Zion National Park

Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

Zion National Park
Think national parks shut down once summer is over? Think again. Fall can be the best time to visit our national parks because the crowds have all gone home. Utah's Zion National Park gets spectacular fall colors late in the season, not to mention the impressive red rock canyons.

Even if you're not the outdoorsy type, there are easy and moderate hiking and biking trails available, as well as several driving routes throughout the park in Zion Canyon, Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace.

And, best of all, it's an affordable adventure: vehicle entrance is only $25 a week, and lodgings generally drop their prices in the fall. For example, Zion Mountain Resort, located just a few miles from the park's eastern entrance, lowers its rates from 10 to 20 percent between November and January.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Even our most popular national parks empty out in the autumn, partly because the kids are back to school. But just as the parks don't shut down, neither do the educational opportunities. The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont offers various fall activities including photography workshops and guided hikes with an expert naturalist.

For those who prefer to leave the learning to the classroom, this sprawling, 521,000-acre protected land offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails and roads, horseback riding and fly fishing.

Read Peter's guide to his favorite national parks

And if the great outdoors isn't really your thing, nearby towns such as Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, have every kitschy tourist amenity and family attraction known to man—and more. If you're in the mood for adventure, try the Zorb, a New Zealand–style thrill ride that involves being thrown down a hill in a giant rolling ball. You have to see it to believe it.
See fall foliage by water.

Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

New England Cruises
Although it's probably no surprise that New England is a great place to be in the fall, I prefer to avoid traffic altogether by viewing foliage from my favorite perspective: by water. Larger cruise ships like Royal Caribbean, Princess and Norwegian sail regularly from New York or Boston and up to Nova Scotia, Halifax and other parts of Canada for spectacular foliage viewing. If you prefer river cruising, there are other worthwhile options such as sailing the colorful Hudson River Valley on board the Zephyr ferry. But act fast, as those cruises generally stop sailing around late October to early November.

Fall foliage at Brockway Mountain

Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

Upper and Lower Peninsulas, Michigan
Michigan is one of the more unexpected destinations in the country to offer spectacular fall foliage viewing and a plethora of ways to experience it. Michigan has more than 100 different species of trees, including oak, maple and sycamore, which practically guarantees an annual showing.

Peter's guide to the most surprising places to catch fall foliage.

But the really cool thing about this state is that no matter where you are, you're always within 85 miles of a Great Lake and fewer than 6 miles from a lake or stream for great kayaking and canoeing.

Leaves in the northernmost parts of the state start changing as early as mid-September, but the foliage continues to peak the further south you get. Way up top is the Keweenaw Peninsula, home to Brockway Mountain, the highest scenic road between the Rockies and the Alleghenies. The Lower Peninsula, still part of Northern Michigan, is packed with scenic drives for a short fall getaway: Head east from Traverse City toward Elk Lake and Torch Lake, or drive north toward the Leelanau Peninsula on a tour of the local vineyards and wineries.

Try an Arizona dude ranch vacation

Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

Arizona's Dude Ranches
Looking for an active, family-friendly activity? Try a dude ranch. Even if you don't know a horse from your elbow, dude ranches range from basic working cattle farms to ultraluxurious properties. And, best of all, fall is prime travel season in Arizona—in fact, many ranches in the West don't even open for the season until mid-October.

Peter's seven reasons to choose a family ranch vacation.

One of the top options in Arizona is Rancho de los Caballeros, one of the Historic Hotels of America located about an hour north of Phoenix. Although it may sound pricey with fall rates starting from $405, the price includes three gourmet meals a day and ranch activities—including desert hikes, kids' camps and campfire cookouts—making it one of the more value-driven luxury vacations out there. Check the Dude Ranchers' Association for other guest ranches throughout the country.

Venice's St. Mark's Square

Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

Fall is the golden season for traveling in Europe—cool weather, fewer crowds and definitely no students backpacking around in Birkenstocks. In Venice, the magical time to go is in October and early November, although the city starts to get pretty wet by mid-November. No matter, just pack your umbrella and enjoy a city that's practically devoid of tourists.

My advice: Start the day very early with breakfast on the rooftop of the legendary Hotel Danieli. Even this pricey hotel is offering an autumn package: Book by November 8 for stays through January 31, 2010, and get up to 30 percent off, with a two-night minimum stay. An evening drink (just one; they are outrageously expensive) at Harry's Bar is a must for first-timers, followed by an experience in Saint Mark's Square that you could never have during the spring or summer—having the square almost completely to yourself!

The coast of Grenada

Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

Although there are several islands to choose from in the Caribbean, there is something to be said for Grenada's unspoiled beauty, laid-back local culture and easily accessible terrain. Worried about traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season? Rest assured, Grenada is located at the very tip of the so-called "hurricane belt," so purchase travel insurance and be aware that hurricane season generally ends around November.

Be smart about vacationing in hurricane season.

This Caribbean island enjoyed 49 hurricane-free years before being hit by Hurricanes Ivan in September 2004, followed by the less-damaging Emily. The island has recovered from the devastation with remarkable speed, but it still relies on tourist dollars. And I'm not one to let fear—of natural disasters, political strife or otherwise—to stop me from traveling.