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Skyline Drive is a scenic byway that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia (Photograph by Pat & Chuck Blackley, Alamy)

@NatGeoTravel Staff Picks: Best Fall Trips

With the changing of the seasons comes a change in where we as travelers set our sights on going. Inspired by our latest list of best fall tripslatest list of best fall trips, Nat Geo Travel staffers shared their own favorite autumn escapes.

Here’s a dozen to get you dreaming about your next adventure, near or far:

“Call me a slave to routine, but every fall—typically in late October—I take a day off work and head to Old Rag, one of the best day hikes in the Washington, D.C., area. The route carves up several lung-burning switchbacks before graduating to one of Shenandoah National Park‘s more well-known peaks. It’s all rock scrambles and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape—which transforms into a patchwork of autumnal colors as the leaves turn—en route to an exposed granite shoulder where you can watch hawks float on the thermals and contemplate which small town you’re going to stop in for a post-hike burger. Just don’t go on the weekends; the secret of Old Rag is well out, and it can be a mob scene on Saturdays and Sundays, especially during peak leaf-peeping season.” —Nathan Borchelt, senior product manager, National Geographic Travel & Adventure

More love for the Old Dominion state: “Lucky for me, my favorite fall destination is only a short car ride away from my home in Washington, D.C.—the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Situated among the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, this beautiful region has everything you need to celebrate autumn. While you’re there, take a trip down Skyline Drive to see the amazing fall foliage, dine on delicious apple donuts at the Apple House, and finish your day with a glass of vino at one of the many wineries that dot the Shenandoah skyline.” —Megan Heltzel, associate producer, National Geographic Travel

Bermuda is a quick flight from America’s East Coast, and I love the moment when I step off the plane into the balmy air on the tarmac. I always take a moment to find the cheery pink Bermuda shorts painted on the terminal’s facade. Beaches are uncrowded in the fall, flowers are blooming, the temperature is in the 70s and low 80s but the water is still warm, and you’re more likely to be able to snorkel with a colorful assortment of tropical fish as soon as you walk out into the turquoise water. Once I got to swim with a big green sea turtle at my favorite secluded cove! I visit Bermuda a lot, mostly to see my rollicking little grandsons who live there, and I have to say that fall is my favorite time to go.” —Marilyn Terrell, chief researcher, National Geographic Traveler

Albuquerque is my favorite city to visit in the fall because of the International Balloon Fiesta, which takes place each October. Thousands of balloons decorate the New Mexican sky over a period of nine days, but it’s best to attend in the evening when the colorful balloons are aglow above the golden desert to the west while the moon rises above the Sandia Mountains to the east. It’s a magical sight to behold a sea of colors in the night sky, especially because the temperature drops, ushering in a crisp alpine air.” —Andrea Leitch, producer, National Geographic Travel

“Fall just seems to suit the mountainous country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I lived for a year and a half. High peaks hug Sarajevo, whose clay-topped houses extend up the surrounding hills in all directions. On the southeast edge of town, a long leaf-strewn path leads through the woods past elegant Austro-Hungarian estates to Vrelo Bosne Park and the idyllic spring of the Bosna River. Outside the city, roads wind around the mountains flanked by rivers, overlooking valleys ablaze with ocher and red. One of my most memorable autumnal drives from Sarajevo involved a stop at the former Ottoman town of Travnik to snack on sheep cheese made in the Dinaric Alps en route to 14th-century Jajce, which once served as capital of the erstwhile Kingdom of Bosnia. A 60-foot waterfall plunges impressively in the middle of town, while 19 small wooden watermills stand guard over the Pliva lakes a few miles away.” —Christine Blau, researcher, National Geographic Traveler

“One of my favorite trips with my husband was to Sonoma County, California, for a fall weekend getaway. Along with inviting tasting rooms, dozens of wineries have picnic grounds, some overlooking crimson vineyards and mountain backdrops. In Healdsburg, pick up boxed lunches at Jimtown, a roadside store that packs up baguette sandwiches, house-marinated olives, and seasonal fruit to go. For our picnics, we enjoyed the family-owned Rochioli Vineyards overlooking the Russian River Valley floor (noted for its Pinot Noir) and Matanzas Creek Winery, where we played bocce ball in a park-like setting with gardens and lavender fields (along with tasty Sauvignon Blanc, they make and sell lavender soap). Fun side trips: Ogle movie memorabilia from The Godfather and dine on wood-fired pizzas at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Don’t leave without visiting Beauty Ranch at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen. Hike a short trail to the author’s wood-framed cottage where he wrote many of his later novels.” —Susan O’Keefe, associate editor, National Geographic Traveler

