THE 10 BEST NATIONAL PARKS TO VISIT IN FALL
The best National Parks to visit in fall are places where prime season is leaf peeping season, and the crisp, cool weather makes for some of the best hiking, backpacking, and car camping. Plus, with school back in session and the busy vacation season over, you’re more likely to find some solitude in the most popular National Parks.
We’ve rounded up a list of the best leaf-peeping National Parks for this fall season – from Alaska to Mississippi – where the colors are about to explode. So get your camera ready and the car packed for a National Park trip during the most beautiful season of the year.
As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practice good trail etiquette and remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage, being respectful to others on the trail, and following the established rules.
Plan your best trip of the season with our guide to the best national parks to visit in fall!
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
An entire month of different types of fall foliage in bloom easily puts Cuyahoga Valley National Park on the list. Northeast Ohio’s National Park is one of the best to visit during the fall when its Sugar Maples have turned to bright red and the Sassafrass is a perfect hue of deep, burnt orange. Hike the famous Brandywine Gorge Trail past Brandywine Falls for great photo opps and a full fall color spectrum.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Rumor has it that the third week of fall foliage is the best time to see the colors change in Grand Teton National Park. While it’s hard to predict when exactly peak leaf peeping time will occur due to various climate factors, the Tetons are bursting with color from September through October. During this season, male Elk will bugle and even spar with others to show their dominance, catching this from a safe distance (at least 100 feet) is a really incredible thing to experience.
Read our complete 7-day itinerary for visiting Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Parks
Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi + Tennessee
Go on a car-camping-leaf-peeping-National Park-road-trip this fall on the Natchez Trace Parkway. It’s a 444 mile-long highway that passes through the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee and takes visitors past waypoints where they can hike, cycle and spend the night at a campground. The bridges and winding roads are beautiful, billboard-free with plenty of fall foliage to see along the way.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
It’s no surprise that the fall season is prime time for a visit to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. From the months of September through November, Shenandoah’s lush and varied landscape is bursting with color the only problem is that there’s no right time to see them. To help visitors stay updated, the Shenandoah NPS posts the park’s Fall Color Reports on their website so you can decide when to go. Plus, if you’re traveling with Fido, Shenandoah has over 480 miles worth of scenic hiking trails that you’re pup can join you on.
Check out other dog friendly National Parks
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina + Tennessee
From early to mid-October, at above 4,000 feet up, the fall colors begin to change in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At that elevation, the climate more closely mimics that of New England and as the leaves begin to change up top, the colors slowly make their way down the mountainside, for peak foliage during mid-October through November. This is the perfect time to visit spots like the Blue Ridge Parkway, Clingman’s Dome Road or the less crowded, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Of all the National Parks to visit in the Fall, the Great Smoky Mountains wins our heart for best Fall driving vistas.
Acadia National Park, Maine
New England is the leaf peeping capital of North America, which makes Maine’s Acadia National Park is the crown jewel on this list of best national parks to visit in the fall. Primetime fall foliage hits around mid to late September and continues through October. Dress warm, bring layers and a camera, of course, and head up to Mount Desert Island to see the colors and Cadillac Mountain for panoramic views.
See our full guide to Acadia National Park
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Some of the best fall colors in the west are found here in Denali National Park. The area experiences an earlier cold snap that takes place in August and makes for a crisp climate that ushers in a beautiful display of foliage. This is also an amazing time to safely watch the wildlife prepare for winter in the tundra and lowlands, like Moose and Caribou, from a far enough distance. To catch your glimpse get here before September is over, as fall in Alaska goes fast!
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
A National Park in Texas is a not-so-obvious choice for a hike through fall colors but that’s what makes it even better. Visit McKittrick Canyon for some spectacular fall foliage that stands in contrast to the dry desert landscape of West Texas and New Mexico. To get a glimpse of Texas’ best display of fall foliage hike the Mckittrick Canyon Trail that can be a 4.8 mile out and back that’s perfect for leisurely leaf peeping or a full day 11 mile-long trek to the ridgeline for amazing canyon views.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
In the fall, Mount Rainier National Park is an unbelievably scenic picture of the season. Evergreen Conifers, golden yellow Larches, and crimson red Huckleberries light the region up with fall colors to make every hike a memorable experience. Need a few ideas? Check out Skyline Trail, Shriner Peak or Indian Henry’s via Kautz Creek to name a few. As always, remember to Leave No Trace — but definitely take pictures.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Catching the change of color in Colorado’s Aspen leaves nearly beats out sunny summer days on the trail or a pow day at the mountain. During the fall season, Rocky Mountain National Park turns golden thanks to the Aspens and the rest of the tundra region explodes with autumn colors. At lower elevations, you can get away with a few warm layers but be sure to keep an eye on the weather in the alpine when snow, frost or even hail can surprise hikers and other park visitors. To make the most of your trip, come prepared with proper layers and visit the rangers station before heading out.
Still Looking for More Ideas?
We love a good fall foliage and leaf peeping trip in Autumn but if you’re not necessarily selecting a park that showcases fall colors, here are a few more great National Parks for visiting post-summer:
- Experience all 3 of Florida’s National Parks in a 7-day road trip
- Hike volcanoes at Lassen National Park
- Catch the salmon swimming upstream in October in Olympic National Park
- Avoid Yosemite’s summer crowds & visit Yosemite’s Grand Canyon
- Admire Utah’s red rock in Zion National Park
- Visit Joshua Tree National Park for hiking or rock climbing
- Hop across the pond and explore Hawaii’s Haleakala National Park or Volcanoes National Park