National Parks in the fall may just be my all-time favorite. There are typically fewer crowds, more comfortable temperatures, and depending on the park, jaw-dropping foliage. While I personally think every National Park is worth visiting, there are a few that stand out specifically for this time of year. This list includes five parks for grand fall scenery and five parks for, of course, beautiful scenery, but also for the temperature and climate aspect in particular.
GRAND FALL SCENERY PICKS
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite NP is astoundingly beautiful in every season of the year. Yes, even winter! However, there is a next-level experience during the window of fall foliage that leaves you speechless. The stark contrast of the towering granite rocks against the orange and red hues mixed with the evergreens is something I fully believe everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Typically, the best window for this is around mid-October. Mix some hiking with the driving views and you have yourself a perfect recipe. Check out my Best Hikes in Yosemite blog for full details on the trails I’d recommend.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The G.O.A.T. of fall foliage in the National Parks System. Great Smoky Mountains NP is covered in deciduous trees making it a sight to behold during the autumn transition. Primary colors are around mid-October and the park is easily accessible by vehicle. In fact, the most popular mode of exploring the park is by car making it a roadtripper’s dream.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Ahhh, my beautiful backyard. Many places in Colorado are famous for fall leaf-peeping as the colors change, including Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only do you get a gorgeous mix of evergreens, deciduous trees, and mountains – you also get an added bonus of bugling elk in their “rut”. The forests come to life with whistling calls of the wild during fall in the rockies. Mid-September through early October is your (literal) golden ticket to experiencing one of the best shows Colorado has to offer. There is plenty of hiking to be had in RMNP and if you’re wondering how to make the most of your trip, check out my Rocky Mountain National Park blogs.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton is quite grand year round, but especially in the fall months. The valley is filled with hues of gold and red against some of the most beautiful mountains in the U.S.. One of the best aspects of Grand Teton is the amount of animal sighting opportunities. Plenty of moose, bear, wolves, bison, pronghorn, and elk roam around preparing for winter. The cooler temps also make hiking in the park absolutely amazing and there are less crowds as well. Most of the valley is accessible by car, including sites like the Mormon Row Barns, The Oxbow, Snake River Overlook, and Schwabacher Landing. However, there are plenty of hikes ranging from easy to hard to keep your boots busy during your visit! Mid-September through the end of the month is going to be your best bet for a timeframe. For ideas on how to maximize your time in the park, check out my Grand Tetons 3-Day Itinerary.
North Cascades National Park
One of the most underrated and bypassed mountainous parks in the country – North Cascades National Park is an incredible place to visit in autumn. Since it is tucked up in the NW corner of the United States in Washington, it is generally less traveled compared to many other parks. Locals refer to hiking during the changes of colors as a “larch march” instead of “leaf peeping”, since many of the golden trees changing color are actually Western Larches. A few broad-leaf usuals such as maple, poplar, and alder also speckle the mostly evergreen landscape making it a gorgeous array of colors in the first half of October. The North Cascades are some of the most dramatically rugged mountains I’ve ever seen and absolutely worth making the trip to witness them in the fall. I have a 3-Day Itinerary Blog to make sure you see the best of what the park has to offer!
Acadia National Park
Located on the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park is a top destination for fall colors. You not only have yellows and oranges like the parks mentioned above, but also rich tones of red and beautiful water reflections. Many enjoy the town of Bar Harbor, as well as hitting the trails to enjoy colors. Some of the best hiking trails are: Schooner Head Lookout, Cadillac Mountain, Jesup Path, and Beehive Loop Trail. For peek colors, visit Acadia the first week of October.
BEST FALL CLIMATE PICKS
Zion National Park
With cooler temps and less crowds, fall in Zion is the way to go. There is still a good amount of foliage throughout the park, the most being at higher elevations. Zion is famous for hikes such as The Narrows, Angels Landing, Subway Cave, Emerald Pools, and Observation Point – and for good reason. These unique places lead you to experience some incredible views and natural features. Drives through the park are beautiful as well, but I definitely recommend getting out to enjoy some trails while you are in the park. The best window to visit in the fall is mid-September to mid-November. Check out my blog for a full Guide to Zion NP!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is such a unique and overlooked place, and it’s perfect to tack onto Zion since it’s close by! That mid-September to mid-October window is going to provide you with perfect hiking temperatures during the day and way less crowds than in the peak season. If you are going to hike into the evening, especially after mid-September, be sure to at least take a light jacket since temps cool off at night quite a bit. In addition to Zion, I have a Guide to Bryce Canyon Blogas well to make sure your trip planning goes smoothly!
Grand Canyon National Park
September through November at the Grand Canyon is much more suitable in my opinion – way less crowds and enjoyable temperatures! There are hikes and sites spread out through this massive area, and many people plan their trip according to which side of the rim they will be accessing whether it’s north, south, east, or west (the south rim being the most popular. Keep that in mind as you plan your visit here so you can organize your activities.
Arches National Park + Canyonlands National Park
Since these two are next door neighbors, I think it’s safe to say visiting both on the same trip makes sense! They differ so much in landscape and are both such incredible places. The small city of Moab, UT is going to be your perfect launchpad to see both. I have an all-inclusive Guide To Moab and the surrounding areas. I recommend visiting in the September-October window, but there really aren’t any “bad” months to visit these two parks between September and May if you want to avoid the heat.
In all honesty, I don’t think there are any national parks you are going to regret visiting in the fall, these are just my top picks in terms of scenery and suitable temperatures to get out and explore them! Wherever you decide to roam, if there are national parks involved you are sure to have an incredible experience and leave with some of the best and most beautiful memories in tow.
Where are you exploring this fall?? I’ll be exploring locally in colorful Colorado! Thanks for reading and I hope you found it helpful.
Happy + Healthy Trails,