Best national parks in the fall

Best National Parks to Visit in the Fall

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It’s hard to pick out the very Best National Parks to Visit in the Fall.  Over our years of travel, we’ve found that each season is special, and even if it isn’t “ideal” weather to go and visit a park, you can still have an amazing experience.  However, if you are able to get time off to visit a park in the fall, you will be rewarded with the parks in a state of change-from the colors of the foliage, the cooler temperatures, fewer daylight hours as well as the potential for some incredible changes in wildlife behavior.  Additionally, you’ll likely have fewer crowds, particularly if you are able to visit on a weekday.

Acadia naitonal park in the fall

Visiting a park in the fall isn’t always perfect though!  You need to be sure you are prepared for temperatures that can get downright frigid, limited access to camping, a greater chance for rain and limited services in some of the parks.

We hope this list gives you a few ideas on areas you may want to visit for the upcoming fall season, as well as some tips on what you should expect as you get ready for your trip!


best national parks in the fall

Acadia National Park in the fall

Though we may be a bit partial because we live in New England, it’s hard to argue with Acadia National Park making this list.  If you manage to hit the season right, the fall colors here are hard to beat.  The weather is crisp but not too cold, and you can even enjoy sunrise on Cadillac Mountain without having to get up at a ludicrous hour.  While you still have to get up early, sunrise happens at a more reasonable time, making it a bit more palatable to those who like their sleep.  Finally, we have found it to be a particularly good time for hiking, with amazing trails like the Precipice Trail being open (after the Peregrine falcons have left the nest).

For the best fall foliage, we recommend visiting in the 1st or 2nd week of October.  My mid-October, the leaves start to fall, and one good rainstorm can end fall foliage season almost overnight.


best national parks in the fall

Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall, image courtesy of the National Park Service

Staking claim to having the highest continuous road in North America, Trail Ridge Road provides a breathtaking journey through some of the most scenic land Colorado has to offer.  It’s easy to spend a whole day driving through the mountains and stopping and the large number of viewpoints, and even taking a hike or two (there are a ton to choose from!).  And of course, the fall colors here are incredible when you are below the tree line.

For the fullest experience, head here in early fall.  Snow has been known to close Trail Ridge Road for the season as early as the end of September.  If you do come in October, you will be able to still see a good part of the park, just don’t expect to drive Trail Ridge Road.


best national parks in the fall

Shenandoah National Park in the fall, image courtesy of daveynin

Few National Parks offer the accessibility to amazing views right from your car as does Shenandoah National Park.  And as the fall colors change, the drive on the 105-mile Skyline Drive is pretty much about as good as it gets!  Along the way, there are literally dozens of hiking trails that are just waiting to be explored.  All sorts of trails offer great views, from the 1.1-mile Bearfence Mountain Trail to more challenging hikes like the White Oak Canyon Trail (9.5-miles).  Whatever your skill level, you’ll be sure to find something that suits your travel style!

For the best fall foliage, come in mid to late October.  The park changes color in the earlier season, with the valleys below changing colors a bit later.


best national parks in the fall

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the fall, image courtesy of Scott Basford

America’s most popular National Park (getting over 10 million visitors per year) shines in the fall.  With the welcome, cooler temperatures comes the opportunity to enjoy hiking and sightseeing without the humidity of the summer.  The colors in the park are incredible, and such treks like the hike up to the Observation Tower on Clingmans Dome or the hike to Peregrine Peak are great ways to see the amazing color.  If you come on the weekends during peak foliage, be prepared for crowds!

The best foliage in Great Smoky Mountains National Park show up between mid-October through the 1st week of November.  Be prepared to have the park reach cold temperatures at night, particularly at higher altitude.


best national parks in the fall

The Elk Rut is a bucket-list experience!

Fall is mating season for the elk, and it’s hard to beat Yellowstone National Park to view the elk rut!  From hearing the bugle call of the male elk to seeing two elk spar, this experience is worth braving the chill in the air to see.  In addition to seeing the elk rut, the fall colors in Yellowstone are vibrant and provide a great backdrop for wildlife photos, particularly in areas like the Lamar Valley and Madison.  While you are here, you can also enjoy some great hiking, whether it be on challenging trails (like the 6.8-mile, round-trip hike up to Mount Washburn) or some of the flatter boardwalk trails (like West Thumb Guyser Basin). 

The height of the rutting season is in September, though it can start as early as August and continue into October.  For foliage, the peak times are typically in late September through early October.


best national parks in the fall

New River Gorge National Park & Preserve in the fall, image courtesy of JaGa

Though New River Gorge National Park is one of the newest National Parks, it certainly is no stranger to visitors in the fall.  While most may not want to brave the rapids as the temperatures start to drop, coming here for the fall colors is a spectacle that is worth the time and effort!  What we like about this park in particular is that it’s easy to drive down into the gorge and be immersed in the color, while you can also see amazing views from a few miles away at the top of the gorge.  Plus, October is time for Bridge Day, when the New River Gorge Bridge is closed to traffic and celebrates the opening of the bridge.  Here you can see people BASE jump off the bridge (this is the only day of the year that it’s allowed)!  We also enjoyed the surrounding towns, such as Fayetteville, WV.  Finally, this is also a great time to catch the fall colors in nearby Babcock State Park, home of the famous Glade Creek Grist mill.

Bridge Day is in mid-October, and peak fall foliage occurs usually in mid-October. 


best national parks in the fall

Grand Teton National Park in the fall, image courtesy of the National Park Service

With the presence of Quaking Aspen, Cottonwoods, Willows and the Black Hawthorn tree, the yellows and oranges created in Grand Teton National Park are incredible.  Seeing Mormon Row with a backdrop of yellows and snow-capped peaks is something not to be missed!  The days get shorter in the fall and the temperatures start to get to the freezing level, but you can still get out and enjoy a day-hike as well before the weather turns to winter.  In the evening, retiring to Jackson, WY for a warm dinner is a great way to wind down.

The best color in Grand Teton National Park typically occurs in late September through the 1st week of October, though colors start to change in mid-September and last until the 2nd week of October.  This varies by year, though!


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About Just Go Travel Studios

We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

As much as we enjoy traveling, we also love sharing our knowledge and helping others create everlasting memories through our custom-made travel posters, downloadable travel itineraries and detailed blog articles.

10% of all after-tax profits are donated to the National Park Foundation.

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