Normally, summer is the high peak season for the 58 U.S. National Parks. Tourists from all over the world flock to see sites such as The Grand Canyon, Old Faithful in Yellowstone, and Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. You’ll find favorable weather but loads of people. The best time to visit the Nation’s National Parks is actually during the fall. Cooler temperatures, much fewer people, and vibrant foliage should make you start packing for your next park adventure right now.
If you need an idea of where and when fall foliage colors will peak this fall check out this map here.
1.Acadia National Park
Where: Bar Harbor, Maine
Visit: Late September to mid-October for best colors
While this park is a dream summer location with its wild beaches it is still perfect in the fall. You will get some magnificent color, and get to experience Cadillac Mountain without as many people. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic Seaboard and it is the first place to see the sunrise from October 7 through March 6. I’ve done the hike up for sunrise and it should definitely be on your bucket list. If you don’t wish to hike the drive up is just as rewarding. Also if you are feeling adventurous make sure to hike the Precipice Trail to the top of the Champlain north ridge. It has great views of the coastline.
2. Rocky Mountain National Park
Where: Estes Park, Colorado
Visit: Mid to late September
If you have never seen the Aspen trees turn gold in the fall then you have to go to Colorado to see it at some point in your life. Rocky Mountain National Park is the best place to do this. Make sure you take a drive on Trail Ridge road and listen to the Elk bugling during October. Estes Park is a cute town to shop in, visit the old movie theatre, and try to stay in the infamously haunted Stanley Hotel. I have been to Rocky Mountain National Park three times and every time I visit my favorite hike to do is Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes.
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Where: North Carolina & Tennessee
Visit: October & beginning of November
The hills of the Smokies become bathed in color. This, unfortunately, makes it a pretty popular place in the fall. Try to visit mid-week if possible to avoid the crowds. The colors will completely take your breath away. Do the hikes near Gatlinburg to find cute log cabins and flowing waterfalls for pictures.
4. Shenandoah National Park
Where: Luray, Virginia
When: Mid to late October and early November
I often feel that this park is overlooked. During the fall months, you will not only see vibrant colors, but each morning will be bathed in the fog that rolls through the mountains and creates an unforgettable scene. Make sure to check out the Skyline drive through the park. The annual Apple Butter Festival takes place each September. Don’t miss Limberlost Trail, Dark Hollow Falls, and Old Rag for the adventurous. My favorite part about visiting this park was how quiet it was in the mornings compared to Old Smoky.
5. Yosemite National Park
Visit: Third week of October
This park might get forgotten in terms of fall colors because when it comes to pictures all you ever see are the gallant rock formations like El Capitan, and Half Dome, and tall sequoias. Foliage seekers are aware that Yosemite has some pretty amazing colors with its red maples and Pacific Dogwoods. You may even get some snowfall which would make the appearance of the leaves even more startling. Fall for Yosemite is also it’s the least crowded time of year. The Yosemite International Jazz Festival also takes place each October. Make sure to watch the sunrise at Glacier Point.
6. Glacier National Park
Glacier is one of the most popular parks in the U.S. It’s hard to pick a time when there won’t be a lot of people around. September and October aren’t bad. You can head to the western part of the park to witness the leaves changing in mid-September and the east side for the end of September and beginning of October. To get views from Big Mountain, hike the 8-mile Summit trail. Or do some floating through the colorful landscape down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Attend the Glacier Jazz Stampede which takes place during October each year.
7. Mount Rainier National Park
Visit: All of September
Just like other high elevation parks the colors can begin changing as early as the end of August. Visitors want to get there in late September and early October because after that the park begins to close for winter. You’ll be able to see aspens, maples, cottonwoods, but also huckleberry and elderberry bushes. Check out the Reflection Lakes for great photo opportunities, and check out the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad to see fall foliage in the foothills. The Rainier Arts Festival takes place in October each year.
8. Grand Teton National Park
Visit: mid-September through mid-October
Summer can disappointingly busy in the Tetons. Which is why you should visit during the fall when they are fewer crowds, beautiful fall colors, and snow-capped peaks. Hang out in Jackson Hole before entering the park and make sure to do the Jenny Lake hike for stunning views of the Tetons.
9. Canyonlands National Park
Visit: September through November
Canyonlands may not have the fall colors that everyone is looking for, but fall is the best time to visit this desert park. Make sure to go during late fall for fewer crowds. Head to Mesa Arch for sunrise, raft down the Cataract Canyon and hike through the Lost Canyon. The best part about this park is that you can also visit Arches and Capitol Reef within the same trip. You can also make the longer drive to Bryce Canyon if you wish.
10. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Visit: Late September to late October
The best time to experience the magnificent sand dunes is during the fall months when the weather is the most favorable. You will see colors on the mountains surrounding the dunes, and snow will be visible on these mountain peaks as well. The dunes are highly underrated. Walking on them feels as if you are experiencing another world. Make sure to hike to Star dune which is the tallest dune in the park. Also, consider obtaining a backcountry permit so that you can camp way out in the dunes. This will allow you to see amazing views of the night sky. This is also a great park to visit during the fall because of the roads that you can take to get there. Connect Rocky Mountain National Park to the Sand Dunes by driving on highway 285 to route 24 through Independence Pass, Twin Lakes, Leadville, and Breckenridge before road closures happen. This will allow you to see the best fall colors in the entire state.
There is no denying that the National Parks are the stars of the American conservation show there are some state parks that are sometimes even more spectacular. These hidden gems can be found all over the country. From the canyons of Utah to the mountains of Virginia, and from the California desert to the forests of Maine there are some pretty unforgettable places that you can visit to truly enjoy the outdoors. Below you will find a list of some of the best state parks to visit in the United States this fall.
What are some of your favorite National Parks to shoot at? Share with us in the comments below.