We have teamed with other travelers to provide this list of must-see National Parks to visit in the fall to help you plan your vacation.
When looking for US National Park vacation ideas, fall is a good time because crowds dwindle, temperatures become more moderate, fall foliage bursts with color, and wildlife is more active.
Each national park has different things to see and do during the autumn months of September, October and November.
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It may seem odd to add Arches to this list since you won’t find colorful leaves during the fall, but we think autumn is the perfect time for exploring the Arches National Park hiking trails. The temperatures are more moderate than summer so you can explore the outdoors for the majority of the day.
Located in the Southeastern desert of Utah, be prepared for all types of weather when you visit Arches National Park in the fall. During the day it’s usually comfortable T-shirt weather. Early mornings and evenings are chilly. And it can get pretty cold at night. We have learned to be ready for any weather event by packing and dressing in layers!
Did you know that Canyonlands National Park is comprised of three separate areas, or districts? Canyonlands Island in the Sky is only 32 miles from Moab, which makes it the most convenient way to see this part of the park. There are no roads within the park that directly link to any of the districts. They may appear close on a map, but travel time between districts can be two to six hours by car.
We recommend you spend one day visiting Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky with a side trip to visit Dead Horse Point State Park. They are both located on the same mesa, but have vastly different views. The view from the overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Plan to visit Canyonlands Needles a second day.
As you drive toward the Needles district from Moab, take some time to stop at Wilson Arch and Newspaper Rock. The activities at Needles Canyonlands include hiking, biking and off-road trails to see granaries and the colorful spires of sandstone that dominate the area. On your drive back to Moab from Needles, take the side road to see the Needles and Anticline Overlooks. The views at each location are uniquely breathtaking!
Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is one of our favorite parks. When you plan a trip to Capitol Reef National Park in the fall, you’ll see colorful leaves along the Fremont River and enjoy outdoor activities in much cooler weather compared to the summer months.
But the most fun and unique thing to do at Capitol Reef in the fall is pick fruit from the orchards! There is a harvesting schedule to let you know what fruit will be in season when you visit the park. You can eat as much as you want while you’re in the orchard, and can pay a small fee for any fruit you want to take with you. It’s really fun to use the pickers to get the fruit that’s high in the trees. The Fruita District in Capitol Reef is a nice area to walk around the old barn and homestead. We especially enjoy eating lunch at the park and watching the deer that frequent the area.
I visited Denali National Park twice, and my two visits couldn’t be more different. Don’t get me wrong, my first visit in summer time was certainly worthwhile, but the autumn colors at Denali National Park in the fall create an irresistibly beautiful painting that is so much more impressive.
You should know that due to it’s location in Alaska, both summer and autumn are short seasons in Denali. Autumn colors in this wilderness region kick in as early as late August. We visited Denali National Park early September and witnessed how grizzly bears and moose enjoyed their last snow-free days before another long and harsh winter.
With the departure of the last cruise ship, the number of visitors drops dramatically after mid September. But this means there will no longer be any bus services inside the park. Don’t let this stop you from visiting the park because you’ll practically have the park to yourself. Fall hiking at Denali National Park is possible from the visitor center. And planning a fall trip to Denali means great opportunities to see the northern lights! Don’t hesitate to plan a vacation to discover Denali’s spectacular scenery and wildlife! Photo and Article by Sylvia – Wapiti Travel
Great Smoky Mountains in the Fall
There is no bad time to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park located in the beautiful region of northeast Tennessee, but there is just something extra special about visiting the Smokies in the fall.
Everyone knows that the mountains burst into a magnificent array of orange, yellow, and red that seem to be too picture perfect to be real. The cool mountain morning air and sweet smell of the streams running alongside a forested hiking trail call out to countless numbers of outdoor enthusiasts and families every year.
We have found yet one more reason to love Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the fall: elk viewing! That’s right, perhaps you didn’t know it, but the Rockies aren’t the only national park in which to enjoy sightings of these foreboding creatures.
Pack up the kids and the snacks and take a drive to the east side of the park to Cataloochee Valley. In the fall, the elk are in the rut season; the time when the male elk possess the largest antlers and will be bugling and screeching to proclaim their “territory” to the other male elks in the area if you catch my drift.
Hot Springs National Park is located near Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s a unique national park and extends into downtown Hot Springs. The park preserves and protects the natural hot springs in the area and the Bathhouse Row.
The natural hot springs were believed to be healing and medicinal in nature and numerous bathhouses sprung up to provide bath and spa services to rich clientele. Eight of the original bathhouses are preserved in the form of Bathhouse Row. You can tour the Fordyce Bathhouse which acts as a visitor center.
Hot Springs National Park also contains numerous hiking and biking trails and a tall observation tower. While Hot Springs National Park is great to visit throughout the year, it is especially spectacular in fall. Arkansas is known as the natural state and the forest containing Hot Springs National Park is full of oaks, maples, and dogwoods – trees that are known for their vivid fall color.
