Why fall is the best season for road trips

Autumn travel means fewer crowds than summer, better weather than winter, and big savings on vacation costs—if you’re willing to do your homework.

Jim Cole/AP/File
Snow dusts the White Mountains Presidential Range as leaves change colors, seen from Jefferson, N.H.

Shoulder season is prime time for frugal travelers, whether you’re indulging in leaf peeping at Maine’s Acadia National Park or taking an October jaunt to Monterey to watch the humpback whales. Autumn travel means fewer crowds than summer, better weather than winter, and big savings on vacation costs—if you’re willing to do your homework.

Here are four thrifty reasons to travel during shoulder season:

1. National Parks are a LOT less crowded.

Many of the parks’ lodges and other concessions offer discounts for traveling once summer is over. For example, Washington’s Olympic National Park has a variety of lodges near its gorgeous lakes and rugged Pacific Coast. Our favorite autumn deal? The “Brave the Storm Package” at Kalaloch Lodge, for those who love to watch a good storm kicking up on the coast.

2. Fall festivals mean more fun for your vacation dollars.

Many fall festivals are free to attend! Autumn music, art and craft festivals add inexpensive flavor to your shoulder season vacation. Be sure to check local events calendars for your destination. Mount Airy, North Carolina’s Autumn Leaves Festival charges no entrance fee and features bluegrass, gospel and old-time music, as well as artisans from all over the country. You’ll also be about an hour and a half from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so be sure to save some time to visit the Smokies.

3. Vacation lodgings in areas with four seasons cater to shoulder season travelers.

Hotels, B&Bs, campgrounds and condo rentals all need to fill their calendars, so check for special rates as you plan your trip. McGregor Mountain Lodge, on the border of Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes, Colorado, offers a winter pass beginning October 18 that saves travelers $250 on five weekdays’ lodging. If you haven’t seen RMNP in the fall or winter, you’re in for a special treat!

4. RV and auto rentals may also be cheaper after summer is over.

Make sure to check for special autumn rates before you rent. (Tip: ask about one-way rental specials if you’d like to fly home after your trip.) El Monte RV offers special RV rental deals year-round, and Enterprise currently has car rental deals for as low as $10/day.

The leaves are turning, the birds are migrating and it’s time for bargain-minded travelers to plan some time away. Bring an extra sweater and plan to play cool weather golf—the discounted greens fees and uncrowded courses will make this your favorite season. Walk a rocky beach and then go back to the lodge for cocoa by the fire. Learn a mountain dance or two at a folk and bluegrass festival. Take a ranger-led hike in search of elk in heart of a national park.

Start planning your trip now, thrifty travelers. There’s so much to enjoy about shoulder season, and the extra savings will make it even more memorable.

Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV, a nationwide RV rental company. He has been on the road working within the travel industry for over 20 years, and greatly enjoys the outdoors. Joe has been camping across the United States, exploring its vast countryside, and finding the best travel deals along the way.

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