“It came as no surprise to me to see North Carolina’s Black Mountain on Nat Geo Travel’s list of best fall trips in 2013. Growing up in Florida, my parents took us here every year to experience a taste of changing seasons and cooler weather—and what an amazing taste! The hiking trails that yield awe-inspring views of multi-colored landscapes are myriad. We would take walks around Lake Tomahawk and watch the geese swim by, surrounded by mountains. Warming up with a hot concoction from downtown’s Dripolator Coffeehouse is a must, as is partaking in one of Black Mountain’s seasonal festivities, which include ghost tours, art festivals, and a harvest fair.” —Becky Davis, production assistant, National Geographic Travel

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Visiting Black Mountain? Add some pep to your step at Dripolator Coffeehouse. (Photograph by Rebecca Davis)

“During Austin’s fall months, the spicy tomatillo salsa will still make you sweat, but the weather won’t. Though you might sport shorts at Austin City Limits, the annual October music festival in Zilker Park, you won’t have to melt in the dry Texas heat of summer while dancing to the Flaming Lips. After the headliners, head to Guero’s for its salsa bar selection, then to Gourdough’s for doughnuts stuffed with apple pie filling or topped with grilled bananas. In the morning, burn off the Tex-Mex with a walk along Lady Bird Lake, the mirage-like reservoir in the heart of downtown Austin.” —Hannah Sheinberg, assistant editor, National Geographic Traveler

Bhutan is at its best in fall. Crisp skies afford sweeping views of the Himalayas, and cooler temperatures draw farmers to their fields to harvest red rice. Most of Bhutan’s famous festivals are held between September and November, so a visit isn’t complete until you’ve attended one of these colorful celebrations. When you go, try the Devil’s Pizza, a spin on ema datshi—Bhutan’s spicy national dish of chili peppers and cheese.” —Jeannette Kimmel, editorial business manager, National Geographic Traveler

“Visit gritty Pittsburgh, where coal-stoked steel mills and manufacturing industries once powered (and polluted) America, and you’ll discover it’s getting love from an unlikely corner these days—with one of the greenest buildings on Earth. That’s right, tough-talking Steel City has created buzz in the eco-architecture world with the clean-lined glass-and-wood Center for Sustainable Landscapes, a platinum LEED showcase of renewable, zero-energy technology at the city’s venerable Phipps Conservatory. Take a docent-led tour of the sun-filled space featuring salvaged and recycled wood, and you’ll see pioneering energy savers—light shelves and louvers that minimize solar heat in summer and maximize it in winter; rain gardens that treat used water and attract wildlife; geothermal heating and cooling; ‘permeable’ paving materials—that show the way for buildings of the future. Of course, plants decorate the center as they do the rest of the conservatory, in keeping with Phipps’s mission to educate all about the beauty and importance of flora in our lives. Also in keeping with the mission: the architects’ original organizing principle to ‘imagine a building designed and constructed to function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower.’ Yup, modeling on flowers in the home of the Steelers. It’s a thing of beauty.” —Jayne Wise, senior editor, National Geographic Traveler

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Jasper, Arkansas, located in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, is known as a rock-climbing mecca. (Photograph by Tyler Metcalfe)

“While attending the University of Oklahoma, one of my favorite fall destinations was Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas. Though my friends and I would go for the world-class climbing (and the annual 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, in which participants climb for a day straight), the ranch also offers horseback riding, zip-lining, canoeing, target shooting, caving, hiking, wagon rides, and disc golf. In the fall, the trees begin to change colors and the entire canyon becomes saturated with bright oranges, yellows, and reds, providing a beautiful backdrop for the ranch, which is, as the name suggests, located at the base of a horseshoe-shaped valley. Visitors can either camp on the ranch grounds or at one of the many spacious cabins for rent nearby.” —Tyler Metcalfe, associate photo producer, National Geographic Travel

“Instead of nuzzling up with warm spiced drinks where it’s cold outside, I prefer sipping cool spiced cocktails where it’s tropical outside. In the eastern Caribbean island of Grenada, dubbed the Spice Isle for the bounty of spices grown there, you can stop at roadside gardens lush with nutmeg and almond trees, visit a cocoa plantation, and shop for freshly ground spices in the fragrant central market in St. George’s, the capital. Those other smells? Oh, that’s the salt water and hot sands of beaches like Grand Anse and Morne Rouge. This is the Caribbean, after all.” —Amy Alipio, associate editor, National Geographic Traveler

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