5 Perfect Shoulder-Season Destinations in the U.S.

Finding time to take a vacation can be difficult, not to mention financially cumbersome. Yet many travelers don’t consider traveling during shoulder seasons, which can offset some of those high costs. Keen to attract more visitors, destinations ramp up their activities and events during off-peak times, when hotels offer great savings to make the perfect package for any vacationer. But money aside, these five spots are quite spectacular during their shoulder seasons, and are just as beautiful and a lot less crowded, making for a more relaxed and enjoyable trip.

Door County, Wisconsin

Door County, Wisconsin

In the fall, Door County’s colors really shine. Comprising 34 islands and a narrow peninsula that together cover about 70 square miles, it is packed to the brim with tourists enjoying the hot sun and lake activities in the summer. During the fall, however, visitors can enjoy Lake Michigan without the crowds. One of the best ways to experience the region is by taking the self-guided Door County circle tour, which traces one edge of the peninsula, hops over to Washington Island, and then loops back down the peninsula’s other side. It’s best to spread the trip over a couple of days so ypu have enough time time to appreciate the beauty of what each area has to offer.

There is plenty to do in Door County. Hit the lake and rent kayaks in a guided tour or take to the greens on one of eleven golf courses, all while surrounded by the gorgeous fall foliage. Three lookout towers offer stunning vistas of the fall landscapes, as do the eleven lighthouses (the Cana Island Lighthouse is a favorite). But for the ultimate aerial view, take a picturesque airplane tour with Grizzly Scenic Air Tours.

Where to Stay:

Country House Resort has a wide variety of complimentary amenities and activities for guests, like lawn games, a buffet breakfast, and a shoreline dock, so that they don’t even need to leave the property. Conveniently located in Sister Bay, this resort provides lots of value and loads of fun.

Blacksmith Inn on the Shore is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, in the village of Baileys Harbor, and offers a great blend of modern amenities and bed-and-breakfast charm. The inn is made up of fifteen guest rooms, all with a whirlpool, fireplace, private balcony, and harbor view.

Lake Chelan, Washington

Lake Chelan, Washington

Orchards and vineyards surround the sparkling waters of Lake Chelan, located in Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Locals hit their lake homes and dominate the area in the summer, but autumn in Lake Chelan is just as impressive and comes with 70-degree days and a plethora of things to do. The hiking and biking trails provide perfect views of the fall foliage, and there’s an 18-hole golf course at Gamble Sands.

With nearly 30 wineries, there are always activities going on, including wine stomping, tours and, of course, tastings. The Lake Chelan Crush Festival takes place October 3–4 and 10–11, and the Fall Barrel Tasting takes place right after Thanksgiving, from November 27–29. For the more adventurous wine lovers, Chelan Seaplanes offers scenic flights from downtown Lake Chelan to Rio Vista Wines, a boutique winery on the banks of the Columbia River. Sunshine Farm Market offers the opportunity to learn how to press your own apple cider, and Campbell’s River Room Spa provides necessary massages after a hard day of pressing apples and tasting wine.

Where to Stay:

My Chelan Vacation has been the trusted site for vacation rentals in the area for years. It lists 175 vacation rental homes, cabins, and condos, making it your best bet for finding shoulder-season deals.

Mountain View Lodge & Resort is located in the peaceful community of Manson, just 7.5 miles from Chelan. The property is surrounded by boutique wineries, and artisan shops in the heart of the recreation area. There’s a resort pool, fire pit, and hot tub, in addition to an outdoor pavilion with full kitchen facilities.

The Finger Lakes, New York

The Finger Lakes, New York

Made up of eleven immaculate lakes extending like fingers through central New York, the Finger Lakes encompass more than 9,000 square-miles of outdoor space, and with an area so large comes plenty to do, even during the not-so-busy season of spring. The Finger Lakes have plenty of lakeside retreats, and visitors can enjoy cheese and wine trails, apple picking, more than 100 world-class vineyards, and farm-to-table dining options.

The Finger Lakes is known for some acclaimed, quirky festivals including the Cardboard Boat Regatta, Sauerkraut Weekend, the Glorious Garlic Festival, Palmyra Pirate Weekend, and the New York State Festival of Balloons, so there is always something going on. There are indoor amusement parks, family racecar driving, and The Strong, the only national museum dedicated to play.

Where to Stay:

Restored in 2014 from the former Cowdry House built in the early 1800s, the now LEED-certified, 10-room Argos Inn highlights the building’s original architectural details, while garnering modern finishes like twentieth-century art, heated floors, fiber-optic Internet, geothermal heating, and air-conditioning.

The Mirbeau Inn & Spa, located in a fairy-tale-like village, is a 34-room, lavish resort that blends country-inn amenities with a first-rate spa and fine dining that's been commended nationwide.

Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona

Arizona is a visually stunning state and has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. The desert and dry heat can be intense, but Scottsdale is amped up with air conditioning and unbelievably low rates. Locals have been taking advantage of the resort summer deals for years, and visitors are finally braving the heat and heading out for some money-saving fun in the sun.

With more than 70 hotels and resorts in Scottsdale, visitors can expect rates as low as 60 percent off normal peak-season rates. During the summer, visitors can take early-morning hikes in the lush Sonoran Desert or hit the golf course during the morning hours. Soak up the sun by the pool with a cold drink in hand and enjoy the deeply discounted spa rates at some of the world’s leading resort brands.

Where to Stay:

Tucked away among the saguaro cacti in the slopes of Pinnacle Peak, the adobe casitas of Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North are one of the most exclusive places to stay, and during the summer rates drop significantly so that families can live it up in pure luxury.

Located in nearby Litchfield Park, the Wigwam Resort offers summer rates starting at $99 per night and plenty of family-friendly attractions like family game nights and zoo animals.

Orlando, Florida

Orlando, Florida

Orlando is almost always in peak season with all the tourist attractions bringing in visitors year-round from around the world. But the busy city does have two very short shoulder seasons: May and September. Travelers during these times can expect to find lower rates, fewer crowds, and seasonal activities to complement the world-famous attractions. In September, Visit Orlando hosts Magical Dining Month, when more than 60 of Orlando’s best restaurants offer three-course menus for $33. In addition to Dining Month, September kicks off special events like Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

Where to Stay:

The newest resort, Four Seasons Orlando, is located inside Walt Disney World Resort and is the only one in Central Florida that has received the desirable AAA Five Diamond Award. It has a great mix of Four Seasons luxury and Disney adventure.

The JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes has about 1,000 rooms and a huge, 24,000-square-foot pool complex, a 40-treatment-room spa, and eleven dining options (in conjunction with The Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes).