Best and Worst States to Visit This Fall

Fall colors on leaves reflected on a lake in the foreground.

Bonfires are roasting, corn is ready to harvest, and everything is flavored pumpkin spice — fall is back! If you’re like us over here at LawnStarter, you can’t wait to enjoy the great outdoors in some cooler weather. That’s why it’s crucial to know the best and worst states to visit this fall.

According to polling from YouGov, fall is most Americans’ favorite season.

The U.S. has never needed a satisfying pumpkin binge like we do now. Americans may be especially looking forward to fall this year to “anchor themselves.” We need a return to feelings of comfort, belonging, and safety” after the brutal lockdown. So our flannel-clad hikes and apple bobbing really could be doing our brains some good.

But the U.S. is a big country, and fall doesn’t strike all states equally. To help Americans plan their autumn getaways this year, LawnStarter compared 47 states — we left out California, Oregon, and Washington due to recent wildfires — across five categories:

  • Parks and Forests
  • Entertainment
  • Trails
  • Yard Size
  • Natural Hazards

We looked at a total of 16 metrics. These include the amount of the state covered in national and state parks, pumpkin patches, and wineries. We also factored in scenic drives and hurricane risk.

Your fall outdoor adventure awaits as many U.S. states begin easing quarantine and travel restrictions. So dive in to find the ideal states for colorful leaves, hayrides, and baskets full of decorative gourds.

Best States for Fall Rankings

OVERALL SCOREOVERALL RANKStateParks & Forests RankEntertainment RankYard Size RankTrails RankNatural Hazards Rank
46.021New York5116316
43.952Alaska14743281
32.853Michigan93121911
29.664Pennsylvania1229617
29.445Colorado251814119
24.306Ohio3046158
22.657Wisconsin1615252910
21.168Illinois35711261
20.609Missouri271310229
20.0910Maine331361724
19.4611Hawaii134641311
18.8112Massachusetts61122830
17.9213Vermont1126463414
17.6914Virginia2055728
17.1615Texas8611133
16.5516Minnesota2914183213
15.9917Tennessee19168923
15.7718Indiana391219331
15.4819New Hampshire724351025
15.0720Connecticut419211631
11.7421West Virginia1041403718
11.2222Kentucky2221263020
9.7823Iowa442032381
9.4924New Jersey1410272132
8.2625Maryland361772522
6.7726Utah183428235
5.9127Nebraska452730461
5.3328Arkansas2428292327
2.2129North Dakota464345471
1.7530Kansas4725234212
0.8431Delaware4042344415
-1.6232North Carolina2184540
-3.2633Rhode Island3737334029
-3.3134Oklahoma4129173926
-3.5435South Dakota4345434121
-4.1436Montana3240422434
-8.8937Alabama2330203536
-11.3738New Mexico3835381437
-12.7039Wyoming3144471338
-16.2640Arizona282324441
-21.3641Georgia172232044
-21.7842Louisiana3439154339
-24.5643Florida2921247
-26.6344Idaho3333371842
-28.5945Mississippi2636314543
-31.2146South Carolina1532133646
-39.5147Nevada4238392745
ExcludedCalifornia
ExcludedOregon
ExcludedWashington

Key Takeaways

New York state of mind

This state is far more than the five boroughs of the Big Apple. Upstate New York is filled with beautiful mountains, pristine lakes, and miles of parks and trails. But in a twist, New York is also our No. 1 destination for fall entertainment. No state has more apple orchards or corn mazes, making the Empire State an ideal place to enjoy your best outdoor life this fall.

Midwest is best

Half of the top 10 states are in the Midwestern U.S., all with notably top marks in the Entertainment, Hazards, and Forest categories. If you live in the middle of the country, try Michigan, Illinois or Ohio for calming walks in the woods or to perfect the smile on your carved pumpkin.

Skip the South

Three out of the five bottom states are in the South, and they’re all on the coast. This means they’re the biggest targets for less than ideal weather (a quick glance at the news will show you that fall is prime hurricane season). The other low performers are Idaho and Nevada. They’re beautiful states but with less entertainment and fewer outdoor activities like orchards, pumpkin patches, and wineries.

Infographic ranking states on fall events and activities like hiking, pumpkins patches, etc.

Methodology

To rank 2020’s Best and Worst States to Visit This Fall, LawnStarter first determined five key categories — Parks and Forests, Entertainment, Trails, Yard Size, and Natural Hazards — that fit travelers’ ideas of the fall season.

For this first edition of our study, we carefully considered the limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. We decided to include only “low-COVID-19 risk” factors that allow for social-distancing and therefore maximize safety, given their outdoor nature.

Across the five key categories, we then compiled 16 total metrics that consider all ages, which are listed below with the score we assigned to each. The final category, Natural Hazards, penalizes the states accordingly for any wildfire or hurricane risk (considering fall is historically wildfire season in the northern and western regions of the U.S. and hurricane season in coastal states).

We then added up the scores across all categories and metrics for each of 47 states to arrive at the final ranking. The highest possible score is 100, and the lowest is -70. The state with the highest score was ranked No. 1, or “best state to visit this fall,” while the state with the lowest score was ranked No. 47, or “worst.”

Limitations

  • Although our study accounts for wildfire risk, we decided to exclude California, Oregon, and Washington State due to the extremity of recent wildfire events in those states that currently make them unsafe travel destinations.
  • We did not account for average expenses for fall activities in each state due to the complexity of such calculations, including adjustments based on average income and cost of living.
  • We did not account for “fall weather,” considering the ideal fall temperature and climate is a matter of individual taste and therefore cannot be measured fairly.

Parks and Forests (Total Points: 56)

  • Number of National Parks: 8 Points
  • Surface of National Parks: 8 Points
  • Number of State Parks: 8 Points
  • Surface of State Parks: 8 Points
  • Percentage of State Covered in National and State Parks: 8 Points
  • Percentage of Forest Area out of Total Area: 16 Points

Entertainment (Total Points: 20)

  • Number of Apple Orchards: 4 Points
  • Number of Corn Mazes: 6 Points
  • Number of Pumpkin Patches: 4 Points
  • Number of Wineries: 6 Points

Yard Size (Total Points: 2)

  • Average Yard Size: 2 Points

Trails (Total Points: 22)

  • Number of Forest Trails: 8 Points
  • Number of Hiking Trails: 6 Points
  • Number of Scenic Drives: 8 Points

Natural Hazards (Total Points: -70)

  • Wildfire Risk: -50 Points
  • Hurricane Risk: -20 Points (hurricane risk was calculated based on the corresponding size of the state).

Sources: National Park Service; USDA Forest Service; Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau; National Center for Disaster Preparedness; terragalleria.com; playgroundequipment.com; funtober.com; pumpkinpatchesandmore.org; LawnStarter

Main Image Credit: Shutterstock

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Staff Writer