The spooky season may be underway, but there’s no reason why you can’t reserve the perfect autumnal vacation before the end of the season. To that end, we’ve compiled the best trips for last-minute travel this fall—and, trust us, we haven’t limited ourselves to only leaf-peeping destinations. (There’s more to appreciate and experience this time of year than just the changing foliage, after all.) From tropical islands in the eastern Caribbean islands to European villages overlooking the Mediterranean Sea—not to mention overwater bungalows in the Indian Ocean—you’re sure to find a trip perfectly suited to your travel interests. And there’s no better time to book than now to take advantage of off-season rates at luxury hotels—or discounted airfare for long-distance flights. Read on for an energizing dose of wanderlust, and prepare to plan your next autumn adventure.
1. Banff & Lake Louise, Canada
(Image provided by Banff - Lake Louise)
Canada has officially reopened its borders to the U.S. as of August 9th, 2021 and we recommend celebrating that momentous occasion with a trip to Alberta—specifically, a road trip from Banff to Lake Louise. While many travelers are familiar with the area as a winter destination (a side effect of its world-class skiing), the leaf-peeping opportunities are simply breathtaking in the pre-winter months, before the snowfall begins. (And seemingly never ends.) Banff’s foliage is regarded as some of the best in the world and is best observed from your chic hideaway at Rimrock Resort. Meanwhile, nature-lovers would be remiss to visit Lake Louise without setting eyes upon the iconic turquoise lake that is the area’s namesake. By the time the chairlifts start running, the lake has already frozen over—and that’s a tragedy that not even all the champagne powder and fresh morning tracks in the world can make right. To note: Canada is open for non-essential travel for all vaccinated U.S. citizens—just remember to enter your information into the ArriveCAN system prior to arriving in the Great White North.
(Image provided by Rimsock Resort)
2. Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean
(Image provided by Bonaire Tourism)
While the Canadian Rockies of Banff may be one of the most recognizable vistas across the entire country, our next selection is far lesser-known to the tourism industry at large—meaning there’s no better time to visit than now. Located just 50 miles north off the coast of Venezuela, Bonaire is the hidden gem of the West Indies—a pristine and untouched desert island in the Eastern Caribbean Sea. And the island’s breathtaking wild beauty—black-sand beaches and cacti plants populated by wandering donkeys and flocks of flamingos—is meticulously maintained by conservation efforts that apply not just to the land but to the sea: 20% of the island is preserved, as well as 100% of its surrounding waters. It’s therefore unsurprising that the island is known as a diver’s paradise—especially for its off-shore diving—but the rest of Bonaire’s many charms have remained decidedly under-the-radar. Not for long, we fear. And this autumn is the perfect time to visit—although Bonaire’s climate remains fairly consistent all year-round, the hotel and airfare prices drop significantly in the off-season. So not only will your tropical escape be restorative for your mind and soul, it will be cost-effective for your budget as well. Cheers!
(Image provided by Bonaire Tourism)
3. Aspen & Snowmass, Colorado, U.S.A.
(Image of the Snowmass Balloon Festival provided by Snowmass Tourism)
We may have started our list up in the Canadian Rockies, but we are headed down to the American West for our next selection: the famed resort towns of Aspen and Snowmass, in Colorado. But fall is the perfect time to visit this region of Colorado: the smoke from the summer fires has cleared—and, as such, the views have returned. (Perfect for appreciating the vistas while hiking, fly-fishing, horseback riding, or kayaking—among the myriad of other outdoor activities available in the area.) But nowhere is the mountainous landscape better observed than from a hot air balloon floating high above the valley—the Snowmass Balloon Festival in September is the highest-altitude ballooning event in the nation—and reason enough to book your next flight out west. Giddy up.
4. The Maldives
(Image provided by David DiGregorio)
Is there a better place to socially distance than your own private villa floating upon the Indian Ocean? We think not. And, though the Maldives has long been famous as a bucket-list vacation, would-be travelers may be surprised to learn that it’s feasible as a last-minute getaway as well. In fact, travel and hotel packages are available for savvy travelers interested in booking a spur-of-the-moment trip to paradise. And who wouldn’t be interested in that? Just be sure to schedule your COVID PCR tests at the appropriate time before your departing flight—and trust us, these precautionary travel methods will truly feel like your last responsibility for quite a while. Once you land on one of the famous private islands in the Maldives, you will experience the full luxury treatment inherent to the nation’s ‘one island, one resort’ concept. Whether you wish to dive with sharks, prepare your own poké, or surf some of the best waves in the world, Maldivian hospitality is unparalleled. And the best part is, you don’t need to wait until your honeymoon to finally experience it—and, after being locked up for more than a year, there’s no better time than now to start marking items off your bucket list.
