14 Best Socially Distanced Weekend Trips for Fall
Looking for the perfect getaway? Enjoy all that America has to offer at these stunning spots where you can avoid crowds and stay safe.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.
Getting away from everything—and everyone
Fall brings comfortable weather and gorgeous autumn foliage, so planning a weekend trip sounds like a great idea. But how will the COVID-19 pandemic affect fall travel? The good news is that there are many wide, open spaces to visit safely, though it may be a little bit different. First, instead of flying, now is the time to take a road trip, staying local or choosing spots within driving distance. If you leave your state, follow all ordinances regarding quarantining before and after your trip, as well as wearing masks and social distancing while you’re there.
Luckily, the latter is easy to do in destinations that feature the natural beauty of the American landscape. Stay at private accommodations like vacation houses or those that offer private entrances, camping, cottages or cabins to ensure your distance from other travelers. Read on for more of the perfect spots we found.
Enjoy harvest season in Sonoma wine country with a weekend trip to Healdsburg, less than two hours from San Francisco and Sacramento. Stay at a small B&B that offers cottage-style accommodations, such as the Belle de Jour Inn, for privacy and social distancing from other guests—at under $300 a night. Book a private or appointment-only outdoor wine tasting and opt for a winery that adheres to social-distancing guidelines, such as Dry Creek Vineyard. Visitors can also safely partake in the area’s many outdoor pursuits, such as hiking, biking and self-guided kayaking on the Russian River. Here are some need-to-know wine tasting tips from a sommelier.
Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia
Pull up to a lakefront vacation rental for a secluded weekend with private access to the water—you won’t even need to get back in your car until you leave. Chill out on your dock, fish or take a kayak or boat trip through the clear waters of this man-made lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains. With 500 miles of shoreline, Smith Mountain Lake has endless “fingers,” inlets and coves to explore. Close to Roanoke and Lynchburg, SML is also drivable from the D.C. area and Raleigh, North Carolina. Plus, the wooded lakeside offers gorgeous fall foliage. If you’re vacationing with your kids, take a look at our favorite tips for family travel.
A dude ranch perfectly fits the bill for a COVID-friendly getaway because it’s self-contained, off-the-beaten-path and focuses on outdoor pursuits. Pick one you’re sure is making safety and social distancing a priority, like White Stallion Ranch, which features an abundance of cowboy activities—and cowboys wear masks, after all—located on four square miles of desert close to Phoenix and Tucson. Try socially distanced activities like rock climbing, target shooting, archery, fat-tire e-biking and, of course, horseback riding. Bonus: Accommodations are accessed through private entrances. This is why you should always take a picture of your stove before a vacation.
If you’ve always wanted to try glamping, now’s the time: It’s easy to social distance from others and this type of upscale camping offers a bit more of the comforts of home than pitching a tent yourself. Plus, the tiny, Scandinavian-style cabins from Getaway offer private bathrooms, so there are no shared facilities like at regular campsites. The Getaway Chattahoochee outpost in Suches, Georgia, allows visitors to unplug and relax by a private fire pit on crisp autumn nights. It’s also the perfect spot for taking in mountain vistas and wandering through nearby Chattahoochee National Forest, which also contains Springer Mountain, the southern starting point of the Appalachian Trail. Here are some campfire desserts you’ll absolutely love.
Route 50 and Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Follow the route of the legendary Pony Express in traversing the state, or at least a section of it, passing by spectacular desert and mountain scenery. Spot wildlife such as elk and big horn sheep, stop at abandoned Old West ghost towns and end at one of the least visited national parks in the country, Great Basin National Park. Fall colors start appearing toward the middle to end of September in Great Basin, and pine nuts are ripe for picking. Great Basin is also a great spot for stargazing on a clear fall evening, as it boasts some of the darkest skies in the United States. Camp or park your RV within the park, or stay nearby at Hidden Canyon Retreat which offers private entrances around a central courtyard for under $200 a night. Stay warm this autumn with a few of these hot fall drinks.
Don Pedro Island, Florida
Even Floridians need a getaway now and then, so take advantage of one of the Sunshine State’s hidden treasures, Don Pedro Island (also called Palm Island) on the Gulf coast. This seven-mile stretch of barrier island two hours south of Tampa is quiet, with little in terms of amusement besides the gorgeous stretches of sand outside your private beach house or villa rental. You won’t find high-rise resorts or crowded beach bars here.
To get to the island, you’ll need to take a car ferry ride, but that’s part of what keeps it so blissfully uncrowded; golf cart or bicycle are the preferred methods of transportation once on the island. Don Pedro State Park, accessible by water taxi, private boat or kayak from the mainland, offers nature trails, bird watching and opportunities for fishing, kayaking, snorkeling and shelling. Fall is hurricane season, but it also offers slightly more comfortable temperatures and lower prices for enjoying the laid-back island. Don’t miss these tropical recipes that will take your tastebuds on a vacation.
