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Southeast Tourism Society: Autumn

Photo courtesy Virginia Tourism Corp.

In the mountains, fall brings sprays of color that elevate scenic vistas from beautiful to breathtaking. On the coast, autumn is one of the best seasons for shrimp, bringing succulent specimens to your plate. And harvest time at farms and orchards comes with an abundance of fruits and flavors.

Fall can be the best time of year to travel. And when groups travel the Southeast during the fall, they will find a wide variety of seasonal specialties, from amazing colored foliage to wine events, barbecue festivals and horseracing.

This autumn, several states will be celebrating one-time special events, including the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky and the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. Visit these festivities or any number of other places around the region, and you’ll find that in the fall, there may be no better place to be than the Southeast.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a variety of special events spread throughout the year. The anniversary makes this a great year to visit Skyline Drive to see the fall foliage. The 105-mile stretch of road through Shenandoah National Park in central Virginia is considered one of the most scenic areas of the entire parkway.

Wine lovers will also enjoy an autumn visit to Virginia, where more than 150 wineries have helped local wines surge in popularity.

“October is Virginia Wine Month, and it’s at the heart of our fall travel season,” said Danielle Emerson, public relations assistant at the Virginia Tourism Corporation. “It’s the harvest season, so wineries are doing a lot of special events. A good amount of our wineries are in regions where fall foliage is really beautiful.”

Another favorite event is the Richmond Folk Festival, an annual multicultural celebration that takes place each fall in the capital city. The celebration features music, dance, food, and arts and crafts from many of the cultures represented in Richmond and throughout Virginia. About 185,000 people come each year to enjoy the festival and the 30 acts that perform on six stages.

“It’s all different kinds of music, not just folk,” Emerson said. “They have jazz, gospel, bluegrass and others. And the best part is that it’s all free.”

Groups will also enjoy Foods and Feasts of Colonial Virginia, an event that takes place in late November at Jamestown and Yorktown.

Some of Kentucky’s finest qualities are in full bloom during the fall, among them temperate weather, great food and drink, and the pageantry of the horse culture. Each fall, Keeneland in Lexington and Churchill Downs in Louisville offer world-class racing meets in beautiful, historic settings.

Courtesy Kentucky Department of Travel

Both Louisville and Lexington also welcome major events this fall.

“The Breeder’s Cup is coming this fall, and it will be the seventh time that it has been held at Churchill Downs,” said Kentucky tourism commissioner Mike Cooper. “That’s a record for tracks in the United States.”

Lexington will be hosting the biggest event in its history Sept. 25-Oct. 10, when the World Equestrian Games will bring thousands of international visitors for the world’s largest equestrian competition. The games take place once every four years, and this is the first year they are being held outside of Europe.

Groups visiting Kentucky during that time can get tickets to attend some of the competitions or enjoy elements of many Kentucky areas in a special 25,000-square-foot pavilion at the games.

“It represents everything Kentucky,” Cooper said. “We’ll have regional displays from all of Kentucky’s tourism regions. We’re working on a Kentucky Proud tasting area, and we’ll have Kentucky entertainment going on every hour of the games.”

Groups should also plan to visit Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, near Harrodsburg. The historic site tells a fascinating human story, and its pastoral setting is vibrant with color during autumn.


Fall brings a variety of seasonal festivals and attractions to Georgia, where autumn temperatures are often comfortably warm. One of the most notable events is the Oktoberfest celebration in the city of Helen.

Courtesy Georgia Dept of Economic Dev.

“Helen is a small town in the mountains of northeast Georgia,” said Katie Bassen, senior sales manager with the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “It has a Bavarian background and heritage, and they’ve really kept it with that look. They have an Oktoberfest with a beer garden, German bands and German food. You come to a real German village, and you have to think twice about where you are.”

Visitors traveling to Georgia in thefall will find three corn mazes, all massive labyrinths created amidst the stalks of working corn fields. One of them, the North Georgia Corn Maze, is located in Cleveland, the town where Cabbage Patch dolls originated. Groups can spend some time enjoying the corn maze and festivities and then visit Babyland General Hospital, where some dolls are still made by hand.

A number of state parks are also popular autumn destinations.

“We’re really trying to encourage visits to the state parks,” Bassen said. “Fall is a perfect time for folks to go discover them. They do group tours and have lodge facilities and golf courses.”

One favorite park for groups is Amicalola Falls State Park, where a 729-foot waterfall is the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

West Virginia
A number of sightseeing railroads give visitors great opportunities to enjoy the autumn leaves that burnish the mountainsides of West Virginia. One of them, the New River Fall Foliage Train, is exclusive to the fall season.

“It only runs the second and third weekends in October,” said Kathy Johnson, marketing specialist for the West Virginia Division of Tourism. “It’s done with the C.P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society. It goes from Huntington to Hinton, where they have a street fair. You can have your coach pick you up there or ride the train back.”

Not far away at the New River Gorge Bridge, October brings Bridge Day, the only day each year when pedestrians are allowed to walk out on the bridge that spans the gorge 876 feet below. The celebration includes base-jumping demonstrations and a festival atmosphere with food vendors and arts and crafts booths set up along the bridge.

Near Charleston, the fairly young Rod Run and Doo Wop is becoming a popular fall event.

“It’s a new event that started a couple of years ago,” Johnson said. “It has antique cars and ’60s music. It would be great for groups — it’s all on flat land here in Charleston, where you can look at the old cars and listen to free live music.”

Fall color flourishes in areas throughout northern Alabama, where cities and towns are surrounded by abundant forests and natural attractions.

Courtesy Alabama Tourism Dept.

“Northern Alabama is so beautiful and panoramic with all of the fall colors,” said Rosemary Judkins, group travel manager at the Alabama Tourism Department. “Some of the most beautiful colors are in Little River Canyon. That’s one of the deepest gorges east of the Mississippi, and it just comes to life with all of the golds and burnt oranges for fall.”

Groups spending time in the northern part of the state may want to visit the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which highlights the rich heritage of musicians who have lived and worked in the region. Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birthplace in Tuscumbia, is also a popular place to stop and see fall color.

A number of notable festivals in the fall give visitors a distinctive insight into Alabama culture. In Selma, the annual Tall Tellin’ festival takes place every year in October.

“It’s a big event with Kathryn Tucker Windham, one of the most famous storytellers in the area,” Judkins said. “It’s a folk thing where she and other people tell stories, ancient legends and other tales. It will also have all kinds of people there showcasing their arts and crafts.”