12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall

Fall is one of the best times of the year to take a national park adventure! Not only are crowds generally quieter and accommodation is cheaper, but you also get to see the beautiful fall foliage and changing colors! In this blog post I am sharing the 12 best national parks to visit in the fall… and a few may surprise you!

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall

You may be wondering who this person is that’s telling you what parks to visit? In 2017 my husband and I traveled to every US national park on an epic 7 month road trip. We didn’t get to see every park during fall that year but many of them we have visited on other occasions. This list is based on our personal recommendations and that of other national park lovers. Oh and if you’re curious, we ranked every national park from best to worst.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall

Below are 12 incredible national parks to visit during fall. There are numerous other parks that are beautiful during September – November, but these parks are my top recommendations!

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Great Smoky Mountains National Park Blue Ridge Parkway

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is one of the most famous fall locations in the country, and for good reason. Due to the large concentration of deciduous trees, the mountains are covered in vibrant hues of red, orange and yellow. It really is a sight to behold, and people flock from all over the country to witness peak colors here.

Location

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

You can enter the park through quite a few entrances, but the main 3 are the northern entrances at Gatlinburg (TN), Townsend (TN), and the south entrance in Cherokee (NC).

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Great Smoky Mountains National Park Cades Cove Deer
Best time to visit

Though this can change year by year depending on the weather, prime colors are usually around mid October.

Where to stay

There are multiple campgrounds that are great to stay at during your time in the park. Some of the most popular include Cade’s Cove, Cosby, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds. There are hotel options in nearby towns for those not wanting to camp. Gatlinburg is a great spot for this, and the Greystone Lodge on the River is a nice affordable option right in the heart of town.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Cades Cove Mill
Best things to do during fall in the Smokies

Hiking is incredible during fall colors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I recommend checking out the Alum Cave Trail, Gregory Bald trail, and Laurel Falls for some epic colors and jaw-dropping views.

There are some gorgeous views to be seen from the car as well, in fact Great Smoky Mountains is home to some of the most scenic fall drives in the country. Don’t miss Cade’s Cove, a lush valley surrounded by mountains and filled with history. The drive up to the viewpoint at Clingmans Dome is perhaps the most famous in the park, and after seeing it for myself I understand why. Layers upon layers of mountains stretch as far as the eyes can see, and are especially rich with color at this time of the year.

Not far out of the park is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which links GSMNP with Shenandoah National Park. This scenic drive is famous for its views and fall colors, so if you plan to visit both national parks, take this route between them even though it’s longer than the main highway.


Zion National Park The Narrows Fall

Zion National Park

Zion is one of the best national parks to visit in fall for many reasons. Firstly, the weather is much nicer in fall than in the summer when temperatures can be brutally hot. Secondly, the changing colors of the cottonwoods and brush really compliment the giant sandstone walls within Zion Canyon. Lastly, the crowds are less extreme at this time of the year than the busy summer holiday period. It can still be busy with people looking to see the colors changing, but definitely less so than summer holidays.

I have an entire guide on exploring Zion National Park if you’re looking for in-depth information!

Location

Zion National Park is located near the small town of Springdale in south-western Utah. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

There are a lot of ways to access Zion National Park, but some of the most popular include:

  • Flying into Las Vegas and taking the scenic drive 2.5 hours to Springdale.
  • Flying into Salt Lake City and driving 4 hours south to Springdale.
  • Driving 4.5 hours north from Grand Canyon National Park and entering VIA Springdale.
  • Driving 2 hours west from Bryce Canyon National Park
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Zion National Park Watchman Overlook Sunset
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Zion National Park Subway Hike Waterfall
Best time to visit

The best time to visit Zion National Park for fall colors are between mid October and early November. Exact timing can vary year to year, but this is generally a safe bet to see some great fall foliage in the park.

Where to stay

There are a few campgrounds in the park. The most popular are the two down south near Springdale Watchman Campground, and South Campground. There is another campground near the less popular eastern entrance called Lava Point Campground.

Zion National Park Subway Hike
Best things to do during fall in Zion

There are some epic hikes in Zion, and these are made even more incredible paired with the changing fall colors. See if you can get a permit to do The Subway hike, this is may be my favorite fall color hike in the park. The Narrows is also pretty amazing in fall!

I also recommend renting a bike in Springdale and riding up into Zion Canyon. Be sure to take in the famous view of The Watchman from Canyon Junction. This is one of the most famous views in the park, and the changing colors of the cottonwoods makes this my favorite time to see it.



12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Acadia National Park Cadillac Mountain

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park has long been a fall favorite for east coasters in the US. It’s such a beautiful place to drive around, enjoy nature, and then relax in Barr Harbor for a delicious meal afterwards. Fun fact, it is also home to the first place in the United States that you can see the sunrise each morning!

Location

Acadia National Park is located on the coast of Maine, near the most north-eastern point of the US. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Most visitors access Acadia National Park by flying into Portland (ME) and driving 3 hours north to the park, or by taking an extended road trip from their homes in the north-east states.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Acadia National Park Aerial
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Acadia National Park Ocean Sunrise
Best time to visit

The best time to catch fall colors in Acadia is usually around early October – mid October. You may be interested in checking out my New England Fall Road Trip Itinerary as an add on to your October Acadia adventure.

Where to stay

Acadia National Park is unique in that it shares an island with regular residential areas, as well as the quaint town of Barr Harbor. Because of this, there are a lot of accommodation options within very close proximity to the park. One option is the Barr Harbor Grand Hotel which is located in downtown Barr Harbor, close to some delicious dining options (check out Side Street Cafe!)

Acadia National Park Hiking Trail
Best things to do during fall in Acadia

Acadia takes on a whole new vibe in the fall season, and I’m all about it! It is definitely pretty in the spring and summer, but there is just something about those fall colors that really draw me in. I definitely suggest you take a hike at one of the many amazing trails within the park. Some I can recommend are the Precipice Trail (not for those scared of heights), the South Bubble Trail, Dorr Mountain (via Ladder Trail), and the relaxing Jordan Pond Trail.

One of our favorite things about Acadia, surprisingly, was its proximity to the quaint town of Barr Harbor. We really enjoyed walking around the downtown area and exploring the many shops and restaurants on offer. A couple of our favorite food stops were Side Street Cafe (delicious lobster rolls!), Thrive Juice Bar, and Mount Desert Island Ice Cream.

Another thing you don’t want to miss while in the area is driving the Park Loop Road. This is a mostly one-way road that loops Mount Desert Island and connects many of the park’s greatest scenic areas. You will likely use this to access some of the hiking trails mentioned above, but make sure to do the whole loop.

Lastly, check out the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. I had a really nice evening sitting on the rocks, watching the waves crash and the sun set behind the lighthouse. It’s a really beautiful spot and very popular with landscape photographers, for good reason!


National Park Checklist Free Printable Download - Renee Roaming

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is covered in deciduous trees, and come fall it turns into a golden paradise! Similar to Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah is an east coast fall classic and offers guests some of the most abundant and vibrant fall colors in the country. This park really takes on a completely new look once the colors change, and it’s just hard to beat those scenic drives through the park as the fall leaves drop all around you.