McCurtain County, Oklahoma
There’s more natural beauty in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, than most people realize. Plus, it’s just about three hours from Tulsa, Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana. Warm temperatures linger through much of the fall season around Broken Bow Lake and Mountain Fork River, allowing visitors to continue to enjoy socially distanced water activities like kayaking, canoeing, fishing and maybe even tubing and swimming in early fall.
Later fall brings brilliant autumn colors in Beavers Bend State Park to view while hiking, biking or taking a scenic drive. After your outdoor activities of choice, retreat to your private cabin for some alone time with your family or loved ones. Here are some homemade drinks that will keep you cozy in the fall.
Grand Staircase Region, Utah
It might not be one of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks, but that means that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument flies slightly under the radar—making it a great choice for a social distancing. The area boasts amazing red-rock scenery, with slot canyons, arches, impossibly shaped rock formations, waterfalls and lots more. Visitors can enjoy the natural beauty on foot or with a drive along Scenic Byway 12. Stay in your own private yurt (a type of round tent) at Escalante Yurts, or opt for a vintage Airstream at the newly opened Yonder Escalante; both are located on Scenic Byway 12.
Finger Lakes, New York
Upstate New York has no shortage of socially distanced options for picture-perfect fall weekends: Visitors from the New York City area can head to the Catskills, Adirondacks, Lake George or Lake Placid for abundant autumn colors and cozy retreats. The Finger Lakes region has the added bonus of a first-class wine trail, which is particularly amazing in the fall harvest season. U-Pick farms also allow for socially distanced pumpkin and apple picking. Take a scenic drive to appreciate the fall colors around the area’s 11 glacial lakes or bundle up for a chilly kayak paddle. Then warm up in front of the roaring lakeside campfire outside your private vacation cottage. Or try these comforting fall casserole recipes which will warm you from the inside out.
Vilas County, Wisconsin
With more than 1,300 lakes and 73 rivers, this area “up north” in Wisconsin is a wonderful spot to unwind among the fall foliage of the Northwoods, which is within driving distance of Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Bike riding has been touted as one of the best socially distanced activities around, and Vilas County is a cyclist’s paradise, whether you’re coasting along the Heart of Vilas County Bike Trail System or taking on the challenge of mountain biking more difficult trails in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. But those looking for a more relaxing vacation can find it here, too: Visitors need not ever leave the expansive lakeside property of Coadys’ Point of View, where guests can stay in comfortable cabins or luxury tents.
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Less than an hour south of Charleston, Kiawah Island is renowned for its quiet, natural beauty and wildlife, but it’s also a great spot for golf. With five public golf courses (plus two private) and pleasant fall temperatures, Kiawah makes a perfect weekend golf getaway. If you’re not up for teeing off, visitors can also stroll along 10 miles of uncrowded beaches or watch for birds, bobcats, dolphins, sea turtles and other animals in habitats such as marshes, maritime forests and dunes. But perhaps the best activity to do here is nothing at all except listening to the sound of the gentle waves on the beach. Rent a villa, condo or vacation home for the ultimate in privacy. If you’re driving with a pet, be sure to read up on these tips for making the trip easier on everyone.
San Bernardino Mountains, California
The San Bernardino Mountains might be known as a ski destination, but they’re pretty beautiful in fall, too. Getaway offers a 60-acre outpost of tiny cabins at Running Springs, halfway between Lake Arrowhead, the “jewel of Southern California” and Big Bear Lake. Socially distanced activities like hiking, off-roading and year-round fishing make it a great escape from the bustle of the L.A. area for the weekend. The adventurous can even hike a portion of the legendary Pacific Crest Trail, which passes through the mountains on its way up the West Coast to Canada. Visitors who prefer to enjoy the San Bernardino area by car can take a drive down the famed Route 66. Or, you can simply snuggle up in your cozy cabin with a good book. Try to make these famous California foods in your own kitchen!
Long Beach Peninsula, Washington
In fall, the windswept coastline is just as magnificent as the summer months and visitors can have a socially distanced experience with fewer fellow tourists around. It’s just two hours from Portland and three from Seattle, but you’ll feel like you’re a world away as you have a picnic or campfire on a secluded stretch of sand or explore the 8.5-mile paved Discovery Trail on bike or on foot.
The scenic beauty of Cape Disappointment State Park, at the southern end of the peninsula, is sure not to disappoint; there are several other state parks on the peninsula to choose from, as well. Late fall brings the start of the storm-watching season, so bring your raincoat and camera, or take in the view from the warmth of your private cottage.
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
Known for its music, food and art offerings, this cultural hot spot recently allowed museums to open safely with timed entrances to ensure social distancing. But if that’s not within your comfort zone, there are plenty of outdoor opportunities to appreciate the autumn colors and crisp air of fall in New England. Either way, once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can order curbside takeout from one of the area’s gourmet restaurants. Luxury B&Bs abound, but visitors can also enjoy the retro 1960s Briarcliff Motel for cheaper prices and a touch of whimsical nostalgia—as well as your own private entrance and contactless check-in. Keep the nostalgia going with these retro recipes that deserve a comeback.