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Travel Picks: Top 10 U.S. destinations in October

NEW YORK, Oct 5 (Reuters) - As the calendar page flips to October, we are fully and unquestionably into autumn. As thoughts turn to cooler days, harvest-driven fare and Columbus Day weekend, where are U.S. travelers heading? Online travel consultants Cheapflights.com () took a look at the destinations that spiked in October flight searches and came up with a list of the Top 10 October destinations. Reuters has not endorsed this list: 1. Baton Rouge, Louisiana Home of Louisiana State University and Saturday night football games at Death Valley, Baton Rouge is energized in the fall, especially when the Bengal Tigers are in the Top 5. This October, the SEC home opener rolls around in mid-October; surely fans from near and far are planning their pilgrimage. However, there is more to October than football in Baton Rouge. The city also hosts one of the most acclaimed Halloween attractions: the 13th Gate. This haunted house, complete with a 40,000-square-foot graveyard, is where Hollywood meets horror to give a trip into your worst dreams. 2. Fort Myers, Florida

While the snow birds are starting to trickle in, our guess is it's the shoulder season appeal that's attracting other travelers to this popular beach community. If you love warm instead of hot, are not interested in dodging hurricanes and want to beat the high-season costs, this is a great time to go to the Gulf Coast. Of course, fish also react to the slightly cooler air and water, which also makes October a prime time for anglers to head to the Fort Myers area to chase the migrating tarpon as well as the fall crop of red fish and mackerel. 3. Austin, Texas

A college town, state capital and popular year-round destination, what could make October particularly special in Austin? Well, how about back-to-back international festivals? First up is Austin City Limits (Oct. 12-14), eight stages and nine hours a day of big names, rising stars and new sounds. Then the city turns itself over to the movie industry for eight nights of films and parties during the Austin Film Festival and Conference (Oct. 18-25). Throw in a couple Big 12 Conference games for the Longhorns and great fall weather, and it's no wonder Austin is on this list. 4. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Here's a town that has a different burst of color every October. Rather than fiery leaves, Albuquerque's fall splendor is from a sea of hot air balloons. The annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (Oct. 6-14) is a draw for hundreds of thousands of visitors eager to watch, ride and photograph the mass ascension of the balloons as well as local food and entertainment. Of course, visitors to Albuquerque can also see Mother Nature's autumnal show, especially if they head up into the mountains. For a bird's-eye view, many take to the Sandia Peak Ski & Tramway, which carries you from the edge of the city 2.7 miles up to a 10,000-plus-foot summit. 5. Knoxville, Tennessee

Is the draw here football or fall foliage? It's hard to say, since Knoxville has plenty of both to offer in October. A gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Knoxville is a great starting point for a "leaf peeping" road trip into some of the Southeast's most colorful mountains. And the city itself is building its own "Urban Wilderness," a series of trails designed to connect and expand nearby parks, historic forts and a state wildlife management area to make outdoor activities and the area's natural beauty more accessible. The other colors vying for attention this month, though, are the orange of the University of Tennessee Volunteers and Alabama's Crimson Tide, which roll into town on Oct. 20. 6. Toledo, Ohio

While many think of New England first when it comes to fall foliage, Ohioans will tell you that their state puts on a pretty spectacular show. With their lakefront locale, Toledo and nearby Maumee Bay State Park are great options for an immersion in autumn. With a choice of camping, cottages or lodge living, and hundreds of acres along Lake Erie for hiking, biking, golfing and fishing, visitors to the park find there is no shortage of ways to entertain themselves. However, any hint of boredom can be countered with a drive over to Cedar Point, home to some the most intense roller coasters in the world. In October, zombies and creepy clowns take over the park at sundown, making it an eerie destination worth the drive. 7. Asheville, North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the US. The 10 million annual visitors come for the fresh air, flying fishing, horse-back riding, camping and, of course, scenery. Asheville sits on the eastern edge of this great park and welcomes nature seekers with a host of restaurants, hotels, spas, shops, concerts and crafts. With fall in full swing, it's not surprising that Asheville gets a bump in visitors. It's even better to know there's a full line-up of events - from Oktoberfest celebrations to Craft Week to the Ghost Train Halloween Festival - to keep visitors coming back. 8. Greenville, South Carolina

The emerging foodie destination throws its biggest festival the second weekend in October. This year marks the 31st Annual Fall for Greenville (Oct. 12-14) and promises offerings from 40 local restaurants, as well as wine and beer tastings, cooking demonstrations, a jalapeño-eating contest and live music. With the growing acclaim for Greenville's restaurant scene and nightlife, this festival, well timed to lure those planning a fall mountain getaway, is becoming a highlight on the South Carolina tourism calendar. 9. Columbus, Ohio

Here's another toss-up: Is it the Nebraska Cornhuskers coming to town, the annual grape crush Via Vecchi Winery or the fall food and foliage that's drawing the crowd? One thing is for sure: It's events like the Circleville Pumpkin Show, the largest and oldest festival in the state, that epitomize the best of October in Ohio and beyond. This slice of American tradition attracts roughly 100,000 visitors on each of its four days who buy approximately 23,000 pumpkin pies and 100,000 pumpkin donuts. Since we're counting, the public has also crushed as many as 13,500 lbs. of grapes at past winery events. And the record for attendance for Ohio Stadium stands at just over 106,000. All in all, it seems like a busy month. 10. Tampa, Florida

This time of year, Tampa offer visitors easy access to beaches, a still-warm ocean and major tourist attractions that are off peak in terms of crowds, costs and high temperatures. Those are all good reasons to put Tampa on your October getaway must-go list. However, it's also worth noting that Tampa and its sister city, St Petersburg, like to throw a good party, especially if there are costumes involved. October is, of course, prime time for that. From Thrill Day (Oct. 27), a zombie dance party on the St Pete pier, to Necronomicon, the 31st annual "convention of science-fiction, fantasy and horror fans," to Ybor City's takes on Oktoberfest and Halloween (or Guavaween, as the adult-centric celebration is called), it seems like Mickey Mouse isn't the only character you might see this month in Central Florida.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

((paul.casciato@thomsonreuters.com; +44 207 542 9787;))

Keywords: TRAVEL PICKS/OCTOBER