Location

Shenandoah National Park is located in Northern Virginia, about 5 hours Northeast of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

The closest major airport to Shenandoah is Washington D.C. From there, you are only an hour drive away from the northern entrance to the park. There are quite a few other major cities also within a 4 hour drive from the park including Charlotte (NC), Baltimore (ME), and Pittsburgh (PA).

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Shenandoah National Park Creek
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Shenandoah National Park Waterfall
Best time to visit

You will most often find prime fall colors in the park around mid October. This changes with the elevation and weather, but mid October is a pretty safe bet.

Where to stay

There are some really beautiful campgrounds in the park, especially during the fall. The most popular are Loft Mountain Campground, Big Meadows Campground, and Mathews Arm Campground.

There are also a range of lodging options, including the fancy Skyland, the Big Meadows Lodge, and Lewis Mountain Cabins.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Shenandoah National Park Blue Ridge Parkway
Best things to do during fall in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah is home to one of the best scenic fall color drives in the country. Skyline Drive is the main road through the park and runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has around 70 different overlooks, and spending a day or two exploring this incredible stretch of road is often the highlight of a visit to the park.

There are a lot of great hiking options worth stopping at while you are in the area. Some of the best fall hikes include Little Stony Man Overlook (.9 miles round-trip), Mary’s Rock (6.5 miles round-trip), and Whiteoak Canyon Falls (5.2 miles round-trip). If you’re feeling extra adventurous, the Old Rag trail is a classic of the area, but is 9.1 miles round-trip and involves some scrambling. It’s a really fun trail, and the views at the top are breathtaking! Get there early to make sure you get a parking spot.


12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Rocky Mountain National Park Dream Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the absolute best national parks to visit in the fall. The summer crowds have died down, the aspens turn a beautiful gold, and there is a chance the mountains could get a beautiful dusting of snow to round it all off. If that wasn’t enough, the elk rut is also in full swing! You will be able to view the elk males fighting to prove their strength and win the hearts of the females in their herd.

Location

Rocky Mountain National Park is located in Northern Colorado, just outside of Estes Park. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Most visitors access Rocky Mountain National Park via a scenic 1.5 hour drive from Denver.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Rocky Mountain National Park Scenic Drive
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Rocky Mountain National Park Aspens
Best time to visit

Peak falls colors are usually viewed in Rocky Mountain National park in mid September. Like most other parks, this can vary quite a bit depending on the year and weather… but mid September is typically a pretty safe bet.

Where to stay

There are a handful of campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park, the most popular being Moraine Park Campground, Glacier Basin Campground, and Timber Creek Campground (the only one on the west side of the park).

If you prefer more traditional hotel lodging, there are no shortage of options in the nearby town of Estes Park. The Stanley Hotel, famously used in the movie “The Shining”, is located in Estes Park and is a fun option!

Rocky Mountain National Park
Best things to do during fall in Rocky Mountain National Park

I definitely recommend checking out the elk herd during fall and watching the males (bulls) fight for the females (cows) attention. The herd move around, but one of the most common spots to see them is Moraine Park. Hearing the males bugle (their mating call) is also really beautiful!

Hiking is another fantastic option during fall in the park. It’s hard to beat hiking through those beautiful aspen groves with the rocky mountains as a backdrop. Some of my favorites in the park include Chasm Lake, Dream Lake, and Sky Pond.

Another way to explore the park is by horseback. I have done a trail ride up in the mountains of the park and can highly recommend it. The views are unreal! I used Sombrero Stables and they were great, but there are other options if you cannot book with them for any reason.


Grand Teton National Park Oxbow Bend

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is another of America’s greatest national parks to visit in the fall. As the cool temperatures start to set into the area, the changing colors really bring Jackson Hole to another level of beauty. The mountains may get a dusting of snow which really adds to the dramatic aura of those huge peaks… the wildlife are out filling their bellies before winter, and everyone is enjoying the last of their regular outdoor recreation before the snow sets in. Although Grand Teton National Park is beautiful at all times of the year, fall is my absolute favorite!

I have an entire guide on exploring Grand Teton National Park if you are looking for more information!

Location

Grand Teton National Park is in north-western Wyoming, close to the Idaho border. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Due to its remote location, Grand Teton National Park is not the easiest to access. There is an airport in Jackson Hole which is right outside the national park, though it’s small and can be quite expensive to fly into. The next best option is to fly into Salt Lake City (Utah) and drive 5 hours to the national park. Alternatively you can fly into Denver, but the drive from here is 8.5 hours and pretty boring.

Grand Teton National Park Moose
 Grand Teton National Park Bear Cub
Best time to visit

Fall colors normally peak around the third week of September, but as always, this really depends on the season and can change depending on the weather that year.

Where to stay

Thankfully due to the park’s proximity to Jackson, there are ample accommodation options. You can stay in the park itself at one of the many lodges or campgrounds (Jenny Lake is our favorite!) which will keep you very close to the action of the park.

Alternatively, you can do the short drive out to Jackson after your adventures and finish the day with a nice restaurant meal and in a fancier hotel such as the Springhill Suites by Marriott or the Mountain Modern Hotel.

Grand Teton National Park
Best things to do during fall in Grand Teton National Park

There’s no shortage of fall activities in Grand Teton National Park. The hiking is amazing at this time of the year once the summer heat has subsided, though make sure to pack a jacket! I recommend checking out the hike up Cascade Canyon to Lake Solitude. This is a long one, so make sure you are feeling adventurous! Another shorter option would be the beautiful hike out to Taggart Lake.

Another option is to explore the park from the water. There are a lot of water activities around the park including rafting down the snake river, or canoeing/boating on one of the many lakes. I really loved renting a canoe and paddling around Jenny Lake, it’s such a gorgeous spot.

If you’re not feeling super adventurous, you can spend your time driving around the park and exploring the many roadside pullouts and scenic view points. A few I can recommend are Schwabachers Landing, Signal Mountain, Oxbow Bend, and Blacktail Ponds. The drive up to Togwatee Pass also offers some beautiful views of the park from afar.

The Jackson Hole and Grand Teton area is amazing for wildlife viewing. Take a drive down Gros Ventre road and try to spot some bison, or down Moose-Wilson Rd and hope to spot some moose, bear, or any number of other local wildlife inhabitants!

Finally, the proximity of Grand Teton National Park to Jackson is one of my favorite things about the area. Being able to finish off the day with a delicious meal is SO good! Some of my favorite food stops in the area are Pearl St Bagels, Teton Thai, Liberty Burger, and Trio.

Oh and for a super unique activity you could consider a scenic flight over both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Read about our experience!


12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Death Valley National Park Salt Flats

Death Valley National Park

Due to scorching summer temperatures Death Valley is a place I avoid from April until the end of September… but once those cooler fall temperatures settle in, Death Valley National Park is truly magical.

