Families who crave autumn leaf-peeping don’t have to resign themselves to piling into cramped cars for fall road trips. They can just stay in comfort at a full-service hotel that happens to be rooted in the middle of the action.
At the lakefront, riverside, mountain-view, and ridgetop resorts detailed here, you and your kids can hike, bike, and horseback ride through dappled woods or admire the views from front porch rocking chairs. For parents with kids in tow, we’ve carefully chosen properties that are near plenty of other fall fun, too, including zip lines, mountain coasters, drive-through covered bridges, and pumpkin picking.
Trapp Family Lodge, Vermont
At Trapp Family Lodge, in Stowe, explore 2,600 acres of meadows and woods in a picture-postcard Vermont landscape of hillsides made magical by red sugar maples and russet oaks. On naturalist-led outings, meet the shaggy-haired Scottish Highland cattle, hike easy or steep terrain, or learn to navigate by compass. The 35 miles of mountain biking trails make the property a good choice for active teens—wobbly learners feel less tense on the 15 miles of single-track paths. The resort, owned by descendants of Maria and Baron von Trapp, the founders whose story inspired “The Sound of Music,” shows its Austrian roots. The wooden buildings have gables and overhanging eaves and, one of the restaurants, the Bierhall, serves von Trapp-brewed lager, schnitzel, bratwurst, and big pretzels (plus chicken fingers and burgers, too—this is a family that knows a lot about small children).
Options: 96 hotel rooms, 118 guest houses
Big Cedar Lodge, Missouri
Big Cedar Lodge, ten miles south of Branson, mixes Ozark Mountain scenery with a resort that’s tricked out almost like an amusement park. Developed by Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, the 4,600-acre resort hugs Table Rock Lake, a massive 43,000-acre reservoir known for bass fishing, boating, and brilliant fall ribbons of yellow, orange, and reddish-brown hickory and oak trees. Take in the vistas from Top of the Rock, a high bluff whose attractions include a golf cart trail past waterfalls and through caves. Drive go-karts, play laser tag, go bowling, and climb a rock wall at Fun Mountain, a 50,000-square foot active adventure center that’s part of the property. Nearby, you can explore the nature preserve at Dogwood Canyon (pictured above) by hiking, horseback riding, and biking, and during Cedar Fest, the annual fall celebration (mid-September through October), tackle a 3,700-square foot maze, cruise the lake, and pick pumpkins to decorate.
Options: 363 units, 139 rooms, 197 cabins and camping-style units.
Fairmont Le Château Montebello, Montebello, Canada
Situated between Montréal and Ottawa, the luxury Fairmont Le Château Montebello is set on 300 acres of woods along the banks of the Ottawa River. Constructed of 10,000 giant cedar logs, the star-shaped building reigns as the world’s largest log cabin. The resort exudes a north woods ambiance, but one with finesse. Immerse yourself in the landscape, which in autumn is ablaze with fiery red and yellow birches, oaks, and maples, by walking the 5-kilometer (3-mile) trail encompassing the property, zipping into town on an electric bike, and pedaling the area’s extensive mountain bike trails. Allow time for kids to splash in the 75-foot indoor pool, Canada’s largest, and end the evening by making s’mores at a campfire. At nearby Parc Omega nature park, spot black bears, wolves, moose, deer, and other animals native to Canada as you drive a 9-mile route.
Options: 210 rooms
Wintergreen Resort, Virginia
Wintergreen Resort, a ski resort in the winter, comprises multiple properties on nearly 11,000 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In autumn, the surrounding slopes pop with a dazzling mix of golden poplars, red maples, and reddish-brown oaks. The 30 miles of resort hiking trails include several easy and moderate paths through woods to streams, waterfalls, and scenic overlooks of cascading mountain peaks. Play tennis with your kids on indoor and outdoor courts and swim in outdoor and indoor heated pools. The chairlift opens out of season for Columbus Day weekend so visitors can take in panoramic vistas of the trees. To enjoy those views from your lodging, make sure to reserve a condo along Blue Ridge Drive that faces the mountains.The units at Wintergreen are individually owned so they vary in décor, so to get the most updated ones, request a platinum- or gold-rated property. The valley supports plenty of family-friendly craft breweries that serve inexpensive food. Our favorites include Scratch Kitchen at Brewing Tree Beer Company and the Devils Backbone Brewing Company.
