known for its skiing and winter sports, Telluride is a great place to visit in the fall — its “Gold Season” — when leaves color the area. Check out the scenery on a gondola ride, the first and only free public transportation system of its kind in the country, to see mountain views, waterfalls and the town. Seasonal outdoor activities include fly fishing, hiking, mountain-biking, golfing, and horseback riding.

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5. Washington, Connecticut

Described as a “leaf-peeper’s dream,” the area offers fall foliage that can be explored on one of its many scenic roads, hiking trails, or state parks. Visitors can also celebrate the harvest at a local farm or try their hand at apple picking. The town of Washington is composed of five charming towns to explore, with shopping, restaurants, museums, and historic houses. Fans of the show “Gilmore Girls” can have their own unique experience exploring Washington, the model for the TV show’s fictional hometown of Stars Hollow. There is even a guide to the spots that inspired places from the show.

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6. Lewes, Delaware

Located where the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean meet at Cape Henlopen, Lewes promises sun, sand, and the sea. But beyond beach season visitors will still enjoy this quaint town and surrounding nature. At just a half-square mile, the town is easy to explore, with its historic homes, restaurants, and shops. Visitors can also check out the area with a water taxi ride or spend time at Cape Henlopen State Park.

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7. Clayton, Georgia

Sitting amid the North Georgia Mountains, Clayton offers unique activities along with shopping, and delicious Southern food. Among the top attractions are Warwoman Dell, a wooded hiking area with two waterfalls; Black Rock Mountain State Park, the highest state park in Georgia; the Kudzu Factory, with dinosaurs, a witch, and other sculptures made from kudzu (perennial vines) and rebar; and Georgia Mountain Market, an indoor flea market spanning 45,000 square feet. There are also more scenic falls and parks to explore in the surrounding area, as well as vineyards and even the Goats On The Roof theme park, where you can feed goats, mine for gems, or enjoy boiled peanuts, homemade fudge, and nitro ice cream.

8. Nashville, Indiana

This may not be the Nashville you are thinking of, but this Indiana town offers charm and great shopping. Established as an artists colony over 100 years ago, Nashville features country-cottage-style architecture, evident in its many shops. You’ll still find artists’ studios, along with jewelry, clothing, antiques, and more. Foodies can shop for homemade fudge, pies, ice cream, popcorn, nuts, and other local treats. Beyond the town, there is natural beauty to check out, especially at Brown County State Park, where visitors can mountain bike, camp, hike, fish, and horseback ride. The area is also known as a wedding destination, with several picturesque wedding chapels and outdoor gazebos.

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9. Middlesboro, Kentucky

Spelled both Middlesboro and Middlesborough, this town is located on the Kentucky side of the Cumberland Gap, inside the remains of an ancient meteorite crater. The area offers many outdoor activities from hiking, kayaking, and horseback riding to fishing, golfing, and ATVing.

Visitors are encouraged to also check out Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, known as the “first great gateway to the West.”

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10. Camden, Maine

This coastal Maine town and its surrounding hills, “where the mountains meet the sea,” promise shopping, art galleries, bed and breakfasts, and great New England food. Outdoor lovers will find hiking, mountain biking, and sailing, and can visit Camden Hills State Park, comprised of 5,700 acres of wooded hills and an 800-foot summit with views of Penobscot Bay. They can also check out the area with a scenic tour, offered by air, rail, or boat. Another area highlight are the many nearby lighthouses. Maine has an impressive 68 of them in all — 18 within a 40-mile radius of Camden.

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11. Oakland, Maryland

Known as the “great small town,” Oakland is located amid the mountains of southern Garrett County. The town offers visitors shopping, restaurants, and historical sites, including a 19th-century railroad station. It’s also home to a recently created arts and entertainment district, hosting many arts-related events. In the fall, the area holds its annual Autumn Glory Festival, celebrating the local foliage with parades, concerts, exhibits, antique and craft shows, and more. Visitors can additionally venture just nine miles north to Swallow Falls State Park to experience the area’s natural beauty and the largest waterfall in the state.