Location

Death Valley National Park is located in Eastern California and reportedly overlaps into Nevada. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

The closest major city to Death Valley is Las Vegas, less than a 2 hour drive from the eastern entrance of the park. Alternatively, driving from Los Angeles to the west is a 4 hour drive from the park entrance.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Death Valley National Park Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Death Valley National Park Dantes View
Best time to visit

In my opinion, the best time to visit is Death Valley is from mid October until mid November. The daytime temperatures are warm, but it gets cool at night (without being too cold). With that being said, if you cannot make those weeks work, any time from the start of October through mid December are pretty great!

Where to stay

Death Valley is quite large, so it’s pretty important to stay inside the park if you don’t want to drive too far every day. There are a few resort/hotel style accommodations inside the park that are a great option. If you prefer to camp, there are a lot of different options including the popular Furnace Creek Campground, Sunset Campground, and the campground at Stovepipe Wells.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Death Valley National Park Artist Palette Hike
Best things to do during fall in Death Valley National Park

Fall is a great time to explore the park without the scorching heat of the summer. Hiking is now enjoyable, and the long drives sometimes required within the park don’t require blasting the AC to max.

One of my favorite things to do in the park is to take a hike and explore Mesquite Sand Dunes. In my opinion, the best time to do this is the hours just before sunset, or just before sunrise when the light is at its most golden. It’s such a beautiful spot, and one of the unique features of the area.

There are also some incredible drive-up viewpoints in Death Valley. One of my favorites is Dante’s View, perched up 5500 feet above the valley below. It provides an amazing view above the Furnace Creek area below, and due to the elevation is a good spot to escape the heat for a while. Another I really enjoy is Artist’s Palette, an area on the face of the Black Mountains that has been turned different shades of blue, pink, and orange due to oxidization in the terrain. Zabriski Point is another drive-up spot work visiting. If you feel like stretching your legs, you can take the trail down into the formations which is really nice as well.


Glacier National Park Hidden Lake Overlook

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is an amazing place to visit in the fall and has some of the most jaw-dropping scenic drives in the country. Visitors to Glacier in the fall can expect a much quieter park, an abundance of wildlife, and mountains covered in golden trees. Though many facilities can close in the fall leaving you to be more self-sufficient, it is an insanely beautiful time to be in the park!

Location

Glacier National Park is located in Northern Montana, near the Canadian border. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Glacier National Park is remote and not the easiest park to access. Your closest option would be to to fly into the tiny Glacier Park International Airport located in Kalispell, MT. Flights here are limited in quantity and can be expensive. Alternate options that would include some more driving include flying into Missoula (MT), Calgary (Canada), or Great Falls (MT). Another more unique option is to take the Amtrak, which stops year-round at the west entrance of the park, and seasonally at the east entrance.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Glacier National Park Fall Hike
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Glacier National Park
Best time to visit

Though it can vary slightly from year to year, peak fall colors can usually be seen between in late September and early October.

Where to stay

There are many beautiful campgrounds operated by the national park which are great options while staying in the area. These are the best way to stay as close as possible to the action. An alternative option I can personally recommend is Johnsons of St Mary Campground at the eastern entrance. Don’t miss their home-cooked meals, so delicious!

There are hotel accommodation options available at both the west and east entrances. If you decide to stay on the west side, check out the Great Northern Resort and Lodge, or on the east side the St Mary Village hotel is a good option.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Glacier National Park Moose
Best things to do during fall in Glacier National Park

Glacier has so many activities to keep you busy during your visit to the area! Hiking is my favorite… there are just so many epic adventures to be had in this park. Some of my personal favorites are the Grinnell Glacier Trail, Iceberg Lake Trail, and Hidden Lake Trail. Be sure to practice bear safety techniques as there are a lot of them in Glacier National Park.

Those who don’t want to hike will not be let down. Glacier National Park is home to what is potentially the most scenic drive in the country. Drive over the Going-To-The-Sun Road and stop at some of the many pull-outs along the way. This is especially beautiful in the fall, so make sure to take plenty of photos!

Some other unique adventures for you while visiting the park are horseback rides and whitewater rafting. I have personally done both of these while in the area and they are some of my greatest memories from those trips!

Lastly, there are companies that offer scenic flights in the area. This will give you a unique perspective of the park that most visitors never see, and viewing the many peaks and lakes from above is not something you will forget any time soon!


Big Bend Santa Elena Canyon

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is another of those national parks that are so enjoyable once the summer temperatures subside and the cool, fall air takes over. Although not famous for its fall colors, Big Bend is so great to explore in fall due to the perfect temperatures and the fact it should be pretty easy to escape the crowds.

Location

Big Bend National Park is located in Southwest Texas, right on the Mexican border. Get directions on Google Maps.

 Big Bend Rio Grande River
Big Bend
How to get there

The closest airports that are served by major airlines are located in Midland/Odessa (TX) which is around 230 miles away, and El Paso (TX) which is a little over 300 miles away. Big Bend National Park is remote, so flying in and then renting a car is your best option.

Best time to visit

Temperatures are perfect through all of October and November. You will get beautiful warm days, and cooler nights (but not too cold!).

Boquillas Hot Springs
Where to stay

There is one lodge inside the park, the Chisos Mountain Lodge. It is located 5400 feet above sea level within the Chisos Basin, and has amazing views, a dining room, gift shop, and camp store. There are also four different campgrounds within the park that are perfect for the more budget minded traveler, or those looking to enjoy more of an outdoor experience.

Big Bend Balanced Rock
Best things to do during fall in Big Bend National Park

The Chisos Mountain Range offers a really beautiful backdrop for some great hiking options in the park. Some of my favorites include Santa Elena Canyon, the Lost Mine trail, and Balanced Rock.

Maybe my favorite activity in the park was taking a dip in the 105 degree Boquillas Hot Spring. This is a short 1 mile round-trip walk from the parking lot, and I remember fondly sitting in the spring, enjoying the river and the rising sun. I recommend going at sunrise for the best chance of getting this to yourself.


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12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Yosemite National Park Valley View

Yosemite National Park

Let’s be real, Yosemite is absolutely incredible at any time of the year… but fall is definitely a favorite of mine. Like many of the other parks, summer can be very hot in Yosemite Valley… fall offers hikers respite from the blistering sun, and also from the summer crowds. Mosquitoes are usually mostly gone for the year, and some of the potentially dangerous river crossings in the backcountry are much more manageable.

I have an in-depth guide on exploring Yosemite National Park if you’re looking for more information.

Location

Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Yosemite can be accessed via a few main entrances to the south (Wawona), east (Tioga Pass), and west (El Portal). The closest large airport would be Fresno (CA), a little over 2 hours drive from the valley. Alternatively, you could drive to Yosemite from San Francisco in 4 hours, from Sacramento in 3.5, or Los Angeles in 5.5.

Yosemite Taft Point
Yosemite Taft Point
Best time to visit

If you are planning a fall visit and want to see fall colors, the best time to visit is usually around mid October. Due to Yosemite being one of the more popular national parks, this is also a good time to visit for smaller crowds.

Where to stay

Yosemite has a large range of different accommodation options… anything from fancy lodges to basic campgrounds.

Some of the most popular are the upscale Ahwahnee Lodge, the Curry Village permanent tents, and the Upper Pines campground right in the heart of the valley.

