On the lookout for a unique vacation this fall season? If you’re in the mood to explore nature rather than cozy up at home watching movies, one of the best ways to truly experience fall outside is by visiting a national park or two.
Not only does fall bring in unique scenery as temperatures begin to drop, but visiting most national parks during this time of the year also means you’ll get to avoid high-season crowds, which is a great opportunity to get some of the best scenery the United States has to offer in absolute solitude.
From forests blanketed in autumn hues to desert landscapes that will make you feel as though you entirely left Earth, here are some of the best national parks to visit during the fall for a unique getaway in nature.
The Best National Parks to Visit During the Fall
1. Canyonlands National Park
Temperatures at Canyonlands National Park are known to surpass the 100s during the summertime, making fall a great time of the year to visit this gorgeous park in the Utah desert.
A visit to Canyonlands is all about expansive desert views, humongous red sandstone spires rising from the ground, whacky-looking rock formations, and scenery that looks as though it came straight out of Mars.
Even though the weather does get a bit chilly at Canyonlands during the fall months, visiting this epic national park this time of the year means you’ll get some of its highlights sans the crowds, not to mention temperatures are pleasant enough to do hiking and scenic driving.
2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
When it comes to alpine goodness and fantastic hiking, Rocky Mountain National Park takes the cake.
Not only is this park home to one of the largest concentrations of mountains in the United States, but it also boasts plenty of alluring scenery everyone should experience at least once in their life. Think glaciers, alpine lakes, dreamy forests snow-capped peaks, and wildlife sightings and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what a visit to this park is all about!
While summers at Rocky Mountain National park bring in wildflowers and spring brings in great weather, what makes fall a great time of the year to visit is fall foliage as well as the annual Elk rut in the park!
Aside from hiking until your legs can’t go on any longer, fall means you’ll get to drive the Trail Ridge Road, one of the most beautiful highways in the country while it’s covered in golden, red, and orange hues. Moreover, this is the season when elk begin arriving at the park, creating a wildlife spotting experience like no other!
3. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
If a striking landscape covered in fall foliage is what you’re after, Mount Rainier is surely one of the best national parks to visit in September (fall foliage begins showing up at the park as early as August and the park closes in early October, so make sure to plan your visit right!).
Mount Rainier is a park as unique as it gets. Due to its humongous size, it boasts a wide array of different landscapes and ecosystems. In one single national park, you’ll be able to find ancient forests, meadows, lakes, waterfalls, tundra, and even the most glaciated mountain in the continental United States!
4. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Following the Cuyahoga River, Cuyahoga Valley is the only national park in Ohio and an absolute gem to visit if a lesser-known destination and gorgeous fall foliage are what you’re after.
With warm and sunny days and crisp evenings, October, especially, is a wonderful time of the year to visit the park. Starting early in the month, the lowland and upland forests of the park begin turning colors, with leaf colors peaking around the third week of the month, but you will generally be able to enjoy fall foliage throughout the entirety of October.
Hiking and biking are the main activities to enjoy at Cuyahoga Valley, with over 120 miles of gorgeous trails available to choose from. A must for visitors is checking out Brandywine Falls, which is a striking 65-foot tall waterfall that looks even more spectacular once the fall hues creep in! If you’d rather not break a sweat and would prefer to enjoy the fall colors of the park in comfort, there’s a train ride across the park that will take you to some of the most beautiful viewpoints in Cuyahoga.
5. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Hiding deep inside the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is another glorious spot to visit during the fall for beautiful colors and outdoor adventures.
Here, you’ll find a plethora of activities, ranging from gorgeous hiking trails across the forest, waterfall chasing adventures, wildlife spotting, scenic driving, and more. Moreover, thanks to its location in the mountains, Shenandoah has that cozy mountain vibe you can enjoy at its full splendor during the fall, with plenty of cabins available for you to spend a couple of nights in nature.
Peak fall foliage season starts in early October and lasts throughout mid-November, which is a longer period than most other national parks in the country. Aside from spending a night in the cabin and hiking, a wonderful way to enjoy the colors of the park is by driving Skyline Road, a gorgeous 105-mile route that cuts through the park and allows you to stop at beautiful lookout points to fully take in the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows of the valley.
6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Home to sugar maple, sweet gum, scarlet oak, and red maple, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a dream to visit during the fall season.
Fall foliage usually peaks between the middle of October and early November, making this the best time to visit this incredibly scenic park. However, you’ll usually be able to see the colors in late fall and early October as well.
Aside from simply taking in the full splendor of fall, the Great Smoky Mountains is also home to over a hundred waterfalls, dreamy forests, mountain peaks, and plenty of scenic roads, which means you’ll have a bunch of ways to keep yourself entertained here during your visit.
Summers are usually the most popular time to visit Great Smoky Mountain. As a fun fact, this is the most visited national park in the entire United States, which makes fall a great time to visit to avoid huge crowds.
7. Acadia National Park, Maine
While Acadia is gorgeous to visit year-round, it has, for decades, been considered one of the most beautiful places in the world to fully appreciate autumn and its colors.
Come September, the entirety of the park gets splashed by fall hues, ranging from bright golden leaves to red, oranges, and brown tones all over. Mid-October is usually the time when fall foliage peaks, making early to mid-October the best time of the year to visit an autumn wonderland.
Even though you’ll be able to see foliage all over the park, some of the best spots for views include Cadillac Mountain (bonus points if you hike it for sunrise!) as well as the Park Loop Road, a scenic highway that cuts through Acadia.
8. Glacier National Park, Montana
Once the setting of over 150 glaciers, today, there are only 6 left, making now the time to visit this unique national park before what’s left disappears due to global warming.
Glacier National Park is best visited between September and early October (temperatures can drop significantly after that). While here, you can spend the day scenic driving, hiking to see glaciers from a close distance, boating over lakes, and following several routes to see waterfalls, wildlife, and more!
9. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
With the crowds of summer long gone, the iconic Grand Canyon National Park becomes one of the best national parks to visit in the fall.
Not only will you have to share the views of one of the most famous natural landmarks in the United States with fewer people, but fall also brings in an entirely different landscape created by autumn colors. The North Rim section of the canyon, especially, becomes exceptionally beautiful during this time of the year, but do keep in mind that it starts to close around the middle of October, so late September is the best time to visit.
10. Zion National Park, Utah
Desert landscapes wrapped by autumn hues? Yes, please! Although Zion National Park is gorgeous year-round, fall brings in an entirely new perspective of the park. Thanks to its contrast in landscapes that range from gigantic red rock cliffs to meadows atop mesas, Zion’s scenery has the power to turn into a landscape of bright earth tones as soon as the leaves start to turn.
Aside from that, September and October are ideal to visit Zion because summer temperatures begin to drop and become ideal for hiking, not to mention crowds at this time of the year will start to dwindle.
Some of the best things to do at Zion include checking out the Watchman, visiting the Zion Human History Museum, and hiking a few trails such as the Canyon Overlook Trail, the Emerald Pool Trail, and Angel’s Landing.