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12. Petersham, Massachusetts

Founded in 1754, Petersham is located among the forests of central Massachusetts. The town is home to history and natural beauty, including its Town Common and thousands of acres of conservation land. Outdoor lovers have plenty of opportunities to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, fish, bird watch, and more. Visitors can also check out the Fisher Museum, with dioramas that illustrate the history of woodlands that have been used by Harvard University for its forestry program for over 100 years. Nearby, visitors can explore the remnants of what used to be the town of Dana, or the ruins of an old prison complex in Rutland State Park.

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13. Munising, Michigan

Munising, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, along the shores of Lake Superior, offers national parks, 15 waterfalls, five lighthouses, and more outdoor attractions. Highlights include the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, with its sandstone cliffs along the lake. There is also the Grand Island National Recreational Area, which visitors can tour by foot, bike, or bus. The Hiawatha National Forest offers 800,000 acres of woodland, and is home to 280 lakes and over 77 miles of Great Lakes shoreline.

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14. Lilydale, Minnesota

Promising the “feel of country and city,” Lilydale features parks and trails, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, as well as a lively business community with shops and restaurants for a more urban experience. The 636-acre Lilydale Regional Park — like the town — gets its name from its abundance of lily pads. The Big Rivers Regional Trail connects this park with Ft. Snelling Regional State Park, home to the Historic Fort Snelling, built in 1825. The park is known for its bird- and other wildlife-watching.

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15. Parkville, Missouri

This historic town, settled in 1838, is located on the banks of the Missouri River, not far from Kansas City. Downtown Parkville features a mix of architecture dating from the mid-1800s to today. Visitors can enjoy shopping and dining, along with browsing for antiques and checking out contemporary art galleries. The area also features two nature sanctuaries — Sullivan Nature Sanctuary and Parkville Nature Sanctuary — that include 115 acres and about three miles of hiking trails.

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16. West Glacier, Montana

Known as the western gateway to Glacier National Park, West Glacier offers budget-friendly accommodations, small town charm, and easy access to nature. It’s also home to some of the best shops and restaurants near the park, including Glacier Village Sweet Treats and West Glacier Mercantile — good places to stock up on camping supplies. West Glacier is known as “guide central,” with local guides offering hiking, fly-fishing trips, whitewater and scenic rafting, trail rides, and camping. Along with the national park, West Glacier is near Going-to-the-Sun Road, spanning 50 miles and featuring scenic glaciers, valleys, waterfalls, and mountains.

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17. Darby, Montana

Described as an “Old West charmer,” Darby is situated among the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana. After checking out the antique shops and the old-fashioned candy store in town, visitors will find plenty of outdoor activities at local parks and forests to keep them busy. Painted Rocks State Park — named after the green, yellow, and orange lichens that cover the granite and rhyolite rock cliffs — offers boating, camping, and fishing. Bitterroot National Forest features 1.6 million acres of trees. Half of the forest is dedicated to the largest area of “continuous pristine wilderness in the lower 48 states.” Visitors can also explore the scenery with the 101-mile Magruder Corridor Road, winding through undeveloped nature.

18. Jefferson, New Hampshire

Located in rural northern New Hampshire, amid the White Mountains, Jefferson offers many ways to enjoy the local scenery, along with two amusement parks. Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, called one of the “crown jewels” of New Hampshire, features hiking among its ponds, wetlands, and forests. Visitors can also explore the Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves, along with climbing attractions and an animal park at Polar Caves. Explore the Summit of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, on the world’s first mountain-climbing cog train or experience the mountains with a snowless dog sled tour. Children will enjoy one of the area’s amusement parks — Storyland, known as the state’s best amusement park for kids, or Santa’s Village, offering “the Christmas spirit all year round.”

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19. North Conway, New Hampshire

North Conway promises plenty to do, no matter the time of year. Located among 700,000 acres of protected White Mountain National Forest and near the Northeast’s tallest peak, Mount Washington, the area has activities from hiking to shopping and dining. Explore the local scenery starting with Echo Lake State Park, which includes a trail around the lake, leading to Cathedral Ledge State Park, or try an easy hike to the cascading falls of Diana’s Baths. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can check out the scenery on the Kancamagus Scenic Highway or take a ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad. The area is also a shopping destination from antiques to bargain outlets.

