The “road trip” is quintessentially American, and, autumn is the perfect time to pack up the car and hit the road to see this vibrant season change before your eyes.
As publisher of Mike’s Road Trip, I try to shine a spotlight on smaller communities that exemplify excellence that is often only found in larger cities. Each of these small towns has everything you’d want for a memorable autumn vacation; from outstanding lodging options, culinary delights, sensational scenery, fun activities, to of course, lush and vibrant fall foliage. So, pick one of these ten towns near you and hit the road for an adventure. Let the road be your page, the experiences be the ink, and in 300 miles, you’ll have a chapter that will last a lifetime.
Lake Placid, New York played host to the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, and, one could argue that it was the last of the small town Olympics to be held. The area still attracts world-class athletes for summer and winter training. While there is much Olympic history to explore, Lake Placid is certainly not defined by it. Outdoor enthusiasts will rejoice…from skiing, bike riding, hiking to an array of water sports. Outdoor beauty is everywhere you look…lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and dense forests that shimmers in the fall with its brightly colored foliage—a sign that winter festivities are just around the corner. In addition to hosting professional athletics, Lake Placid offers world-class lodging and dining options.
Places to stay: Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, Crown Plaza, Art Devlin’s Olympic Motor Inn
Places to dine: Generations, Cafe Rustica, Desperados
Things to do: Hike, bike or paddle with High Peaks Adventure; fish, swim, kayak the Ausable River, and of course…lots of Olympic sights to see.
More information: Visit LakePlacid.com
Bardstown, Kentucky might be best known for being the bourbon spirits capital of the world. However, in 2012 it was named the ‘Most Beautiful’ small town in America by Rand McNally and USA Today. If you’re not a bourbon fan, don’t let that stop you from visiting Bardstown. The distillery tours and tastings might make a convert out of you…as they did me. The history of bourbon making is fascinating, as are the distilleries and sites themselves. For more than 225 years, the southern hospitality, historic surroundings, fine restaurants and friendly accommodations in Bardstown have made folks feel right at home. Civil war history runs deep in these parts, and a tour of the various museums and sites will surely be an education you’ll not soon forget.
Place(s) to stay: Jailer’s Inn Bed and Breakfast, Eagle Hill Manor, Springhill Winery
Place(s) to dine: Circa, The Rickhouse Restaurant and Lounge, Mammy’s Kitchen
Things to do: Civil War Museum, Willett Distillery tour, train museum and rides, golf, and of course all-things bourbon.
More information: Visit Bardstown
Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a Victorian mountain village nestled in the Ozarks with copious things to see and do. You can zip-line through the forest, watch big cats feed at a wildlife refuge, view breathtaking vistas and scenic overlooks (fall is sensational), fish in clear trout streams, photograph waterfalls or stroll through the colorful gardens surrounding an ancient burial ground—if that doesn’t make your spirits soar, check out one of the haunted houses. To further stir the soul, head into downtown for some live music at any number of venues—one of the best spots…Basin Park has frequent free community concerts. Dining options are abundant…and, don’t be afraid to veer up/down a dark, narrow alley staircase: they often lead to places where the locals hang out. If you’re into bed and breakfast lodging, you’re in luck because Eureka Springs has more than just about any place in the country, including large cities such as San Francisco.
Places to stay: Cliff Cottage Inn,
Places to dine: Local Flavor Cafe, Grand Taverne Restaurant and Lounge, Mud Street Cafe
Things to do: Ozark Mountain Ziplines, Blue Springs Heritage Center, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.
More information: Visit EurekaSprings.org
Leavenworth, Washington is a Bavarian-themed community, and when I say “themed,” I mean embraced through-and-through. From its architecture to the attire. The look and feel of Leavenworth is reminiscent of a hillside community along the banks of the Rhine River. With over seven hundred miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, you can devour nature. Or, you can relax at one of the many luxurious lodging choices in town, several right next to the Wenatchee River (the West’s version of the Rhine!). If you’re into spas, theater, festivals, geocaching, wine tours, museums, or drinking beer from a stein, you’ll find that too. Leavenworth is on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain range, so you’ll experience a lot more sunshine than you will on the Seattle side. While autumn is wonderful, winter is a wonderland that will put you in the holiday spirit. Actually, with four distinct seasons, it’s always a good time to visit Leavenworth.
Places to stay: Run of the River Inn, Bavarian Lodge, Abendblume Pension, River Haus in the Pines
Places to dine: Viscontis, Wasabi Sushi & Thai, SOUTH, Pavz Cafe/Bistro, Munchen Haus
Things to do: Rafting, hiking, rock/ice climbing, autumn leaf festival, biking, sleigh rides, fishing, golfing, skiing, scenic canyon drives.
More information: Visit Leavenworth.org
Wyoming County, New York is a rural area in western New York made up of a series of charming small towns, farmlands with rolling hills, and, the awe-inspiring Letchworth State Park. Wyoming County is spread out over a large region and does not have the same level of refined lodging, dining and other amenities to offer visitors, however with its meandering and elevation-changing roads, it is a wonderful place to road trip and explore. The high concentration and variety of trees in Letchworth State Park makes the trip worthwhile. Photographers will really appreciate some of the beautiful barns and agricultural sights, along with the canyons and waterfalls within the park.
