Autumn’s cooler air and turning leaves inevitably spark a desire to get away (and get outside). Thankfully, the South offers plenty of vacation destinations with fall-friendly activities for both kids and their parents—to do alone or together—from lush resort stays to budget-friendly adventures. Here’s where to head for relaxation, recreation, and nights capped with s’mores by the fire.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Even if you have that one family member who professes not to love camping, a stay in these safari-inspired tents—featuring king beds, a bathroom, and food options that aren’t limited to hot dogs and canned beans—will likely change his or her mind. Located within 182 acres of lush terrain near the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains makes for an ideal starting point for a hike—head to Clingman’s Dome and Andrew’s Bald for panoramic views of vibrant fall leaves—or a guided park tour; UC’s Adventure Concierge can help book that excursion, or a fly fishing, white water rafting, or canyoneering experience. Afterward, snag a board game in the Main Lobby Tent to take back to your own abode, and end the day at the complimentary nightly s’mores roast by the firepit, with cocktails and coffee for the adults. Seasonal on-site activities also include pumpkin and leaf painting, scavenger hunts, field games, and apple cider, hot chocolate, and donut bars.
This sprawling lakeside retreat in the Ozarks, just over the border from Arkansas, is an outdoor adventurer’s dream. On-campus options include the Timber Ridge Ropes Course, a climbing wall, an archery range, and five top-drawer golf courses, and off-site, Dogwood Canyon Nature Park—a 10,000-acre nonprofit wildlife reserve where visitors can ride horses, bike trails, fish for trout, hike, and more—lies less than thirty minutes away. Indoors, a deluxe spa, baking competitions, and candy-bar-making sessions are always on deck, and Cedar Fest (September 18 to October 31) brings special events: a fall foliage cruise on Lady Liberty (the resort’s yacht on Table Rock Lake), a pumpkin patch, and a corn maze. The accommodations—including lakeside cottages, glamping tents, and log cabins—complete the cozy mood.
Meadows of Dan, Virginia
Located on 12,000 acres in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Primland beckons those of all ages who love the sporting life with its fly and pond fishing, clay shooting and archery courses, RTV tours, horseback-riding and mountain-biking trails, paddleboarding, and more. Night brings stargazing at the resort’s tricked-out observatory, fireside s’mores, and bedding down in family-friendly accommodations such as one of the Pinnacle Cottages, which can host up to twelve.
Fort Worth, Texas
Whether you’re watching the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive, cheering at the Saturday night rodeo, or line dancing at the world’s largest honky-tonk, the Fort Worth Stockyards easily rustles up a weekend’s worthy of cowboy-sized fun. Get into the action yourself by taking a horseback ride along the Chisholm Trail by the Trinity River, or by visiting the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. One possible stay: The “luxe-rustic” Hotel Drover, just steps away from the cobblestone streets of the 130-year-old Stockyards, has an outdoor pool with cabanas, s’mores—naturally—by the fire each night, bunkhouse rooms with lofted beds for the small fry, kid-sized robes, and special touches like personalized luggage tags you get to watch the hotel staff brand with your own initial.
Asheville, North Carolina
Don’t let the petite nature of Wrong Way’s A-frame cabins fool you—each of the 354-square-foot standards come with a queen bed and a queen sleeper sofa, and the deluxe design offers even more space (all come with a record player with vintage albums, a hammock, books, and games). And the location is hard to beat: The urban campground lies across the street from the French Broad River (and Greenway, which has nine miles of paved trailways if you pack your bicycles) and just three miles from downtown Asheville. In other words, you can enjoy city exploration and outdoor recreation by land or water with ease—even better in the fall when leaf-peeping (and local apple picking) is at its height. Wrong Way also features a climbing gym on the eastern side of the property, open daily, and can organize a family float through town with a local rafting outfitter.
If your children enjoy the VIP treatment, the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, on the shores of Georgia’s Lake Oconee, may be their new favorite spot, thanks to the VIK (Very Important Kids) process at arrival, where kids get to “check in” themselves via an iPad, complete with a questionnaire that asks their favorite color, the lake activities they’re most excited about, animals they may get to see, and more. A recently revamped Ritz Kids club organizes the likes of spy missions and tent-building, and a junior golf program allows for instruction for those as young as four. Parents can also appreciate the boating, fishing, hiking, canoeing, and spa options, and teens can join them at the Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds, a twenty-station sporting clays course that also has canoeing and off-roading. Shoreside accommodations, including spacious two-and-three-bedroom cottages that offer privacy and a Cottage Concierge to help plan activities, are ideal for families.
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
By land or by sea, the Beach Club has you covered. On solid ground, there’s bocce, chess, several pools, and a beach along the Charleston Harbor—much more tolerable in the cooler (but still not cool) fall air—and a 30,000-square-foot deck where nightly s’mores get served. In the water, the College of Charleston Sailing Association offers private sailing lessons and camps for kids and youth, just steps away from the resort.