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20. Mountain Lakes, New Jersey

This planned community, located in north-central New Jersey, was created in the early 20th century for affluent New Yorkers as a summer vacation spot. Situated around nine man-made lakes, Mountain Lakes has changed into more of a place for permanent residents, but still has hundreds of Arts-and-Crafts-style houses. Today, the town is on both the National and New Jersey Registers of Historic Places. The lakes provide activities, such as fishing and boating. Nearby, visitors can also check out 561-acre Tourne County Park, featuring 10.7 miles of trails.

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21. Saranac Lake, New York

In the late 19th century, urbanites looking for a “fresh air cure” for tuberculosis began flocking to this area in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Today, people still come to Saranac Lake for its fresh air and to experience outdoor activities, such as hiking or climbing Saranac Lake 6ers — six mountain peaks near the town. In the village, there are opportunities for dining and shopping. Visitors can browse the art-related shops and galleries, or check out The Community Store — the state’s only community-owned department store. The cuisine is abundant with local seasonal ingredients, including maple syrup.

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22. Lake Placid, New York

Known as one of the oldest vacation destinations in America, Lake Placid is home to year-round outdoor activities and Olympic history. The Adirondack Mountains and their lakes offer hiking, fishing, boating, and golfing. The Adirondack Park spans six million acres, or one-fifth of the state, and is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States. The region is also full of history, with historic military sites like Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga. But Lake Placid is probably most famous for hosting the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games, and is still a training destination for top athletes. Visitors can explore its sports history and check out several Olympic venues.

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23. Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Blowing Rock is called the “Crown of the Blue Ridge” for its outdoor beauty, with hiking, biking, climbing, and more activities. The quaint town also offers great shopping, food and three wineries within a quick drive. Attractions include the family friendly Tweetsie Railroad and The Blowing Rock, “North Carolina’s Oldest Travel Attraction,” with its many myths and legends. Visitors can also check out the former country estate of Moses Cone, a textile entrepreneur. Located on 3,500-acres, the estate features carriage trails and a mansion, now home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild, featuring 900 artisans selected for their “high quality craftsmanship and design.”

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24. Weaverville, North Carolina

Conveniently located ten minutes from both downtown Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Weaverville features a main street full of restaurants, galleries, and artiss’ studios. In the fall, visitors can explore the art scene with the Weaverville Art Safari – Studio Tour, with over 50 artists in their studios and galleries. For beautiful scenery, take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway or check out Alexander Mountain Bike Park and its seven miles of trails. To see what 19th-century life was like in the Blue Ridge Mountains, visit the birthplace of Zebulon Baird Vance, the 37th and 43rd governor of North Carolina, and a U.S. senator in the mid 1800s.

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25. Defiance, Ohio

This historic area is situated in the heart of the Maumee River Valley, with three rivers to take in, along with scenic views and surrounding farmland. There are also three major trails to explore in the region — North Country Trail, Buckeye Trail, and Maumee Water Trail. Check out the history of the area at the Andrew L. Tuttle Memorial Museum or the site of the old French Apple Tree in Pontiac Park, which honors Johnny Appleseed’s influence. The revitalized downtown promises 40 locally owned retail merchants and uniquely local cuisine. Food lovers can also check out the Defiance Rib Fest in late September, with BBQ ribs, beer, music, and football games.

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26. Hood River, Oregon

With the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood nearby, Hood River offers plenty to do for outdoor lovers. Activities include windsurfing, hiking and mountain biking — especially in Post Canyon. With craft breweries, wineries, and local cuisine, the area is also great for foodies, who can take the Fruit Loop, a 35-mile scenic drive through the region’s orchards, forests, farmlands, and vineyards.

Visitors can also work up an appetite browsing through the historic shopping district of downtown Hood River, with boutiques, outdoor outfitters, antique shops, art galleries, and over 30 restaurants. A visit to the town isn’t complete without a stop at the WAAAM Air & Auto Museum, featuring one of the largest collections of still-flying antique airplanes and still-driving antique cars in America.

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27. Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

Combining the feel of a European village with exciting mountain sports, this historic town — named for the legendary Native American athlete who’s buried here — is a prime Pocono Mountains destination. The walkable downtown features many Victorian structures, which today are home to shops, restaurants, museums, galleries, and entertainment venues. There are too many local outdoor activities to list, but in the fall visitors can enjoy the changing leaves, which can be experienced by air, stock car, zipline, mountain trail, and more.