Yosemite Valley
Best things to do during fall in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of the world’s greatest hiking destinations, and doing so in the fall season is a treat! The temperatures are perfect… warm during the day but you get a nice crisp coolness at night. The crowds are much less of a problem than in the summer months, and the summer haze from wildfires is often a lot better at this time of the year. A few hikes I can recommend in Yosemite during the fall months are Sentinel Dome and Taft Point, Cathedral Lakes, and Cloud’s Rest.

If you enjoy climbing, you will know Yosemite is famous around the world for it’s climbing routes. It just so happens that fall (as well as spring) are the best months for it. Grab some buddies and enjoy some of the best climbing the world has to offer!

Wanting to take it a little slower? No problem, there are many incredible drive-up spots throughout the park that will blow you away. Some of my favorites include the famous Tunnel View, Glacier Point, Swinging Brigde, and Olmsted Point.


North Cascades Trappers Peak

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is a personal favorite national park to visit in the fall. Being a Washington girl this is in my backyard, and despite my bias, it truly offers some of the best views in the country.

On top of the epic views that you can get throughout the seasons here in North Cascades, fall is 100% my favorite time to visit because the temperatures are ideal, and there are no more mosquitoes! Also, did I mention berries? You can fill your belly along the trail with blueberries and huckleberries which has always been one of my favorite things about hiking in this part of the country.

Location

North Cascades National Park is located in Northern Washington, on the border of Canada. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

The nearest large airport is Seattle (WA) and it will take you roughly 2.5 hours to drive to the park from there.

North Cascades
North Cascades Diablo Lake
Best time to visit

Early September until mid October is typically my absolute favorite time to visit North Cascades. Here you have the best chance of enjoying prime berry season, seeing the golden larches, and catching the reds and oranges that cover the mountainsides at this time of the year.

Where to stay

North Cascades National Park is pretty remote, and for the most part does require you do camp to be close to the action. Thankfully, there are a few campgrounds at which you can base yourself for your adventures. If you plan on doing some backpacking, there are plenty of backcountry camping options, but be sure to secure permits.

If you are looking for a hotel style accommodation, Ross Lake Resort is located right in the heart of the park and is surrounded by beauty. They offer water activity rentals such as boats, canoes, kayaks, etc.

North Cascades Heather Maple Loop
Best things to do during fall in North Cascades National Park

This is a park for adventurers. If you want to spend some quality time in a park and see a lot from the car, this isn’t the best option for you. You can definitely see some great things, but the best views require getting dirty! Some of my favorite fall hikes in North Cascades National Park are Trappers Peak, Blue Lake, Sourdough Mountain trail, and the Heather/Maple Pass Loop.

If you are a climber or mountaineer, there are endless options for you here. They don’t call it the American Alps for nothing! Although I’m not huge into mountaineering myself, I recommend you checking out this book for some great options.


Bryce Canyon sunrise

Bryce Canyon National Park

I listed Bryce Canyon as one of the most underrated National Parks, and it just so happens fall may be my favorite time to visit. The summer months can be quite hot in the park, and due to being at around 8,500 feet of elevation, it is FREEZING in the winter! Not only that, but Bryce Canyon National Park can get quite crowded in the summer months, so visiting in the fall is a much better experience for this reason alone.

Location

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southern Utah, about 1.5 hours from Zion National Park. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Bryce Canyon is often visited as part of a longer road trip to multiple of the famous southern Utah national parks. It is a short 1.5 hour drive from the eastern side of Zion National Park, or a 2 hour drive from Capitol Reef National Park to the north-east. If you only plan to visit Bryce Canyon, your best bet would be to fly into Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, both a 4 hour drive from Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon Hoodoos
 Bryce Canyon
Best time to visit

In my opinion, September is the perfect month to visit Bryce Canyon. Temperatures reach around the late 60s to early 70s during the day, then drop into the 40s as night. Perfect hiking weather!

Where to stay

There are two main campgrounds in Bryce Canyon National Park, the North Campground, and the Sunset Campground. Bryce is not a large national park, for driving, so staying at either of these will have you close to everything you would want to see.

If you feel like staying at a hotel, the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge is a beautiful building and located right in the heart of the park. It also has a nice dining hall to fill your belly before and after your adventures.

If the Bryce Canyon Lodge is full, or just not your taste, the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon is just outside the park and close to some nice dining options.

Bryce Canyon Trail Runner
Best things to do during fall in Bryce Canyon National Park

One of the most incredible ways to explore the park is by horse back. Trail guides run these tours from April until October 31st (weather permitting) and it’s actually super affordable at only $65 per person for a 2 hour ride. You will get to ride down into the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater and along the the stunning Peek-a-boo Loop trail.

The hiking trails are also fantastic in Bryce Canyon National park, and were some of my favorite during our trip to all the US national parks in 2017. It’s hard to beat walking among the other-worldly hoodoos. Personally I loved the Navajo Loop Trail, and the Queen’s Garden Trail.

You don’t HAVE to hike if you aren’t feeling up to it. Luckily for you, Bryce Canyon offers some truly EPIC views from the many drive up viewpoints. Ironically, my favorite was spending a morning watching the sun rise from Sunset Point. Despite its name, in my opinion it is better seen at sunrise. It’s definitely worth checking out the other viewpoints as well… it doesn’t take long to stop at them all and each of them have something unique to see.


I hope that gave you some ideas of national parks to visit in fall! You can also read about more of my favorite national parks in this blog post: America’s National Parks Ranked Best to Worst.



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Fall is one of the best times of the year to take a national park adventure! Not only are crowds generally quieter and accommodation is cheaper, but you also get to see the beautiful fall foliage and changing colors! In this blog post I am sharing the 12 best national parks to visit in the fall. These recommendations also come from firsthand experience of someone who has traveled to every US national park! | national parks fall color | national parks fall foliage |
Fall is one of the best times of the year to take a national park adventure! Not only are crowds generally quieter and accommodation is cheaper, but you also get to see the beautiful fall foliage and changing colors! In this blog post I am sharing the 12 best national parks to visit in the fall. These recommendations also come from firsthand experience of someone who has traveled to every US national park! | national parks fall color | national parks fall foliage |

Disclaimer: This post does contain some affiliate links, which means if you buy something my blog will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall

Fall is one of the best times of the year to take a national park adventure! Not only are crowds generally quieter and accommodation is cheaper, but you also get to see the beautiful fall foliage and changing colors! In this blog post I am sharing the 12 best national parks to visit in the fall… and a few may surprise you!

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall

You may be wondering who this person is that’s telling you what parks to visit? In 2017 my husband and I traveled to every US national park on an epic 7 month road trip. We didn’t get to see every park during fall that year but many of them we have visited on other occasions. This list is based on our personal recommendations and that of other national park lovers. Oh and if you’re curious, we ranked every national park from best to worst.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall

Below are 12 incredible national parks to visit during fall. There are numerous other parks that are beautiful during September – November, but these parks are my top recommendations!

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Great Smoky Mountains National Park Blue Ridge Parkway

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is one of the most famous fall locations in the country, and for good reason. Due to the large concentration of deciduous trees, the mountains are covered in vibrant hues of red, orange and yellow. It really is a sight to behold, and people flock from all over the country to witness peak colors here.

