Whether you’re looking for an adventurous hike or a quiet stroll, there’s something for everyone when visiting the US Southwest National Parks in the fall.
Check out these US National Park vacation ideas in the American Southwest: guides, tips, activities, and packing checklists to help you plan your fall vacation.
Fall weather and temperatures are amazing this time of year to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, camping, kayaking, scenic drives, and more during the fall months at the National Parks in the US Southwest.
Use our Fall Packing List for National Parks to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting this time of year! Grab your free printable packing checklist by clicking the image below!
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Fall Gear for Southwest National Parks
Fall is the perfect time to visit some of the most spectacular national parks in the Southwest United States.
When planning your fall vacation in the Southwest USA, it’s important to stay hydrated and still use sun protection for any outdoor activities. Layers are key for the cooler mornings and evenings as the weather changes from summer to fall.
- Fleece jacket
- Winter hat
- Winter gloves
- Wicking clothing
- Refillable water bottle
- Lip balm
US Southwest National Parks in the Fall
If you’re planning a US National Park vacation, be sure to check out the US National Park Pass: the cost, how it saves money, and where you can buy the pass.
Take advantage of two fee-free days at US National Parks in the fall:
We have teamed with other travelers to provide this list of Southwest National Parks to visit in the fall in these states: Arizona, Southern California, Southern Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.
Check out the National Parks they recommend you visit during the fall months!
Arizona National Parks in the Fall
Fall is an amazing time of year to visit the National Parks in Arizona! As summer comes to an end, cooler days and nights provide perfect conditions for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and exploring nature’s wonders.
Grand Canyon National Park in the Fall
Fall is without a doubt the best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park! With milder temperatures than summer (but still warm by most peoples’ standards), fall is the perfect time to go hiking and explore the canyon without overheating. The Bright Angel trail is one of the best in the park, but, at 8 miles long, it’s far more pleasant in the cooler fall months.
The most common starting point for a Grand Canyon adventure is Las Vegas. Although you’re able to explore Vegas without a car, you’ll need to either rent one or join a tour to explore the Grand Canyon. Many tours stop running in summer due to the extreme heat, so fall is the perfect time!
During your fall trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t miss watching the sun set over the canyon. It’s mind-blowing! Recommended by Ella, ManyMoreMaps
Grand Canyon Lodging & Tours
Petrified Forest National Park in the Fall
Petrified Forest is a great Southwestern national park to visit in the fall. Even though the name implies a forest, it is mostly a desert park with some fossilized tree logs.
The park is in Arizona, on both sides of Interstate I-40. Petrified Forest is about halfway between Grand Canyon National Park and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Painted Desert park area is the closest to the highway. While there are just a couple of petrified logs, this area has vibrant pink, yellow, and red badlands scenery.
Petrified Forest Road takes you through the entire park. The road is only open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. There is a fee per vehicle to visit Petrified Forest.
You would need to drive about 15 miles south to see the next petrified logs. Stop at Agate Bridge to admire one of the few fossilized natural bridges in the park.
You will reach Crystal and Rainbow Forests next. Both “forests” have the most petrified logs in the entire park. You could even see one giant log at the same named spot.
Short accessible walks bring you close to the crystalized tree stumps. But do not touch the logs or take any keepsakes! Recommended by Anastasia, Travel Realist
Lodging & Tours Near Petrified Forest
Saguaro National Park in the Fall
Saguaro National Park is a great destination to visit during the fall. With milder weather than the summer months, vibrant desert landscapes, fewer crowds, and a convenient proximity just 1.5 hours from Phoenix, It offers a great experience for visitors.
The cooler fall temperatures at Saguaro National Park make outdoor activities like hiking and biking more enjoyable. Additionally, with fewer crowds, you’re able to navigate through the park with ease, allowing for a more peaceful experience with nature.
Don’t miss out on the special events and programs. Free of charge, the park offers guided tours and organizes stargazing events throughout the summer. However, in September, Saguaro National Park provides an additional opportunity to engage in biologist-led talks.
These talks delve into the fascinating aspects of how Saguaros pronounced ‘sa-WAH-rohs serve as shelters for wildlife during their flowering period and explore their remarkable strategies for survival against adversities such as drought, lightning, frost, and other potential hazards. Recommended by Jill, Outside Nomad
Where to Stay Near Saguaro National Park
California National Parks in the Fall
California’s national parks are some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world. Visiting California National Parks in the fall is one of the best times to go!
At the two parks in Southern California, the scorching summer heat slowly begins to give way to cooler fall temperatures for a more enjoyable experience! Be sure to add both National Parks to your California Bucket List!
