Fall can be a good season to travel to avoid crowds, but is it really the best season for travelers?
Fall can be an excellent time to travel for leisure. Summer crowds have subsided, school breaks are over, and large family vacations have subsided into fond memories. Resort towns empty out and visitors from both sides of the Atlantic return to their normal routines.
But is Fall the best time to travel, to either Europe or North America? What about the Caribbean? How about cruises to Alaska or the Mediterranean, where the summer cruise season seems to get longer each year?
It all comes down to personal taste, and regional variations. In Las Vegas, for example, summer temperatures have come down by autumn, and the weather is pleasant, making autumn a peak season for the city. Hawai’i, by contrast, is generally hotter in the autumn months as the tradewinds cease, so crowds are generally thinner on the ground—unless there’s a school break in Australia, New Zealand, or Japan.
Many other large U.S. cities—New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia among them—see an increase in convention and business traffic during the autumn months, so hotel rates can also spike when a large number of conventions are booked for a destination.
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Several other leisure destinations around the world see precipitous drops in visitor numbers in the fall, primarily because it comes between peak seasons. Colorado is popular with both summer and winter recreation fans, but the resort towns get something of a break when the conditions become too chilly for summer activities, but the snow hasn’t yet coated the mountains for ski traffic.
That’s not to say Colorado’s not worth visiting in the fall—the arts scene in Denver is especially vibrant during the fall months, and the Rocky Mountain State is also renowned for its fall foliage, making it a top draw for leaf peepers west of the Mississippi—but travelers should do some advance planning to learn more about the conditions they’ll find when traveling to any destination during the shoulder season.
In Alaska, the cruise season is extending further into autumn, with Holland America Line, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Seabourn all calling at Juneau into October—and Norwegian has port calls in Southeast Alaska almost until Halloween. There are benefits to sailing to Alaska in autumn, such as smaller crowds, but it’s also worth noting that September and October are some of the rainiest months.
It’s still gorgeous, of course (the fjords almost sparkle in the misty air), but it does change the experience for visitors, and excursions are more likely to be delayed or canceled because of inclement weather. The days also get shorter quickly in the autumn, so it’s not the time to visit for endless evenings of midnight sun, but the tradeoff is that the Aurora Borealis is more likely to be out on clear, dark nights.
Autumn cruising in the Mediterranean and on European inland waterways is also taking off. Visitors won’t find the exuberant throngs of summer travel, and in some destinations, many of the beach clubs and tourist attractions are only open on a seasonal basis, but there’s still plenty to appeal to visitors in the slightly cooler weather.
In France’s Côte d’Azur, many of the resort hotels may have annual winter closures, and some may only operate their most popular bars and restaurants during the peak of the peak summer season, so autumn visitors may find on-property amenities somewhat limited.
One region that is difficult to plan travel to during the autumn months is the Caribbean Basin, as hurricanes can threaten to upend vacation plans through the official end of the season on December 1. It’s not a bad time to cruise in the region, however, as cruise ships can generally outrun hurricanes and often the biggest impact from the seasonal storms is a missed or alternate port. Visitors with their hearts set on fall travel to the Caribbean can also choose the ABC Islands or Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, which lie outside the typical Atlantic hurricane tracks.
In short–autumn can be a good time to travel, but it takes a little advance planning to ensure the destination will yield an experience in line with travelers’ individual goals.