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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We’ll be here to help you prepare, whether you’re traveling this month or next year.
So much about the world probably seems strange and unfamiliar right now, but at least one constant remains: the changing seasons. And October, squarely in the middle of autumn, can still tempt travelers with the promise of foliage; cool, crisp temperatures; apple cider and doughnuts; and, in some destinations, shoulder-season pricing and thinner crowds.
Related: Autumn isn’t canceled: The best destinations for fall foliage in 2020
Whether you’re planning to travel this year or looking ahead to 2021, October is a reliably great month for travelers with flexible schedules. This is especially true if you’re now working remotely and your kids have virtual classes. And though most of our favorite autumnal events have been canceled this year, some destinations are simply better seen in the fall. Because October is typically an off-peak travel time, travelers can expect fewer crowds, better hotel rates and more affordable flights — though this is an unusual year, and travelers should be flexible with their plans. After all, popular fall foliage destinations can get extremely crowded even during a normal year — and now, everyone wants to be outside.
If you’re dreaming of a scenic road trip for leaf-peeping or are itching to hop on a plane for a tropical getaway, it’s never been more important to make backup plans and to pay close attention to the guidance from local and national officials and medical experts. Do what you can to minimize your risk of coronavirus exposure and always prioritize your health and the health of everyone around you.
Ready to hit the road? Pack your favorite fall jacket, order your pumpkin spice latte to go and check out these great October destinations.
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out the hottest destinations of the year and learn how to minimize your risk of getting sick no matter where or when you travel.
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Utah’s Mighty Five national parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef) attract a dizzying number of tourists during the peak summer months, but you can escape the crowds by traveling during the shoulder season.
You’ll be doubly rewarded during an October trip, when temperatures are cooler and the sandstone rock formations are aglow in the brilliant autumn light and the endless, earthy shades of red are interrupted by the changing leaves of maples, oaks and aspens.
TPG tip: If you have to pick just one Utah park to visit, Zion is filled with great places to stay. There’s a Springhill Suites in the shadow of the park, for example, where you can redeem the annual 50,000-point award night certificate from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card on nights that cost 50,000 points or fewer. And just 20 miles from the park entrance is an outpost of Under Canvas, for travelers seeking a glamping experience. The camp remains open only through early November.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Smoky Mountains are one of the most beautiful places to be on Earth during the fall, when the trees rising from the mist-shrouded hillsides — the maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgums and hickories — erupt in color.
Hike to the observation deck at the peak of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Smokies, for views across Tennessee and North Carolina. Or follow the Alum Cave Trail to the summit of Mount LeConte. Visitors can also opt for one of the many scenic drives in the area, including Cade’s Cove Loop Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Foothills Parkway.
TPG tip: October may be one of the most beautiful times to visit the Smokies, but you won’t be the only one with this idea — it’s the nation’s most-visited park, and it can get incredibly crowded with leaf-peepers in autumn. So, be prepared to have a backup plan and seek out less popular hikes in the area.
Related: 9 of the best national parks to visit in the fall
There are more than a few reasons to love the Old Dominion state in the fall. Among them? The resplendent fall foliage in Shenandoah National Park, which usually peaks in late October or early November. Admire the scenery from the extensive network of hiking trails or the ribbon of Skyline Drive that traces the Blue Ridge Mountains for more than 100 miles.
It’s also a lovely time of year to sample the bounties of the Piedmont region (also known as Virginia wine country), which is nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is home to over 100 wineries. Loudoun County is just over an hour from Washington, D.C., making it easily accessible to travelers eager to get out of the city. Some of our favorite vineyards include Stone Tower Winery, Bluemont Vineyard and Casanel Vineyards and Winery, where you can admire the colorful mountains while sampling your wine flight.
TPG tip: If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express in your wallet, you can reserve a relaxing stay at the Salamander Resort & Spa through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program. You’ll get 5x Membership Rewards points for booking a prepaid stay, an upgrade upon arrival (if available) plus daily breakfast for two and a $100 property credit to use during your stay, among other perks.
Finally, some good news: Barbados has reopened to international visitors — including Americans — and commercial flights with U.S. airlines have resumed as well. That makes it one of the few destinations where American travelers craving a tropical trip abroad can actually go right now.
And October is a great time to visit Barbados because even though it’s peak hurricane season, some islands in the southeast, such as Barbados, are less likely to be affected. So, even though it might be a bit wet, you can also take advantage of the low-season lull.
In general, this island nation is eager to lure back travelers. It even created a “12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp” program, a new initiative that will allow travelers to move to there for a year and work remotely. If perhaps a weeklong October getaway seems too brief, this could be the beginning of your remote year on the beach.
TPG tip: U.S.-based travelers will still need to pack a negative COVID-19 PCR test from an accredited laboratory taken within 72 hours prior to departure (or take a test upon arrival and quarantine until the results are returned); complete an online embarkation and disembarkation card answering personal health questions; practice social distancing; and wear face masks, among other safety measures.