Death Valley National Park in the Fall
Located in the southwestern United States, Death Valley National Park is a mesmerizing sight to behold with landscapes that feel other-worldly. Different from most other national parks that are lush, green, and mountainous, Death Valley is typically pictured as sparse, dry, and deserted. But this couldn’t be more wrong!
As the largest national park in the continental U.S., this region contains stark contrasts ranging from brightly colored rocky outcroppings and pure white salt flats to rolling sand dunes and breathtaking scenic overlooks. Simply driving through Death Valley will highlight these differences, from the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level to mountains rising over 11,000 feet. And, the park boasts the hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet at 134°F!
Visiting during the fall is spectacular, bringing cooler weather that is perfect for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Temperatures range from the mid-50’s to the low-80’s, with little humidity or threat of thunderstorms.
Also, the park is less crowded this time of year so it is much easier to get that perfect location for a picturesque sunrise or magnificent sunset! Recommended by Erin, The Simple Salty Life
Death Valley Lodging & Tours
Joshua Tree National Park in the Fall
Joshua Tree National Park is known for its whimsical Dr. Seuss-like trees, incredible rock formations, and unique desert landscape. Situated in the Mojave desert outside of Palm Springs, California, Joshua Tree is a fascinating and one of a kind destination.
One of the best times of year to visit the national park is in the fall. As the scorching heat of summer subsides, fall is the perfect time to explore and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, rock climbing, camping, observing wildlife, and stargazing.
The fall is also a great time to visit because it is when the annual music festival takes place. Every October, Joshua Tree hosts a four day desert festival that includes a diverse music lineup and family-friendly events. Recommended by Alisha, Travel Today Work Tomorrow
Joshua Tree National Park Lodging & Tours
- Hotels Near Joshua Tree National Park
- Vacation Rentals Near Joshua Tree National Park
- Joshua Tree NP Tours
Colorado National Parks in the Fall
Fall is the perfect time of year to visit Colorado’s National Parks! Enjoy the cooler weather while exploring the parks and participating in outdoor activities.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the Fall
September and October are great months to plan your vacation to Black Canyon of the Gunnison. You’ll enjoy pleasant weather and fewer crowds this time of year. About mid-November the roads begin to close for the winter.
If you want to see fall foliage, be sure to drive the Million Dollar Highway!! It’s one of the best National Park scenic drives to see amazing fall colors! Recommended by Dave & Jamie, Photo Jeepers
Mesa Verde National Park in the Fall
If you are a history, archeology, and/or architecture buff, Mesa Verde National Park is a must-see! You can learn about the Ancestral Pueblo culture, explore what they built, and hike the nearly 30 miles of park trails. The Fall is an excellent time to visit when crowds are lighter & temperatures are cooler!
The Ancestral Pueblo people built awe-inspiring dwellings in the natural cliff alcoves in the late 1190s after living for over 600 years on top of the mesas. These structures are so impressive, especially considering that they built this all with hand-made tools & no animals to help carry the loads.
Balcony House & Cliff Palace are two of the most popular dwellings. The only way to see them up close is to book a guided tour in advance. Tickets become available 14 days in advance at 8:00 am MDT. Be ready, these tours sell out in minutes.
If you miss the guided tours, you can see Cliff Palace from the overlook. Grab your hiking shoes and head to Soda Canyon Overlook for a view of Balcony House. Recommended by Jody Phifer, My Travel Obsession
Mesa Verde Lodging
Nevada National Park in the Fall
Fall would be the perfect time to plan your trip to Nevada’s National Park, Great Basin! The autumn colors at the park are a must-see!
Great Basin National Park in the Fall
Autumn at Great Basin National Park is stellar! Enjoy the yellow, red, and gold of the fall foliage beginning the second or third week of September.
Great Basin National Park is free to enter and explore however, there is a fee to join a Lehman Cave Tour to explore a two mile long structure with various speleothems, streams, and areas of perennial ice.
You’ll see incredible views and fall colors from Mount Wheeler! Take the Challenger Point trail to the summit to learn about glaciers and the local ecosystem. Fall hiking at US National Parks can’t be beat!
You can also enjoy more fall activities like biking, scenic drives, stargazing, and viewing the bristlecone pines! Recommended by Dave & Jamie, Photo Jeepers
Great Basin National Park Lodging
New Mexico National Parks in the Fall
You’ll find unique National Parks (and one National Monument) in New Mexico! Enjoy cooler fall weather when visiting these places!
Carlsbad Caverns in the Fall
Explore a magical wonderland hidden underneath southern New Mexico! Carlsbad Caverns is one of the largest cave systems in the world, and visitors can explore miles of it on 2 self-guided tours.
