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Top five affordable fall escapes for families

With the kids back in school and your supply of vacation days running short after summer trips, it’s generally harder to travel in the fall. However, there are many ways you can experience the pleasures of autumn with quick, affordable escapes that are close to home. From leaf-peeping outings to fall sporting events, we found five ways that your family can enjoy the season on easy day trips or weekend getaways.

Our top five ideas include: Picking your own fruit | Going for a hike | Attending a college sports event | Going to a fair | Visiting a beach town

Picking your own fruit

There’s no better way to experience the harvest season than picking your own fresh fruits and vegetables at a nearby farm or orchard. Every autumn, thousands of farms across the country allow visitors to pick their own apples, pumpkins, and more. Normally, you pay only for the produce you buy, which is usually a lot less than you’d pay at the supermarket. Plus, many farms and orchards also offer petting zoos, pony rides, hayride tours, and farming demonstrations for little or no cost.

To find “pick-your-own” farms and orchards in your area, visit and search for locations by state. You can then search by fruit or vegetable to display listings of farms that grow that produce, along with contact information, a web link (if available), directions, and a description of what other produce and activities are offered.

Going for a hike

Hiking is not only one of the best ways to see fall colors, it’s also one of the cheapest. With some basic outdoor equipment and a map, your gang can witness the changing of seasons up close and get a good workout, be it at a nearby nature preserve or a national park.

To find hiking trails near your home, use the American Hiking Society’s Trail Finder tool. Click on a state to find listings of hiking trails, plus recommendations for scenic walks and drives, family outings, and more. If you’d prefer a guided trip, you can find low-cost excursions and workshops designed for families through the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Attending a college sports event

For some families, fall and football go hand in hand. But rather than shelling out for a professional game, consider cheering on the local college team for a lot less. What’s more, college games often have more family appeal than professional games, with alumni from older and prospective generations joining together to watch the current squad. Although ticket prices for some college football games rival the cost of professional games, most are significantly cheaper. And, most universities offer child, student, and senior ticket discounts?something professional teams almost never do.

If you’re not interested in football, you can often see other fall college sports for little or no cost. Soccer, golf, tennis, cross-country, crew, volleyball, and field hockey will all be in season, and the teams will be eager for support. For example, you could attend a Northwestern football game for $15 to $40 per person, a volleyball game for $3 to $5, or a soccer match for free.

To find out schedules and ticket prices for games at colleges in your area, go to the school’s website and look under “Athletics.” If you’re traveling to another city to watch a game, some airlines, including America West and Delta, offer last-minute sports fares that can help you save on your flight.

Going to a fair

With fall being harvest time, many states and counties choose to hold their annual agriculture fairs in September and October. For a reasonable admission charge, most fairs offer enough variety and entertainment to keep your family occupied for a full day or longer. You can spend extra on games and rides, or enjoy the shows, competitions, exhibits, and animal and produce displays for no added cost.

The International Association of Fairs and Expositions has a detailed online event calendar that lists dates and contact information for nearly 3,000 fairs and other events across North America and the world. Search for fairs by month.

Visiting a beach town

You may associate the beach with summer, but many seaside resorts along the East and West Coasts are also ideal for off-peak fall travel, offering lower prices, less crowding, and pleasant, cool weather through much of the season. In an effort to keep tourists around for as long as possible, local hotels and other travel companies are staying open longer than in years past and cutting prices. And, local chambers of commerce tend to organize special fall events and activities, such as arts and music festivals. If your family is interested in more than sunbathing, you’ll find plenty to do along the coast this autumn, such as biking, sailing, and sea kayaking.

To find out what’s happening at your favorite beach destination this fall and where to find off-peak deals, visit the website of the local tourism bureau. Search for tourism bureaus by state using the Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory or the State Tourism Yellow Pages.

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