Places to stay: Glen Iris Inn, Byrncliff Resort or Bottle Tree B&B
Places to dine: Smitty’s Amber Lantern, The Club at Silver Lake and Glen Iris Inn
Things to do: Hot air ballooning, wildlife park (Hidden Valley Animal Adventure), hiking, fishing, history and photography.
More info: Visit GoWyomingNY.com
Asheville, North Carolina is a bevy of beer, beards and bears…that’s the title of a blog post I wrote recently. The burgeoning craft-beer scene apparently boasts more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city. At any given time you can enjoy over fifty local beers on tap or in the bottle, and, there is no shortage of annual festivals to celebrate the artisan suds. When it comes to “beards,” for some reason they are quite popular in Asheville, and, you’ll see every style under the…chin. As far as bears…Asheville is one of the entry points to the Great Smoky Mountains, where in the summer there is a good chance you’ll see bears roaming and foraging. Of course, there is much more to Asheville than just the three Bs, most notably is the ostentatious Biltmore Estate. (Let’s make that four Bs!) At over 8,000 acres, the Biltmore was built by George Vanderbilt and is America’s largest home with 250 rooms and nearly 180,000 square feet.
Places to stay: Grove Park Inn, Aloft Asheville and Indigo Asheville
Places to dine: Chai Pani, Curate, Sunny Point and Biscuit Head (Great names, great culinary options).
Things to do: The Biltmore Estate, Western North Carolina Nature Center , Navitat Zip Line, River Arts District (165 of artists with working studios located in 18th turn-of-the-century buildings), Shoji (Japanese spa) and, every Friday…the Drum Circle.
More information: Visit ExploreAsheville.com
Galena, Illinois epitomizes what I look for on the road…a place off the beaten path, full of history, charm and intrigue. A place that was once lost to the past, but then rediscovered by those with a vision for what could be. Galena continues to attract visitors for its historical charm, as well as its nature-inspired beauty. For a small community of only 3500, Galena has the attractions and amenities of a town much larger. Its downtown is one of the longest and most historically well-preserved areas I’ve ever seen. As a matter of fact, 85% of Galena is on the Historic Register. Most of the buildings have been wonderfully preserved, while some are in disrepair.
Places to stay: Hawk Valley Retreat and Cottages, Irish Hollow Inn, Aldrich Guest House
Places to dine: Perry Street Brasserie, Little Tokyo, Fritz & Frites, One Eleven Main
Things to do: Trolley Tour, Chestnut Mountain Resort (Segway tours, bike rentals, skiing and more), golf, winery tours/tastings, architecture, history, ballooning, boating and river cruises.
More information: Visit Galena.org
Saranac Lake, New York is located just north of Lake Placid and is one of the ‘coolest’ place in the Adirondacks. Saranac Lake’s preeminence in tuberculosis care in the 1800s spawned a boom for the area as “curing cottages” lured those with the illness. Additionally, the area’s popularity with the power elite, who built their Great Camps, changed the sleepy village into a vibrant little town. Today, Saranac Lake is a community rich in history and recreational opportunities. The scenery and array of vibrant fall colors blanket the region every autumn. With miles of mountains, roads, lakes and trails, there are endless options to get out and experience it all.
Place(s) to stay: Gauthier’s Saranac Lake Inn, White Pine Camp, Ampersand Bay Resort, Lake Clear Lodge
Place(s) to dine: Eat ‘N Meet, Blue Moon Cafe, Lakeview Deli, Nonna Fina Pasta & Grill
Things to do: Biking, birding, Wild Center, paddling, boating, snow-shoeing, hiking, fishing.
More information: Visit SaranacLake.com
Jackson, New Hampshire is a tiny community, and what it lacks in population, it makes up for in splendor. Jackson has been welcoming visitors to the White Mountains for more than two hundred years. Its iconic red covered bridge is one of the most photographed sites in the entire region. The waterfalls and natural beauty of the area are simply stunning…especially in the fall. For such a small town, you’ll find some surprisingly nice inns, art galleries and culinary delights. Outdoor enthusiasts will really appreciate the abundance of outdoor activities and awe-inspiring sights.
Place(s) to stay: Inn at Thorn Hill, Snowflake Inn, Inn at Ellis River,
Place(s) to dine: Cider Co., 1785 Inn and Restaurant, Thompson House Eatery
Things to do: Tons of awesome hiking, fishing, Kayak or Canoe the Saco River, art galleries, Mount Washington Auto Road, horseback riding, ice skating,
More information: Visit JacksonNH.com
Ashland, Oregon is an artsy town located a few hours south of Portland and just a few miles from the California border—it’s probably most well known for its annual Shakespeare Festival. However, that’s just the beginning of this charming town’s allure. This small community has some great art galleries, ethnic restaurants and day spas that utilize the Lithia Springs mineral waters. Forested alpine peaks give way to some of the most fertile and vibrant fall foliage in the west, which peaks around mid-October.
Place(s) to stay: Ashland Mountain House, Oak Street Cottages, Ashland Springs Hotel,
Place(s) to dine: Amuse Restaurant, Beasy’s on the Creek, Greenleaf Reastauant, Sesame Asian Kitchen
Things to do: Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Wine tours, Lithia Park, Crater Lake
More information: Visit AshlandChamber.com,
Do you have a favorite autumn town? If so, leave a comment below and share it with my readers and me.