Top Five Cities to Visit in Fall
Fall is my favorite season for a multitude of reasons. The perfect running weather and gorgeous foliage make me want to spend a bulk of my time outdoors. Similar to summer, most of my traveling experiences are done within the season to soak in the spirit from as many different vantage points as possible.
Below I've outlined my top five favorite cities I've experienced in fall (or very close to it). Each trip was very special in its own way and was hard to rank numerically. I'm sure this list will continue to change as I hit the road more in the fall, so please leave a comment below of any cities worth visiting when the season comes around.
5) Petoskey, Michigan
A little over three years ago, my friend Bri visited Michigan for the first time from Nevada. I felt honored to show her around my home state, and created a list of activities and cities to check out in her four short days in The Mitten. After attending a Tigers game, experiencing the culinary magic of Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor and bar hopping to experience the never-ending craft brewery options in Grand Rapids, we found ourselves in Petoskey several days later.
Following our time at Beards for more food and drinks, we took a walk along the Little Traverse Bay sharing stories and soaking in the remnants of the day, feeling like we had the town to ourselves. After returning to our Airbnb and retiring for the night, I woke to Bri staring out the window early the next morning, enamored with the light rain that was falling outside.
Seeing my home state through the eyes of a visitor was nothing short of inspiring. Everything was new to her; the greenery, the abundance of mom-and-pop shops, the midwestern hospitality and the massive array of lakes. Everything I took for granted on a daily basis was being brought to the surface, and made me have pride to be a Michigander. While all of these experiences technically happened shortly before the first day of fall, the options for activities only continues to grow in Michigan as the season gets in full swing. In addition to drinking and being by the water, going to a cider mill, pumpkin picking and going to a corn maze are also great activities to experience once fall comes around in Michigan.
4) Shepherdstown, West Virginia
Whenever I would tell people that I was vacationing to West Virginia, their initial response was a genuinely inquisitive "why?" I'm a firm believer that every place has something unique and interesting to offer, and poor West Virginia seems to generally be pretty low on everyone's priority list. However, I'm not lying when I say that this college town had a very spirited night life, creating an amazing road trip experience.
The initial reason for the trip to begin with was to see Harpers Ferry. My brother Joel also emphasized visiting West Virginia in the fall, due to the vibrant colors of the trees during a previous drive through the state. Growing up in The Mitten and having a gorgeous fall season ourselves, I took this claim pretty seriously.
Our Airbnb was in a stone mansion built in 1757, roughly 20 minutes outside of Harpers Ferry. After getting acquainted with the hosts, they recommended driving into Shepherdstown for food and general evening activities.
I could honestly write an entire post dedicated to the experiences we had in Shepherdstown that night. In short, we struck up a conversation with a local talking about good eateries, which turned into running into that same person later in the night, which then turned into parading around with that new friend and his entire group for the remainder of the night. We were hopping from bar to bar, sharing stories and jokes like we've known each other for a lifetime. They ended up being just as surprised as the ones from back home about why we'd make West Virginia a destination for a road trip.
I'm still Facebook friends with that initial person we met to this day. It's a trip I still think often and fondly about when fall comes around, and it's a city that rarely gets talked about, if at all, when the topic of traveling comes up.
3) Sedona, Arizona
My sole intention in the fall of 2017 was to venture out to Arizona to compete in the Petrified Forest Marathon (check out Arizona - A Marathon in Every State to read the full backstory on that). While I was there, my friend Amy who I was staying with recommended making the trek to Sedona to take a hike on Devils Bridge.
Sedona is a city I wish I would have spent more time in while I was there. The beautiful red rocks brought back memories of time I spent in Utah, and how awestruck I was the first time I experienced that type of landscape. Devils Bridge certainty didn't disappoint, boasting breathtaking views around every bend.
The temperature difference between northern and southern Arizona is drastically different, which is something I didn't completely think about before making the trip. I still find it hard to believe that temperatures were over 100 degrees prior to 8 AM on my morning run in Phoenix, even in the month of October. The temperature on race day in Holbrook was around 40 degrees at 7:15 AM, to put things into perspective. The temperature difference mainly has to do with the difference in the climate. The southern part is more of a desert, while the northern part has a bit of greenery sprinkled in. Certain parts of northern Arizona are also at a higher elevation, which is something else I didn't prepare for before attempting a marathon there.
While Sedona doesn't have the typical fall foliage I'm accustomed to in the Midwest, the moderate temperatures put me into the spirit of the season. Sedona also has multiple energy vortexes, and Native Americans believe the grounds to be sacred. I think often about my time spent in Arizona, with Sedona being a very special highlight.
2) Baltimore, Maryland
Another marathon was centered around this trip, as I ventured out to Charm City to compete in the Baltimore Marathon in October of 2018 (check out Maryland - A Marathon in Every State to read the full backstory on that experience). Baltimore was a city I always told myself "it would be cool to visit someday," but would never sit down and make any tangible plans to make it happen. Signing up for the marathon gave me an excuse to finally see it.
I kept my expectations at a minimum going into it, and ended up finding the charm the city is nicknamed for. The crisp autumn air, the familiar fall foliage, the windy roads crammed with rowhouses. The locals were very blunt about their feelings, but had an underlying love and appreciation for the city.
When I struck up a conversation with a worker at Keller's Liquor Store about competing in the marathon, his response was that running through Baltimore made sense, given how sketchy it is. His claim isn't entirely wrong, as Baltimore ranks at number four for the most dangerous cities in America. With my birthplace of Lansing coming in at number 21 on the same list, and poor Detroit still holding the number one spot, the atmosphere just strangely reminded me of home.
As I ran through the cobblestone streets of Baltimore on race day, hearing the cheers from workers at the Maryland Zoo, and residents standing in front of their rowhouses, I felt a strong sense from the people of something I feel whenever I visit Detroit: pride. Despite what's written in newspapers and captured by statisticians on the amount of violent crime in the city, there's still an overwhelming amount of people that care about their city and the people who visit it. Nearly one-third of the city's buildings are designated as historic, which is more than any other U.S. city. Take a step back in time and experience the charm of this city first-hand as the autumn air takes over.
1) Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
To no surprise, yet another marathon was centered around this trip. After completing the Atlantic City Marathon in New Jersey, my family and I made a point to spend a few days in Gettysburg on the way back. Having stopped there last year after the Baltimore Marathon, Joel and I felt like we didn't fully experience the city to the depth that we should have, so we made a point to return the following year.
To prepare for the experience, Joel and I watched the entire Gettysburg film in its 254 minute entirety. When we returned to the battlefield once more, we even rented a historian to ride around in the car with us to explain the history in-depth (something that's well worth doing, by the way).
Still wanting more from the experience, I convinced my family to do a walking ghost tour of the city that evening. Having done a ghost tour in Savannah, Georgia and a witch tour in Salem, Massachusetts (on Friday the 13th, mind you), the structure was very similar. The tour guide led participants around the city, spinning yarns about the heavy history and strange paranormal occurrences, all while observing the homes from the streets.
As the tour concluded, the tour guide got a feel for the crowd, and asked if we wanted to do some real ghost hunting. He had dowsing rods already on-hand, which are believed to detect paranormal activity from recognizing changes in the surrounding energy. The adventurous group agreed and we all started hunting.
As we did our hunting, I captured several photos of orbs, which really seemed to take a liking to Joel. We made jokes that they probably thought he was a general in the war with his vintage Custer-esque mustache. Either way, being able to gain a better knowledge of the city's history, combined with taking part in some impromptu ghost hunting, made for a very memorable and satisfying experience in the midst of spooky season.