Location

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

You can enter the park through quite a few entrances, but the main 3 are the northern entrances at Gatlinburg (TN), Townsend (TN), and the south entrance in Cherokee (NC).

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Great Smoky Mountains National Park Cades Cove Deer
Best time to visit

Though this can change year by year depending on the weather, prime colors are usually around mid October.

Where to stay

There are multiple campgrounds that are great to stay at during your time in the park. Some of the most popular include Cade’s Cove, Cosby, Elkmont, and Smokemont campgrounds. There are hotel options in nearby towns for those not wanting to camp. Gatlinburg is a great spot for this, and the Greystone Lodge on the River is a nice affordable option right in the heart of town.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Cades Cove Mill
Best things to do during fall in the Smokies

Hiking is incredible during fall colors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I recommend checking out the Alum Cave Trail, Gregory Bald trail, and Laurel Falls for some epic colors and jaw-dropping views.

There are some gorgeous views to be seen from the car as well, in fact Great Smoky Mountains is home to some of the most scenic fall drives in the country. Don’t miss Cade’s Cove, a lush valley surrounded by mountains and filled with history. The drive up to the viewpoint at Clingmans Dome is perhaps the most famous in the park, and after seeing it for myself I understand why. Layers upon layers of mountains stretch as far as the eyes can see, and are especially rich with color at this time of the year.

Not far out of the park is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which links GSMNP with Shenandoah National Park. This scenic drive is famous for its views and fall colors, so if you plan to visit both national parks, take this route between them even though it’s longer than the main highway.


Zion National Park The Narrows Fall

Zion National Park

Zion is one of the best national parks to visit in fall for many reasons. Firstly, the weather is much nicer in fall than in the summer when temperatures can be brutally hot. Secondly, the changing colors of the cottonwoods and brush really compliment the giant sandstone walls within Zion Canyon. Lastly, the crowds are less extreme at this time of the year than the busy summer holiday period. It can still be busy with people looking to see the colors changing, but definitely less so than summer holidays.

I have an entire guide on exploring Zion National Park if you’re looking for in-depth information!

Location

Zion National Park is located near the small town of Springdale in south-western Utah. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

There are a lot of ways to access Zion National Park, but some of the most popular include:

  • Flying into Las Vegas and taking the scenic drive 2.5 hours to Springdale.
  • Flying into Salt Lake City and driving 4 hours south to Springdale.
  • Driving 4.5 hours north from Grand Canyon National Park and entering VIA Springdale.
  • Driving 2 hours west from Bryce Canyon National Park
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Zion National Park Watchman Overlook Sunset
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Zion National Park Subway Hike Waterfall
Best time to visit

The best time to visit Zion National Park for fall colors are between mid October and early November. Exact timing can vary year to year, but this is generally a safe bet to see some great fall foliage in the park.

Where to stay

There are a few campgrounds in the park. The most popular are the two down south near Springdale Watchman Campground, and South Campground. There is another campground near the less popular eastern entrance called Lava Point Campground.

Zion National Park Subway Hike
Best things to do during fall in Zion

There are some epic hikes in Zion, and these are made even more incredible paired with the changing fall colors. See if you can get a permit to do The Subway hike, this is may be my favorite fall color hike in the park. The Narrows is also pretty amazing in fall!

I also recommend renting a bike in Springdale and riding up into Zion Canyon. Be sure to take in the famous view of The Watchman from Canyon Junction. This is one of the most famous views in the park, and the changing colors of the cottonwoods makes this my favorite time to see it.



12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Acadia National Park Cadillac Mountain

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park has long been a fall favorite for east coasters in the US. It’s such a beautiful place to drive around, enjoy nature, and then relax in Barr Harbor for a delicious meal afterwards. Fun fact, it is also home to the first place in the United States that you can see the sunrise each morning!

Location

Acadia National Park is located on the coast of Maine, near the most north-eastern point of the US. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Most visitors access Acadia National Park by flying into Portland (ME) and driving 3 hours north to the park, or by taking an extended road trip from their homes in the north-east states.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Acadia National Park Aerial
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Acadia National Park Ocean Sunrise
Best time to visit

The best time to catch fall colors in Acadia is usually around early October – mid October. You may be interested in checking out my New England Fall Road Trip Itinerary as an add on to your October Acadia adventure.

Where to stay

Acadia National Park is unique in that it shares an island with regular residential areas, as well as the quaint town of Barr Harbor. Because of this, there are a lot of accommodation options within very close proximity to the park. One option is the Barr Harbor Grand Hotel which is located in downtown Barr Harbor, close to some delicious dining options (check out Side Street Cafe!)

Acadia National Park Hiking Trail
Best things to do during fall in Acadia

Acadia takes on a whole new vibe in the fall season, and I’m all about it! It is definitely pretty in the spring and summer, but there is just something about those fall colors that really draw me in. I definitely suggest you take a hike at one of the many amazing trails within the park. Some I can recommend are the Precipice Trail (not for those scared of heights), the South Bubble Trail, Dorr Mountain (via Ladder Trail), and the relaxing Jordan Pond Trail.

One of our favorite things about Acadia, surprisingly, was its proximity to the quaint town of Barr Harbor. We really enjoyed walking around the downtown area and exploring the many shops and restaurants on offer. A couple of our favorite food stops were Side Street Cafe (delicious lobster rolls!), Thrive Juice Bar, and Mount Desert Island Ice Cream.

Another thing you don’t want to miss while in the area is driving the Park Loop Road. This is a mostly one-way road that loops Mount Desert Island and connects many of the park’s greatest scenic areas. You will likely use this to access some of the hiking trails mentioned above, but make sure to do the whole loop.

Lastly, check out the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. I had a really nice evening sitting on the rocks, watching the waves crash and the sun set behind the lighthouse. It’s a really beautiful spot and very popular with landscape photographers, for good reason!


National Park Checklist Free Printable Download - Renee Roaming

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is covered in deciduous trees, and come fall it turns into a golden paradise! Similar to Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah is an east coast fall classic and offers guests some of the most abundant and vibrant fall colors in the country. This park really takes on a completely new look once the colors change, and it’s just hard to beat those scenic drives through the park as the fall leaves drop all around you.

Location

Shenandoah National Park is located in Northern Virginia, about 5 hours Northeast of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

The closest major airport to Shenandoah is Washington D.C. From there, you are only an hour drive away from the northern entrance to the park. There are quite a few other major cities also within a 4 hour drive from the park including Charlotte (NC), Baltimore (ME), and Pittsburgh (PA).

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Shenandoah National Park Creek
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Shenandoah National Park Waterfall
Best time to visit

You will most often find prime fall colors in the park around mid October. This changes with the elevation and weather, but mid October is a pretty safe bet.

Where to stay

There are some really beautiful campgrounds in the park, especially during the fall. The most popular are Loft Mountain Campground, Big Meadows Campground, and Mathews Arm Campground.