(Image provided by JOALI Maldives)
5. Amalfi Coast, Italy
(Image provided by Villa Magia)
While travel to Europe remains a tricky proposition in many E.U. member states, Americans are still able to visit Italy. And, after the past year and counting, we’ve never been in greater need of la dolce vita. And if you missed out on Aperol Spritzes on the Mediterranean this summer, it’s never too late to start planning a last-minute getaway this fall. Thanks to shifting travel patterns caused by the pandemic—including more people working from home—the traditional tourist season has been disrupted, and resort towns are staying open longer than ever. (See also: the Hamptons.) Though the Amalfi Coast’s climate remains quite balmy in the early months of the off-season, its prices begin to dip dramatically. Scour travel packages at boutique resorts such as Villa Magia and be prepared to say ‘ciao’ to your prior commitments: Italy awaits.
6. Tofino, British Columbia, Canada
(Image provided by Tofino Tourism)
If you’re interested in cottage-core (rural, woodsy, supremely cozy—an Americanized version of hygge), look no further than Tofino, a wooded idyll located 65 miles off the coast of Vancouver Island. And, though cottage-core is always a popular aesthetic in the colder months, it’s particularly timely now, as travelers recover from a rocky and disjointed year-and-a-half of COVID precautions and the accompanying social anxiety. (Not to mention the back-to-back mid-pandemic release of Folklore and Evermore, albums in which Taylor Swift formally identified the moment—and imbued it with even more angst.) Enter Tofino, one of the most beautiful destinations you’ve likely never heard about—but which is perfect for this autumnal vacation. Plus, the activities for travelers on the island rival even the bliss one enjoys by simply watching the leaves crackle beside the bonfire at Pacific Sands Beach Resort. Not only does Tofino boast the best surfing in North America, but it is also a hotspot for whale-watching—up until November, at least, at which point it becomes a world-renowned capital for storm-watching instead. The island may brim with solitude and quiet, but there’s never a dull moment in Tofino.
7. Los Cabos, Mexico
(Image provided by Visit Los Cabos)
From one whale-watching capital to another—we are headed down to the picturesque region of Los Cabos, located along the western coast of Mexico. Fall is a wonderful time to visit Los Cabos, as the temperature is still warm while the rainfall decreases significantly. We’re following the migratory patterns of the humpback whales, in fact, as they depart for the warmer waters of the Pacific Coast in mid-November. There’s more to Los Cabos than just whale-watching, of course. Located on the southern tip of Baja California Sur, the region encompasses a gorgeous variety of natural landscapes and exciting nightlife, from the famed city of Cabo San Lucas to the coastal beauty of the Sea of Cortez. Finally, autumn visitors to Los Cabos would be remiss not to partake in one of the most exciting days of the year—Dia De Los Muertos, a national holiday also known as the Day of the Dead, which falls on November 2nd every year.
8. Mackinac Island, Michigan, U.S.A.
(Image provided by Mackinac Island)
While this magical island on Lake Huron is famous as a summertime destination, the charming town transforms into an autumnal paradise as the weather drops. (And, incidentally, the hotel rates drop, as well—perfect for travelers looking for last-minute deals.) The leaf-peeping is a sight that must be seen to be believed. So, if you’re interested in seeing northern Michigan at its most gorgeous, we suggest visiting after the tourists leave but before the bitter cold begins (and seemingly, never ends.) Head to Lookout Point for some unbelievable leaf-peeping—and views of the 75-foot SugarLoaf rock formation—to put Vermont to shame.
9. Tuscany, Italy
(Image provided by Visit Florence)
We may have already covered the Amalfi Coast, but we'd be remiss not to circle back to Italy’s pride and joy for the autumnal months—the Tuscan countryside, of course. Hotel rates in Florence drop dramatically after the summer rush, and there’s no better time to sightsee in the city—or to book an elegant villa à la Diane Lane in Under The Tuscan Sun. But make sure to consult the CDC and take any and all necessary precautions before arriving—as travelers should do before any and all journeys at this time. But once you land, do indulge in all of the Italian wine that can be found under the Tuscan sun. You’re visiting during Harvest, after all. Chin chin!
10. Sonoma, California, U.S.A.
(Image provided by Visit California)
Last, but most certainly not least, we are headed west to do some California dreaming (and imbibing) in Napa Valley. If your idea of a perfect vacation is less a rom-com set in Europe and more a spinoff of Sideways—replete with idiosyncratic characters and devastatingly stylish interiors—then you have come to the right place in Sonoma. Harvest is the perfect time to visit California’s famed wine country—the myriad of festivals and activities in Napa and Sonoma are enough to tire the endurance of even the most dedicated imbiber. (Of these, the Cakebread Harvest Festival in mid-October is the one not to miss.) Rent bicycles to explore the vineyards, and acquire a discerning nose for the nectar of the gods. Winter is coming, as we well know, and who knows what this particular one will bring. Best to get our adventures in while we can—and they’re even sweeter when spontaneous (read: booked last-minute). Happy travels!
(Image provided by Sonoma County Tourism)