The hiking trails in Hot Springs National Park provide best peak fall foliage viewing opportunities. The observation tower has a 360 degree view of the park and surrounding mountains and offers stunning views in fall. The city of Hot Springs also hosts many festivals and events in fall, making it a perfect time to plan a trip to Hot Springs National Park. Photo and Article by Ketki – Dotted Globe
North Cascades National Park in Washington state is one of the least visited national parks in the US, which is a shame, because it is absolutely gorgeous… especially in the fall! During the winter months, North Cascades National Park receives over 600 inches of snow… yes, you read that right – 600 inches! It is one of the snowiest locations in the world!
But, just before the snowfall begins, the trees turn beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red making North Cascades National Park a picture perfect fall destination! With over 600,000 acres, there is no shortage of places to explore within the park, including the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas.
North Cascades National Park is about a 2 hour drive from Seattle and the journey takes you along the absolutely breathtaking North Cascades Highway (Highway 20), which runs right through the park. Highway 20 is part of the larger 440-mile Cascade Loop scenic drive, which is the perfect accompaniment to a visit to North Cascades National Park. One of the best times to visit North Cascades National Park is during the fall. The park is free to visit and there is a really neat visitor center (near mile marker 120) that definitely warrants a visit. There are many things to do in North Cascades National Park. Ross Lake and Diablo Lake are two of the park’s highlights, in addition to the impressive Diablo Dam. Photo and Article by Toccara & Sam – Forget Someday Travel Blog
Shenandoah National Park is the East Coast’s playground. It’s is only 50 miles from Washington D.C., and an easy weekend trip from New York and Philadelphia. With over 200,000 acres of protected wilderness, it’s the perfect escape for families, couples and solo travelers.
While Shenandoah is beautiful year-round, it’s most famous for the bright hues of orange, red, and yellow during peak leaf-changing season in the fall. In October and November, the mountain slopes are transformed from their normal green to every shade of autumn foliage. Shenandoah National Park in the fall means the air is crisp and the normal Virginia humidity levels are low. The only downside is that this is also the park’s busiest time of year – everyone loves to cruise along the park’s Skyline Drive when the weather is nice!
A Yellowstone vacation in the fall is really a ‘best kept secret’ because there are fewer people and tour buses, you see animals getting ready for winter, and there are no pesky bugs biting you!
We LOVE Yellowstone in October. But we found limited services for food and gas available inside the park. All general stores were closed. Be sure to check the dates when the general stores in the park are open. The weather during the fall months in Yellowstone can be unpredictable. One day it could be sunny and warm, and the next it is cold and snowy. We recommend you pack and dress in layers to be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature. Always be equipped with clothing suitable to various types of temperatures and weather.
Watching wildlife in the fall at Yellowstone National Park is one of our favorite things to do. We enjoy seeing and hearing the bugling elk around Mammoth and Gardiner, Montana. It’s fun to search for black bears in the area around Tower. And we always hope to see grizzly bears and wolves in Lamar Valley. The bison can be found in many areas around the park as well. Please be familiar with the Wildlife Viewing Guidelines: Do not approach bears or wolves on foot within 100 yards (91 m) or other wildlife within 25 yards (23 m). Keep a safe distance from all wildlife. Use roadside pullouts when viewing wildlife.
Photographing the geothermal features and waterfalls is always a must-do activity at the park for us. There are several Yellowstone waterfalls that don’t require hiking to see them.
Yosemite is a popular destination for hikers, campers, outdoorsmen, and photographers alike. Yosemite in the fall is a wonderful time to enjoy the outdoor activities at this national park.
Fall at Yosemite covers the months of October and November. While the park is open during these months, tumultuous weather patterns, fog, clouds, and snow may make it harder to explore. You may also come across some hazy or smoky conditions in the fall.
Many of the trees in Yosemite are evergreen, so it takes some time to find the spots that have deciduous trees turning into a warm rainbow of fall colors.
If you’re headed out to shoot some photos at Yosemite, check out Mirror Lake, Happy Isles, Valley Gates and Tunnel View!
One of Zion National Park hikes is the popular Angels Landing hike. In the fall you will enjoy cooler temperatures on your hike up the exposed and unshaded trail to the top of Angels Landing. Summer temperatures can soar up into the 100’s (Fahrenheit), while September and October in Southern Utah will be more around the 70’s. Another epic hiking trail in Zion National Park is the slot canyon called the Narrows, which takes you through the water into a beautiful and tall. It’s truly a unique hike.
If you fall in love with the Narrows hike, you should also consider exploring the Kanarra Falls hike which is another fun, family-friendly slot-canyon hike just outside of Zion National Park.
One of the best times to visit and explore Zion National Park is in the fall. You’ll stay cool, find more solitude, and wait less time in line for the shuttles into the park. The free Zion Canyon Shuttle runs from March through the end of November. When the shuttle is running no private vehicles are allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The only access is by free shuttle bus. Photo and Article by Allison – She Dreams of Alpine