There are also a range of lodging options, including the fancy Skyland, the Big Meadows Lodge, and Lewis Mountain Cabins.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Shenandoah National Park Blue Ridge Parkway
Best things to do during fall in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah is home to one of the best scenic fall color drives in the country. Skyline Drive is the main road through the park and runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has around 70 different overlooks, and spending a day or two exploring this incredible stretch of road is often the highlight of a visit to the park.

There are a lot of great hiking options worth stopping at while you are in the area. Some of the best fall hikes include Little Stony Man Overlook (.9 miles round-trip), Mary’s Rock (6.5 miles round-trip), and Whiteoak Canyon Falls (5.2 miles round-trip). If you’re feeling extra adventurous, the Old Rag trail is a classic of the area, but is 9.1 miles round-trip and involves some scrambling. It’s a really fun trail, and the views at the top are breathtaking! Get there early to make sure you get a parking spot.


12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Rocky Mountain National Park Dream Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the absolute best national parks to visit in the fall. The summer crowds have died down, the aspens turn a beautiful gold, and there is a chance the mountains could get a beautiful dusting of snow to round it all off. If that wasn’t enough, the elk rut is also in full swing! You will be able to view the elk males fighting to prove their strength and win the hearts of the females in their herd.

Location

Rocky Mountain National Park is located in Northern Colorado, just outside of Estes Park. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Most visitors access Rocky Mountain National Park via a scenic 1.5 hour drive from Denver.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Rocky Mountain National Park Scenic Drive
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Rocky Mountain National Park Aspens
Best time to visit

Peak falls colors are usually viewed in Rocky Mountain National park in mid September. Like most other parks, this can vary quite a bit depending on the year and weather… but mid September is typically a pretty safe bet.

Where to stay

There are a handful of campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park, the most popular being Moraine Park Campground, Glacier Basin Campground, and Timber Creek Campground (the only one on the west side of the park).

If you prefer more traditional hotel lodging, there are no shortage of options in the nearby town of Estes Park. The Stanley Hotel, famously used in the movie “The Shining”, is located in Estes Park and is a fun option!

Rocky Mountain National Park
Best things to do during fall in Rocky Mountain National Park

I definitely recommend checking out the elk herd during fall and watching the males (bulls) fight for the females (cows) attention. The herd move around, but one of the most common spots to see them is Moraine Park. Hearing the males bugle (their mating call) is also really beautiful!

Hiking is another fantastic option during fall in the park. It’s hard to beat hiking through those beautiful aspen groves with the rocky mountains as a backdrop. Some of my favorites in the park include Chasm Lake, Dream Lake, and Sky Pond.

Another way to explore the park is by horseback. I have done a trail ride up in the mountains of the park and can highly recommend it. The views are unreal! I used Sombrero Stables and they were great, but there are other options if you cannot book with them for any reason.


Grand Teton National Park Oxbow Bend

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is another of America’s greatest national parks to visit in the fall. As the cool temperatures start to set into the area, the changing colors really bring Jackson Hole to another level of beauty. The mountains may get a dusting of snow which really adds to the dramatic aura of those huge peaks… the wildlife are out filling their bellies before winter, and everyone is enjoying the last of their regular outdoor recreation before the snow sets in. Although Grand Teton National Park is beautiful at all times of the year, fall is my absolute favorite!

I have an entire guide on exploring Grand Teton National Park if you are looking for more information!

Location

Grand Teton National Park is in north-western Wyoming, close to the Idaho border. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Due to its remote location, Grand Teton National Park is not the easiest to access. There is an airport in Jackson Hole which is right outside the national park, though it’s small and can be quite expensive to fly into. The next best option is to fly into Salt Lake City (Utah) and drive 5 hours to the national park. Alternatively you can fly into Denver, but the drive from here is 8.5 hours and pretty boring.

Grand Teton National Park Moose
 Grand Teton National Park Bear Cub
Best time to visit

Fall colors normally peak around the third week of September, but as always, this really depends on the season and can change depending on the weather that year.

Where to stay

Thankfully due to the park’s proximity to Jackson, there are ample accommodation options. You can stay in the park itself at one of the many lodges or campgrounds (Jenny Lake is our favorite!) which will keep you very close to the action of the park.

Alternatively, you can do the short drive out to Jackson after your adventures and finish the day with a nice restaurant meal and in a fancier hotel such as the Springhill Suites by Marriott or the Mountain Modern Hotel.

Grand Teton National Park
Best things to do during fall in Grand Teton National Park

There’s no shortage of fall activities in Grand Teton National Park. The hiking is amazing at this time of the year once the summer heat has subsided, though make sure to pack a jacket! I recommend checking out the hike up Cascade Canyon to Lake Solitude. This is a long one, so make sure you are feeling adventurous! Another shorter option would be the beautiful hike out to Taggart Lake.

Another option is to explore the park from the water. There are a lot of water activities around the park including rafting down the snake river, or canoeing/boating on one of the many lakes. I really loved renting a canoe and paddling around Jenny Lake, it’s such a gorgeous spot.

If you’re not feeling super adventurous, you can spend your time driving around the park and exploring the many roadside pullouts and scenic view points. A few I can recommend are Schwabachers Landing, Signal Mountain, Oxbow Bend, and Blacktail Ponds. The drive up to Togwatee Pass also offers some beautiful views of the park from afar.

The Jackson Hole and Grand Teton area is amazing for wildlife viewing. Take a drive down Gros Ventre road and try to spot some bison, or down Moose-Wilson Rd and hope to spot some moose, bear, or any number of other local wildlife inhabitants!

Finally, the proximity of Grand Teton National Park to Jackson is one of my favorite things about the area. Being able to finish off the day with a delicious meal is SO good! Some of my favorite food stops in the area are Pearl St Bagels, Teton Thai, Liberty Burger, and Trio.

Oh and for a super unique activity you could consider a scenic flight over both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Read about our experience!


12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Death Valley National Park Salt Flats

Death Valley National Park

Due to scorching summer temperatures Death Valley is a place I avoid from April until the end of September… but once those cooler fall temperatures settle in, Death Valley National Park is truly magical.

Location

Death Valley National Park is located in Eastern California and reportedly overlaps into Nevada. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

The closest major city to Death Valley is Las Vegas, less than a 2 hour drive from the eastern entrance of the park. Alternatively, driving from Los Angeles to the west is a 4 hour drive from the park entrance.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Death Valley National Park Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Death Valley National Park Dantes View
Best time to visit

In my opinion, the best time to visit is Death Valley is from mid October until mid November. The daytime temperatures are warm, but it gets cool at night (without being too cold). With that being said, if you cannot make those weeks work, any time from the start of October through mid December are pretty great!

Where to stay

Death Valley is quite large, so it’s pretty important to stay inside the park if you don’t want to drive too far every day. There are a few resort/hotel style accommodations inside the park that are a great option. If you prefer to camp, there are a lot of different options including the popular Furnace Creek Campground, Sunset Campground, and the campground at Stovepipe Wells.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Death Valley National Park Artist Palette Hike
Best things to do during fall in Death Valley National Park

Fall is a great time to explore the park without the scorching heat of the summer. Hiking is now enjoyable, and the long drives sometimes required within the park don’t require blasting the AC to max.

