Aerial view of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

These Small Towns In the Mid-Atlantic Come Alive In The Fall

The Mid-Atlantic region, which includes DelawareMarylandNew JerseyNew YorkPennsylvaniaVirginiaWest Virginia, and the District of Columbia, ranges from Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains. While the region’s Atlantic seaboard offers some of the best summer beach resort towns in America, many of the inland towns truly come to life in fall. The autumn colors are spectacular, and residents often celebrate the cooler weather and picturesque scenery with fall festivals. While there is never a bad time to explore the Mid-Atlantic region, autumn is tough to beat for small-town fun!

Clarion, Pennsylvania

Clear Creek State Park near Clarion, Pennsylvania in the fall
Clear Creek State Park near Clarion, Pennsylvania, in the fall.

Set along Interstate 80 in the northwestern quadrant of Pennsylvania, Clarion is a county seat and home to the Clarion campus of Pennsylvania Western University (formerly Clarion University). Clarion’s biggest annual community event is the weeklong Autumn Leaf Festival, held each year in late September and/or early October. As the name indicates, the festival celebrates the spectacular fall colors that transform the landscape of this heavily forested part of the state. While in town for the festival, check out the historic architecture of buildings like the county courthouse, which stand as reminders of Clarion’s importance in the lumber, coal, and petroleum industries during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Lake Placid, New York

Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York.
Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York.

One of the gems of the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, the town of Lake Placid famously hosted the Winter Olympics in both 1932 and 1980. Lake Placid remains a winter wonderland, with exceptional ski slopes and winter sports venues, while summertime crowds come to enjoy the surrounding lakes (Mirror Lake, East Lake, West Lake, and Lake Placid). To avoid the biggest crowds and see Lake Placid at its most beautiful, come during autumn when the weather cools and the leaves turn. Each year, in early October, Lake Placid hosts the Flaming Leaves Festival, a fun celebration of the spectacular fall foliage that includes live entertainment, food booths, and a ski jumping competition.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Colorful homes in Harpers Ferry surrounded by gorgeous fall landscape.
Colorful homes in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, surrounded by gorgeous fall landscape.

Harpers Ferry earned its place in American history in 1859 with John Brown’s Raid on the federal arsenal in town, an event that helped bring on the Civil War. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, which includes a restoration of the 1850s downtown area, preserves this important piece of history. While Harpers Ferry’s location at the confluence of the Potomac River and Shenandoah River was once prized for its strategic importance, it is now valued for its stunning natural beauty. This beauty peaks with the arrival of fall colors, and Harpers Ferry celebrates autumn with several events and festivals, including the Highland Games, Blue Ridge Arts and Crafts Festival, and Foliage Fest.

Chestertown, Maryland

Chestertown on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland
Chestertown on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

Chestertown, which has sat along the Chester River near its entry into the Chesapeake Bay since 1706, is one of the most beautiful towns in the Mid-Atlantic, no matter the time of year. The fall colors have a way of making the picturesque waterfront area even more lovely, though, and add even more charm to the colonial-era buildings in downtown Chestertown. Fall also brings about a unique and popular event: the Sultana Downrigging Weekend Tall Ship and Bluegrass Festival. The Sultana is a reproduction 1768 schooner that serves as a floating museum and other tall ships come in to celebrate its preparation for winter. And, as a fun bonus, Chestertown is awash with great bluegrass music!

Front Royal, Virginia

Spectacular fall landscape of the Shenandoah National Park.
Spectacular fall landscape of the Shenandoah National Park.

The long, narrow Shenandoah Valley, which cuts through the center of Virginia, is an oasis of farms, wineries, horse stables, historic sites, outdoor exploration, and, especially in fall, breathtaking natural beauty. Standing at the northern gateway into the valley (and the intersection of two interstate highways), the town of Front Royal is a great jumping-off point for attractions like Luray Caverns, Shenandoah National Park, and multiple Civil War battlefields. Start your day with a walk along the Shenandoah River in Eastham Park, follow up with a trip along Skyline Drive for unparalleled fall foliage views, and then head back into town to enjoy your own Oktoberfest celebration at the Virginia Beer Museum! 

Watkins Glen, New York

Saint Mary's Cemetery in Autumn. Located within Watkins Glen State Park in Upstate NY.
Saint Mary's Cemetery in autumn located within Watkins Glen State Park in Upstate New York.

Watkins Glen’s biggest national (and even global) claim to fame is Watkins Glen International Raceway, which hosts numerous auto races annually, including a NASCAR race in late August. If you are not a big fan of motorsports, though, Watkins Glen’s main draw is its picturesque location on the southern tip of Seneca Lake in New York’s popular Finger Lakes region. Just a short walk from downtown leads you into Watkins Glen State Park, which offers an awe-inspiring gorge trail and 19 waterfalls that only become more beautiful with the turning of the autumn leaves. Fall is also a great time to take a tour of the many wineries that line the shore of Seneca Lake. 

Kane, Pennsylvania

Businesses along North Fraley Street on a sunny spring day in Kane, Pennsylvania.
Businesses along North Fraley Street on a sunny spring day in Kane, Pennsylvania.

Kane is tucked away among the seemingly endless forests of north-central Pennsylvania, so it is no surprise that this community of about 3,500 was born as a bustling lumber town more than a century ago. Downtown Kane still has some of the historic structures from those earlier times and hosts a popular arts festival in June, but its greatest asset is the natural beauty that surrounds it. During the peak fall foliage season, from mid-September to mid-October, spectacular color abounds no matter which way you look. Do some leaf peeping along the North Country Trail, Knox and Kane Rail Trail, or Longhouse National Scenic Byway, or take a trip into the nearby Allegheny National Forest.

The Mid-Atlantic region is home to some of the biggest and most important cities in the United States, yet it also contains countless small-town getaways that are perfect for long weekends. From the dense forests of northern Pennsylvania and central New York to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the Mid-Atlantic is perfect for fall foliage tours. So plan your trip before the colorful leaves drop, and you have to wait for next autumn to arrive!

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