Jim Thorpe holds a Fall Foliage Festival in October, with scenic train rides, handmade crafts, live music, ghost tours, and specials at local businesses. The town is also home to Country Junction, the world’s largest general store. The place sells almost anything you can imagine, from wine and homemade fudge to lumber and building materials, and even has a pet store and petting zoo.

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28. Wellsboro, Pennsylvania

Wellsboro, located in north-central Pennsylvania’s Tioga County, has been described as “frozen in time” for its lack of chain stores and restaurants. Here, mom-and-pop stores still stand and there is even an independent department store, Dunham’s, which has been around since 1905.

Visitors can also check out Frog Hut, an old-fashioned ice cream shop that also serves burgers, fries — and frog’s legs. Highland Chocolates, a non-profit store and factory, offers not only tasty sweets, but also free tours of its production facility. Adding to the town’s charm is a fountain statue of the poem “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” one of only two of its kind in the world. Enjoy the outdoors at Pine Creek Gorge, also known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, running 47 miles through Tioga County. Take a trolley tour to the gorge or experience it on a horse-drawn covered wagon.

29. Tiverton, Rhode Island

Located near the Massachusetts border, Tiverton is described has having a “country coastal” vibe. The town is home to historic Tiverton Four Corners and its 18th-century buildings, along with locally owned stores and restaurants. A great way to explore the town is with a walking tour of many of the historic structures. If you get hungry along the way, there are plenty of options, including Evelyn’s Drive In, with its local seafood favorites, and Gray’s for homemade ice cream. For a meal with a view, try Boat House, situated on a bluff overlooking the foot of Mount Hope Bay.

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30. Charlestown, Rhode Island

Called “the best kept secret in Rhode Island,” the coastal town is known for its secluded, unspoiled beaches. The area offers something for every taste. Outdoor lovers can check out the local trails, or fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and paddle-boarding on the waterways. There is also Ninigret Park, home to the Frosty Drew Nature Center and Observatory and the National Wildlife Refuge. History enthusiasts have 16 museums or historic sites to choose from in the area, and golfers have their pick of 15 courses. Foodies will enjoy fresh seafood and other local fare.

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31. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg is located just south of Pigeon Forge, bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in America. Fall makes the park extra special because of the changing leaves. Visitors will enjoy hiking the 500,000 acres and checking out its beautiful waterfalls. There is fun for the whole family in Gatlinburg with a 7D Dark Ride Adventure interactive gaming experience, the Gatlinburg Space Needle observation tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and Anakeesta Theme Park. The area also features many festivals in the fall, including Oktoberfest, a trout tournament, and a chili cook-off.

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32. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

This Smoky Mountain town offers access to the great outdoors and unusual and thrilling attractions, including Dolly Parton’s famous amusement facility, Dollywood, which offers not only two theme parks, but shows and award-winning dining. The park also features special festivals and events in the fall. For an interesting way to see the Smoky Mountains, try a Pink Jeep Tour. You can also check out the fall foliage from the town’s Great Smoky Mountain Wheel or on one of the rides at Mountain Mile & Tower Shops. WonderWorks, housed inside an upside down building, is an “amusement park for the mind.”

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33. Fredericksburg, Texas

The small Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, located between San Antonio and Austin, dates back to 1846 when it was founded by German immigrants. Its German roots are still present today and mix well with the Texas culture. That’s why fall is a great time to visit and experience this heritage at Oktoberfest. The month is also the perfect time to take a ghost tour. For history buffs, there is the National Museum of the Pacific War, the only museum of its kind in the continental U.S., and Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site. Another park, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is known for its giant pink granite dome.

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34. Ruidoso, New Mexico

Ruidoso, situated among the Sierra Blanca Mountains, is the perfect location in which to explore Southwest culture, from Native Americans to early Spanish settlers and cowboys. The town is not far from many attractions and natural sites, including Carlsbad Caverns, Lincoln National Forest, Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway, Smokey Bear Historical Park, and White Sands National Monument.