One of my favorite things to do in the park is to take a hike and explore Mesquite Sand Dunes. In my opinion, the best time to do this is the hours just before sunset, or just before sunrise when the light is at its most golden. It’s such a beautiful spot, and one of the unique features of the area.

There are also some incredible drive-up viewpoints in Death Valley. One of my favorites is Dante’s View, perched up 5500 feet above the valley below. It provides an amazing view above the Furnace Creek area below, and due to the elevation is a good spot to escape the heat for a while. Another I really enjoy is Artist’s Palette, an area on the face of the Black Mountains that has been turned different shades of blue, pink, and orange due to oxidization in the terrain. Zabriski Point is another drive-up spot work visiting. If you feel like stretching your legs, you can take the trail down into the formations which is really nice as well.


Glacier National Park Hidden Lake Overlook

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is an amazing place to visit in the fall and has some of the most jaw-dropping scenic drives in the country. Visitors to Glacier in the fall can expect a much quieter park, an abundance of wildlife, and mountains covered in golden trees. Though many facilities can close in the fall leaving you to be more self-sufficient, it is an insanely beautiful time to be in the park!

Location

Glacier National Park is located in Northern Montana, near the Canadian border. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Glacier National Park is remote and not the easiest park to access. Your closest option would be to to fly into the tiny Glacier Park International Airport located in Kalispell, MT. Flights here are limited in quantity and can be expensive. Alternate options that would include some more driving include flying into Missoula (MT), Calgary (Canada), or Great Falls (MT). Another more unique option is to take the Amtrak, which stops year-round at the west entrance of the park, and seasonally at the east entrance.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Glacier National Park Fall Hike
12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Glacier National Park
Best time to visit

Though it can vary slightly from year to year, peak fall colors can usually be seen between in late September and early October.

Where to stay

There are many beautiful campgrounds operated by the national park which are great options while staying in the area. These are the best way to stay as close as possible to the action. An alternative option I can personally recommend is Johnsons of St Mary Campground at the eastern entrance. Don’t miss their home-cooked meals, so delicious!

There are hotel accommodation options available at both the west and east entrances. If you decide to stay on the west side, check out the Great Northern Resort and Lodge, or on the east side the St Mary Village hotel is a good option.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Glacier National Park Moose
Best things to do during fall in Glacier National Park

Glacier has so many activities to keep you busy during your visit to the area! Hiking is my favorite… there are just so many epic adventures to be had in this park. Some of my personal favorites are the Grinnell Glacier Trail, Iceberg Lake Trail, and Hidden Lake Trail. Be sure to practice bear safety techniques as there are a lot of them in Glacier National Park.

Those who don’t want to hike will not be let down. Glacier National Park is home to what is potentially the most scenic drive in the country. Drive over the Going-To-The-Sun Road and stop at some of the many pull-outs along the way. This is especially beautiful in the fall, so make sure to take plenty of photos!

Some other unique adventures for you while visiting the park are horseback rides and whitewater rafting. I have personally done both of these while in the area and they are some of my greatest memories from those trips!

Lastly, there are companies that offer scenic flights in the area. This will give you a unique perspective of the park that most visitors never see, and viewing the many peaks and lakes from above is not something you will forget any time soon!


Big Bend Santa Elena Canyon

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is another of those national parks that are so enjoyable once the summer temperatures subside and the cool, fall air takes over. Although not famous for its fall colors, Big Bend is so great to explore in fall due to the perfect temperatures and the fact it should be pretty easy to escape the crowds.

Location

Big Bend National Park is located in Southwest Texas, right on the Mexican border. Get directions on Google Maps.

 Big Bend Rio Grande River
Big Bend
How to get there

The closest airports that are served by major airlines are located in Midland/Odessa (TX) which is around 230 miles away, and El Paso (TX) which is a little over 300 miles away. Big Bend National Park is remote, so flying in and then renting a car is your best option.

Best time to visit

Temperatures are perfect through all of October and November. You will get beautiful warm days, and cooler nights (but not too cold!).

Boquillas Hot Springs
Where to stay

There is one lodge inside the park, the Chisos Mountain Lodge. It is located 5400 feet above sea level within the Chisos Basin, and has amazing views, a dining room, gift shop, and camp store. There are also four different campgrounds within the park that are perfect for the more budget minded traveler, or those looking to enjoy more of an outdoor experience.

Big Bend Balanced Rock
Best things to do during fall in Big Bend National Park

The Chisos Mountain Range offers a really beautiful backdrop for some great hiking options in the park. Some of my favorites include Santa Elena Canyon, the Lost Mine trail, and Balanced Rock.

Maybe my favorite activity in the park was taking a dip in the 105 degree Boquillas Hot Spring. This is a short 1 mile round-trip walk from the parking lot, and I remember fondly sitting in the spring, enjoying the river and the rising sun. I recommend going at sunrise for the best chance of getting this to yourself.


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12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall - Yosemite National Park Valley View

Yosemite National Park

Let’s be real, Yosemite is absolutely incredible at any time of the year… but fall is definitely a favorite of mine. Like many of the other parks, summer can be very hot in Yosemite Valley… fall offers hikers respite from the blistering sun, and also from the summer crowds. Mosquitoes are usually mostly gone for the year, and some of the potentially dangerous river crossings in the backcountry are much more manageable.

I have an in-depth guide on exploring Yosemite National Park if you’re looking for more information.

Location

Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Yosemite can be accessed via a few main entrances to the south (Wawona), east (Tioga Pass), and west (El Portal). The closest large airport would be Fresno (CA), a little over 2 hours drive from the valley. Alternatively, you could drive to Yosemite from San Francisco in 4 hours, from Sacramento in 3.5, or Los Angeles in 5.5.

Yosemite Taft Point
Yosemite Taft Point
Best time to visit

If you are planning a fall visit and want to see fall colors, the best time to visit is usually around mid October. Due to Yosemite being one of the more popular national parks, this is also a good time to visit for smaller crowds.

Where to stay

Yosemite has a large range of different accommodation options… anything from fancy lodges to basic campgrounds.

Some of the most popular are the upscale Ahwahnee Lodge, the Curry Village permanent tents, and the Upper Pines campground right in the heart of the valley.

Yosemite Valley
Best things to do during fall in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of the world’s greatest hiking destinations, and doing so in the fall season is a treat! The temperatures are perfect… warm during the day but you get a nice crisp coolness at night. The crowds are much less of a problem than in the summer months, and the summer haze from wildfires is often a lot better at this time of the year. A few hikes I can recommend in Yosemite during the fall months are Sentinel Dome and Taft Point, Cathedral Lakes, and Cloud’s Rest.

If you enjoy climbing, you will know Yosemite is famous around the world for it’s climbing routes. It just so happens that fall (as well as spring) are the best months for it. Grab some buddies and enjoy some of the best climbing the world has to offer!

Wanting to take it a little slower? No problem, there are many incredible drive-up spots throughout the park that will blow you away. Some of my favorites include the famous Tunnel View, Glacier Point, Swinging Brigde, and Olmsted Point.