The White Mountains in New Hampshire
Less than a three-hour drive from Boston, the White Mountains are easily the most impressive range in New England. And though travelers may know this area for its charming ski towns, it’s also one of the best fall destinations for travelers on the Northeast. On warm fall days, you can still find climbers scaling sheer granite cliff faces, while hikers fill the nearby high peaks of the White Mountain National Forest, which is bursting with fall foliage this time of year.
Though the temperatures drop quickly in New Hampshire, you can also find travelers clinging to the last remnants of summer around Lake Winnipesaukee, exploring the charming towns of Laconia, Meredith, Center Harbor and the Ossipee Mountain area. For a postcard-worthy view of the lake framed by trees colored in red, orange and yellow hues, hike to the top of Mount Major.
TPG tip: Accommodations in this area are almost exclusively independent bed-and-breakfasts and inns. So be sure to pay for your stay with a card that will maximize your purchase, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x) the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x) and, if you prefer Membership Rewards, the American Express® Green Card (3x). You could also use your fixed-value miles to “erase” the travel purchase from your statement if you pay with a card like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.
The Berkshires in Massachusetts
There’s never been a better time to take a scenic fall-foliage drive through the Berkshires, a mountainous region in western Massachusetts. Thanks to its proximity to both New York City and Boston, the Berkshires are an easy long-weekend getaway for travelers seeking beautiful, accessible hiking. During a normal year, travelers also flock here for the region’s legendary arts-and-culture scene (you’ll find the Animagic Museum of Animation and Special Effects and MASS MoCA, the largest contemporary art museum in the country, in the area).
In addition to exploring the 15-acre Berkshire Botanical Garden, hiking and cycling through the picturesque woodlands and dining at Baba Louie’s Sourdough Pizza, visitors can explore 380 acres of the new Miraval Berkshires, the third iteration of the chain’s wellness-focused resorts. Fill your days with well-being, outdoor, equine, culinary and nutrition activities; take yoga and fitness classes; and enjoy spa treatments at the 29,000-square-foot Life in Balance Spa.
TPG tips: You can normally book a room at the Miraval Berkshires from 45,000 points per night, plus an additional 20,000 per night for an additional guest in your room. Right now, Hyatt is offering a buy-one, get-one deal on Miraval award nights. So, 65,000 points gets you two nights for two people in the same room. You can stack that with a second promotion that awards 15% to 25% of your redeemed Hyatt points back on all award stays (if you have The World of Hyatt Credit Card get the higher 25% rate of return on redeemed points).
Travelers based in the area should consider a trip to Georgia this month, when the heat and humidity of summer are beginning to dissipate. You can seek out fabulous Lowcountry cuisine from the coast and whet your appetite for fall foliage, or make summer last even longer with a getaway to Lake Oconee, where you can spend long days kayaking, water skiing, wake boarding, swimming and so much more while the trees around you turn hues of yellow, red and auburn. You’ll feel like you’re away from it all, but in reality, you’re only about an hour drive from Atlanta.
If you’re imagining a more cosmopolitan experience, head to Savannah, where you can stroll through parks filled with live oaks and Spanish moss while taking in the sights of its stately Victorian mansions. Very fitting for the month of October, Savannah has a haunted history. Not for the faint of heart, try a walking tour of the city’s most infamous spooky spots.
TPG tip: Luxury hotel lovers are spoiled in Georgia. Book a stay at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, a Category 7 Marriott Bonvoy property, for between 50,000 and 70,000 points per night. This means you can redeem the annual 50,000-point award night certificate from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card on nights that cost 50,000 points or fewer. In Savannah, don’t overlook the Perry Lane Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel. It’s a charming boutique property that will also set you back between 50,000 and 70,000 points per night.
Before it gets too cold and the mountain roads become impassable (or simply close for the season beginning in November) check out Yosemite and Grand Teton National Park, both of which are accessible from Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) in Wyoming. The airport is only 45 miles south of Yellowstone and is within the park boundary of Grand Teton.
The fall season in the Tetons runs from early September until mid-October, when the cottonwood and golden aspen trees seem ablaze. This is also the best time to see wild grasses and red-leafed shrubs transform with the changing season in Yellowstone. Whether you visit one park or both, you’ll enjoy the other perks of a fall trip: thinner crowds, moderate to cool temperatures and you’ll get more of the park to yourself (well, you’ll have to share it with the wildlife). Remember, though, it can snow as early as September — so pack for a winter getaway just in case.
TPG tip: Both Grand Teton and Yellowstone typically charge a $35 entrance fee per vehicle, so be sure to pick up the $80 America the Beautiful annual pass, which not only grants you and everyone in your vehicle free access to every national park but also national wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Featured photo by Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images / Getty Images.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Gallery: 12 of the best glamping destinations in 2020 (SMG)