The area also offers authentic New Mexican cuisine and unique shopping with antique and Native American shops and several casinos. Additional experiences range from one of the world’s longest ziplines, the Wind Rider Zipline, to the “ghost town” of White Oaks and Flying J Ranch, where visitors can step back into the cowboy era. For more cowboy fun, October’s Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium offers a chuckwagon cook-off and an exhibition of western wares with over 100 vendors.

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35. Woodstock, Vermont

If you’re looking for a quaint village with picturesque scenery, then Woodstock is a great fall getaway, and a manageable drive from major cities such as Boston and New York. Located on the banks of the Ottauquechee River and among the Green Mountains, Woodstock features the only national park in Vermont, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, and three historic covered bridges. Nature lovers can view the changing leaves while hiking, biking, visiting a local farm or wandering around the village.

Visitors can stay at the Woodstock Inn & Resort, complete with a spa, golf course, and upscale farm-to-table dining, or at one of the area’s many bed and breakfasts. There’s also an array of delicious restaurants in town, Mon Vert Café with its seasonal specialities, as well as family-owned shops, including a classic general store, F.H. Gillingham & Sons.

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36. Abingdon, Virginia

The southwest Virginia town of Abingdon, in the Blue Ridge Highlands region, was named after the ancestral home of Martha Washington and is a state landmark with a 20-square block historic district. Visitors can even stay at the Martha Washington Inn. Originally built in 1832, the hotel started as a Civil War hospital before becoming a women’s college and finally an inn. Abingdon is also known for its arts culture, with the William King Museum of Art, the state theatre of Virginia Barter Theatre, and Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Abingdon is also a great starting point to see local fall foliage, whether it’s with a scenic drive or on the Virginia Creeper Trail, which follows the route of an old railroad bed.

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37. Leavenworth, Washington

Designed to look like a Bavarian village, Leavenworth, located about two hours east of Seattle, features great food, beer, shops, and festivities. Visitors can also take in the season’s scenery with the Autumn Leaf Festival. If you work up an appetite walking around the village, there are plenty of options, from the Cheesemonger’s Shop to the outdoor eatery and beer garden München Haus. Later, quench your thirst at one of the area’s many breweries and distilleries or check out the local winery scene. Finally, get a head start on the holiday season with some shopping or a visit to the Nutcracker Museum.

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38. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

With a population of fewer than 300, Harpers Ferry is known as the site of John Brown’s 1859 abolitionist raid. The town features a National Historical Park that documents its history, and has views overlooking two rivers — the Potomac and Shenandoah. Visitors can also learn about the town’s history at the John Brown Wax Museum, which tells the story of the raid through 87 life-size figures. Or to get in the Halloween spirit, take a ghost tour of this haunted town, including the oldest ghost tour in America. Among the area’s many outdoor activities is Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, offering whitewater rafting, water tubing, zipline tours, kayaking, canoeing, team building, fishing, hiking, camping, and more. The Appalachian Trail also passes through the center of Harpers Ferry.

Source: Royalbroil / Wikimedia Commons

39. Fish Creek, Wisconsin

Fish Creek, located in Northern Door County and close to Peninsula State Park, is the county’s most walkable shopping area, with an array of local stores and dining options, including some offering the traditional fish boil. Visitors can work up an appetite with one of the region’s many outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, boating, or ziplining. Fish Creek Park offers options for hiking and Fish Creek Marina has narrated boat tours to attractions like the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, Millionaire’s Row, Peninsula State Park, and local islands and beaches. End an evening visiting Fish Creek with an old-fashioned drive-in movie at Skyway Theatre.

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40. Sister Bay, Wisconsin

Described as a “foodie’s favorite on the waterfront” and a “year-round vacation destination,” Sister Bay is Northern Door County’s largest village. With 1,900 feet of public waterfront, there are outdoor dining options, great views, and recreational opportunities. For fall visitors, these activities include kayaking and canoeing, sailboat rides and sunset cruises, fishing off the docks, ferry rides, golfing, ziplining, and biking around town or at local parks. Visitors can also enjoy the autumn weather at the county’s largest public event of the year, Fall Festival, featuring family friendly activities, music, local food, an arts and crafts fair, a classic car show, a parade, and a fish boil.

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