North Cascades Trappers Peak

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is a personal favorite national park to visit in the fall. Being a Washington girl this is in my backyard, and despite my bias, it truly offers some of the best views in the country.

On top of the epic views that you can get throughout the seasons here in North Cascades, fall is 100% my favorite time to visit because the temperatures are ideal, and there are no more mosquitoes! Also, did I mention berries? You can fill your belly along the trail with blueberries and huckleberries which has always been one of my favorite things about hiking in this part of the country.

Location

North Cascades National Park is located in Northern Washington, on the border of Canada. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

The nearest large airport is Seattle (WA) and it will take you roughly 2.5 hours to drive to the park from there.

North Cascades
North Cascades Diablo Lake
Best time to visit

Early September until mid October is typically my absolute favorite time to visit North Cascades. Here you have the best chance of enjoying prime berry season, seeing the golden larches, and catching the reds and oranges that cover the mountainsides at this time of the year.

Where to stay

North Cascades National Park is pretty remote, and for the most part does require you do camp to be close to the action. Thankfully, there are a few campgrounds at which you can base yourself for your adventures. If you plan on doing some backpacking, there are plenty of backcountry camping options, but be sure to secure permits.

If you are looking for a hotel style accommodation, Ross Lake Resort is located right in the heart of the park and is surrounded by beauty. They offer water activity rentals such as boats, canoes, kayaks, etc.

North Cascades Heather Maple Loop
Best things to do during fall in North Cascades National Park

This is a park for adventurers. If you want to spend some quality time in a park and see a lot from the car, this isn’t the best option for you. You can definitely see some great things, but the best views require getting dirty! Some of my favorite fall hikes in North Cascades National Park are Trappers Peak, Blue Lake, Sourdough Mountain trail, and the Heather/Maple Pass Loop.

If you are a climber or mountaineer, there are endless options for you here. They don’t call it the American Alps for nothing! Although I’m not huge into mountaineering myself, I recommend you checking out this book for some great options.


Bryce Canyon sunrise

Bryce Canyon National Park

I listed Bryce Canyon as one of the most underrated National Parks, and it just so happens fall may be my favorite time to visit. The summer months can be quite hot in the park, and due to being at around 8,500 feet of elevation, it is FREEZING in the winter! Not only that, but Bryce Canyon National Park can get quite crowded in the summer months, so visiting in the fall is a much better experience for this reason alone.

Location

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southern Utah, about 1.5 hours from Zion National Park. Get directions on Google Maps.

How to get there

Bryce Canyon is often visited as part of a longer road trip to multiple of the famous southern Utah national parks. It is a short 1.5 hour drive from the eastern side of Zion National Park, or a 2 hour drive from Capitol Reef National Park to the north-east. If you only plan to visit Bryce Canyon, your best bet would be to fly into Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, both a 4 hour drive from Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon Hoodoos
 Bryce Canyon
Best time to visit

In my opinion, September is the perfect month to visit Bryce Canyon. Temperatures reach around the late 60s to early 70s during the day, then drop into the 40s as night. Perfect hiking weather!

Where to stay

There are two main campgrounds in Bryce Canyon National Park, the North Campground, and the Sunset Campground. Bryce is not a large national park, for driving, so staying at either of these will have you close to everything you would want to see.

If you feel like staying at a hotel, the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge is a beautiful building and located right in the heart of the park. It also has a nice dining hall to fill your belly before and after your adventures.

If the Bryce Canyon Lodge is full, or just not your taste, the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon is just outside the park and close to some nice dining options.

Bryce Canyon Trail Runner
Best things to do during fall in Bryce Canyon National Park

One of the most incredible ways to explore the park is by horse back. Trail guides run these tours from April until October 31st (weather permitting) and it’s actually super affordable at only $65 per person for a 2 hour ride. You will get to ride down into the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater and along the the stunning Peek-a-boo Loop trail.

The hiking trails are also fantastic in Bryce Canyon National park, and were some of my favorite during our trip to all the US national parks in 2017. It’s hard to beat walking among the other-worldly hoodoos. Personally I loved the Navajo Loop Trail, and the Queen’s Garden Trail.

You don’t HAVE to hike if you aren’t feeling up to it. Luckily for you, Bryce Canyon offers some truly EPIC views from the many drive up viewpoints. Ironically, my favorite was spending a morning watching the sun rise from Sunset Point. Despite its name, in my opinion it is better seen at sunrise. It’s definitely worth checking out the other viewpoints as well… it doesn’t take long to stop at them all and each of them have something unique to see.


I hope that gave you some ideas of national parks to visit in fall! You can also read about more of my favorite national parks in this blog post: America’s National Parks Ranked Best to Worst.



PIN for later planning

Fall is one of the best times of the year to take a national park adventure! Not only are crowds generally quieter and accommodation is cheaper, but you also get to see the beautiful fall foliage and changing colors! In this blog post I am sharing the 12 best national parks to visit in the fall. These recommendations also come from firsthand experience of someone who has traveled to every US national park! | national parks fall color | national parks fall foliage |
Fall is one of the best times of the year to take a national park adventure! Not only are crowds generally quieter and accommodation is cheaper, but you also get to see the beautiful fall foliage and changing colors! In this blog post I am sharing the 12 best national parks to visit in the fall. These recommendations also come from firsthand experience of someone who has traveled to every US national park! | national parks fall color | national parks fall foliage |

Disclaimer: This post does contain some affiliate links, which means if you buy something my blog will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

12 Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall

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Renee Hahnel

Hi! My name is Renee and I'm an Australian photographer, blogger & travel addict. I now call the U.S.A home but you can usually find me wandering the globe with a camera in hand โœˆ Let's get lost!

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6 Comments

  1. JACKIE on September 9, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    Wow, wow and wow. This blogpost is epic. I love all the beautiful photos and great info. Thanks Renee.

    • Renee Hahnel on September 9, 2020 at 6:56 pm

      Thank you!!

  2. Nicole on September 9, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    Great list! Thank you! Can you also post your top national parks to visit in the spring? Is it a similar list? Love your photos, especially the bear cub in the tree <3

    • Renee Hahnel on September 9, 2020 at 6:56 pm

      Yes, I plan to write a spring national parks blog post! It will likely go up this winter, so youโ€™ll still have plenty of time for planning ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Anonymous on September 17, 2020 at 9:23 am

    All excellent photos! I am 15 years old and have been to 50 national parks. I hope to get to the 5 Alaska parks that you canโ€™t drive to next year. I have been documenting the parks on my YouTube channel, National Park Wild. I am curious as to whether youโ€™ve gotten to the 3 newest parks yet and how much you like them. I also would appreciate if you saw some of my videos and told me what you think. Thanks, Renee.

    My Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkHUX-NG1Tzxmx0IU8zNOLg

  4. Virevolte on September 20, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    Those parks all look terrific! We would love to visit the US and those National Park, they look so wild and big compared to our European parks… <3

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Renee Hahnel

Hi! My name is Renee and I'm an Australian photographer, blogger & travel addict. I now call the U.S.A home but you can usually find me wandering the globe with a camera in hand โœˆ Let's get lost!

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