Options: 174 units, including 57 studio lodge rooms, 103 condos, and 14 houses
Spring Creek Ranch, Wyoming
Perched on a nearly 1,000-foot-high butte, Spring Creek Ranch, in Jackson Hole, gives you easy access to two iconic national parks: Grand Teton, nearby, and Yellowstone, 57 miles north. Many of the accommodations have spectacular views of the Teton Mountains (pictured above), edged by aspens the color of spun gold in fall. Because Spring Creek Ranch, a casually upscale property, doubles as a wildlife sanctuary, you might also see moose, elk, or mule deer moseying by your back door. Naturalists lead property hikes and day-long tours of the Grand Teton National Park, where yellow cottonwoods line the creeks in fall and bison and elk graze. On the ranch’s astronomy nights (book ahead), the evening sky unfurls through high-powered telescopes in a spray of stars, planets, and galaxies.
Options: 80 units from studios to five-bedroom villas.
Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa, New York
In Lake Placid, the Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa is situated on the waterfront in the heart of the Adirondack region’s Olympic venues. The hotel’s décor, a mix of leather couches, wood paneling, fireplaces, and twig headboards in some rooms, evokes an upmarket country lodge. To savor the mountains’ quilt of bright red maples and yellow elms and poplars, it’s hard to beat the relaxation of admiring the views from the lawn’s Adirondack chairs, walking the 2.7-mile path into Lake Placid, and riding the nearby Cloudsplitter Gondola to the top of Whiteface Mountain. But you can go wilder if you like by zig-zagging down the twists of Mount Van Hoevenberg’s Cliffside Coaster; its rails parallel the 1980 Olympic bobsled track. Kids may like to start the morning by downing a stack of the resort’s acclaimed Adirondack flapjacks served with hot maple syrup.
Options: 130 rooms
Cacapon Resort State Park, West Virginia
Cacapon Resort State Park, in Berkeley Springs, is affordable but high-quality. The 6,000-acre park on the slopes of Cacapon Mountain comes with moderately priced resort activities and lodging. Take advantage of the low golf fees and the mild autumns to practice drives and tee shots on the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones-designed course. Kids’ golf clubs can be rented. Anyone can fish in the lake (a West Virginia fishing license is required, but not hard to get), horseback ride through the woods, and hike or mountain bike some of the 23 miles of trails that wind past thickets of yellow and red maples and golden needled pines. Rooms in the newest lodge, completed in 2021, have flat-screen televisions, Wi-Fi, and comfortable furnishings. Consider an outing to soak in the historic mineral waters of Berkeley Springs, where George Washington reputedly enjoyed the healing waters.
Options: 13 heated year-round cabins, 124 rooms in the new lodge
Omni Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania
A National Historic Landmark, the Omni Bedford Springs covers 2,200 acres in southern central Pennsylvania. Although guests no longer plunge into the mineral springs that drew the wealthy for more than a century, they can soak in curative treatments at the resort’s spa. Some 25 miles of walking and biking trails wind through woods of red, golden brown, yellow, and orange maples, oaks, and hickory trees. The resort’s guided hikes, Segway tours, and horseback rides lead them through the scenery. For brilliant foliage in the surrounding countryside, drive through some of Bedford County’s 14 covered bridges (pictured above; download the route guide from the Bedford County Visitors Bureau). Rock on the front porch or sit around a fire pit with your family in the evening, enjoying the crisp fall air.
Options: 216 rooms
Grand Geneva Resort, Wisconsin
A popular Midwestern getaway between Milwaukee and Chicago, Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, in Lake Geneva, features all the destination resort must-haves—golf, tennis, spa, pools—plus activities that can make a memorable fall vacation for families. Play disc golf at the Adventure Center, saddle up at the stables (little ones can ride ponies), and go on a haunted hayride to see friendly spooks as you savor the property’s ribbons of red, yellow, and gold maples, birches, and poplars. For sweeping views of the foliage, take a scenic cruise of nearby lake (Lake Geneva Cruise Line is pictured above), stroll part of the 21-mile shoreside path, and glide through the treetops on a zip line. If your kids crave more than a pool, head to Moose Mountain Falls, the indoor waterpark (in summer, it spreads outdoors, too) at neighboring Timber Ridge Lodge, where kids float on a current-driven river, splash in pools, and twist down slides. Indoor waterparks are a specialty in Wisconsin, and you don’t have to be a hotel guest there to buy a ticket for the day.
Options: 355 rooms, 29 studio to three-bedroom villas