For an even more in-depth experience, see if you can nab a spot on the ranger-led King’s Palace tour. Here, you can see sections of the cave that aren’t open to the general public, and they’re well worth the small, extra charge. Most of the King’s Palace tickets are sold through the NPS website ahead of time–and they sell out nearly immediately.
However, if you arrive at Carlsbad Caverns National Park early, you can request an in-person ticket, several of which are held back for each tour.
To get into the cave, visitors will need to reserve an arrival time for a small per person fee. The arrival times are done hourly in order to space out visitors and protect the delicate cave infrastructure.
While the cave stays in the 50s year-round, the surface temperatures in the fall are moderate and wonderful for a hike elsewhere in the park. When you’re done for the day, head back to your campsite at Lake Brantley State Park, one of the best campgrounds in New Mexico. Recommended by Natalie, Camping Kiddos
Where to Stay Near Carlsbad Caverns
Petroglyph National Monument in the Fall
Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, visiting Petroglyph National Monument in the fall is the perfect time to visit when the weather is nice and the smell of New Mexico’s famous green chile is in the air.
The monument consists of five separate locations on Albuquerque’s West Side. It is best to begin your visit at the Petroglyph National Monument Visitor Center located at 6510 Western Trail NW in Albuquerque.
There, you will learn about the history of the monument as well as all the information you need to access the different locations. Each point of interest at Petroglyph National Monument has different fees, open hours, and pet policies. All that information can be found at the Visitor’s Center.
In addition to the historic rock art, Petroglyph National Monument boasts beautiful desert hiking trails, and gorgeous views of Albuquerque’s valleys and the Sandia Mountains. Boca Negra Canyon is our favorite hike for some spectacular city views.
Petroglyph National Monument is a great afternoon excursion for visitors in town for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta that takes place each fall. Recommended by Yvonne, MPA Project Travels
Plan Your Trip to New Mexico
White Sands National Park in the Fall
Originally a National Monument, White Sands became White Sands National Park in 2019. Famous for its stark white sand dunes that are among the largest gypsum sand dunes in the world.
The fall months have the perfect temperature to explore as the days are still warm but not scorching hot as in the summer. People of all ages enjoy hiking the gypsum sand dunes, picnicking, backcountry camping, or going sledding down the steep sections of the dunes.
The Visitor Center has a small museum to learn more about what makes White Sands National Park so unique in addition to a short film and a gift shop. For those that have an America The Beautiful Pass, entry is free. If not, your paid entry ticket is good to use for seven days.
Occasionally the park is closed for a few hours if there is missile testing at the nearby White Sands Missile Range. Give yourself a full day to make sure you have time to visit in the event it is shut down at any point. Recommended by Vanessa. Traveling Ness
Where to Stay Near White Sands National Park
Texas National Parks in the Fall
Fall in Texas is a wonderful time of year, with cooler temperatures and beautiful scenery. The days are still long enough to enjoy outdoor activities at the one National Park and National Seashore in Texas!
Big Bend National Park in the Fall
Nestled in the heart of Texas, Big Bend National Park transforms into a spectacle of vibrant colors and cool, crisp air during the fall season.
The park, known for its striking geological features and diverse wildlife, offers a unique blend of tranquility and adventure. Fall is an ideal time for birdwatching, with over 450 species making their migratory journey across the park.
As the scorching summer heat subsides, visitors can comfortably explore the park’s vast hiking trails, including the South Rim where panoramic views of the Chisos Mountains are truly breathtaking. For those seeking a serene experience, the Rio Grande offers peaceful canoeing opportunities.
Remember to book your tickets online in advance, especially during the busy fall season. Whether you’re an avid adventurer or a nature lover, Big Bend in the fall is a mesmerizing destination that promises an unforgettable experience. Recommended by Sarah, Travelosio
Where to Stay Near Big Bend:
- Vacation Rentals in Marathon, TX Near Big Bend
- Hotels in Lajitas, TX Near Big Bend
- Tours Near Big Bend
Padre Island National Seashore in the Fall
When visiting the Southwest this Fall, don’t miss Padre Island National Seashore in southern Texas. This underrated spot has some of the most beautiful beaches on the Texas coastline. Clean, powdery sand, beautiful water, and plenty of wildlife make this seashore a wonderful place to spend a day or more.
Fall is a wonderful time to explore this 66-mile stretch of gorgeous coastline. Once the heat of summer has passed, visitors will still find warm beaches (average temperatures are around 80 degrees), clean water, and very low crowds.
There is a small admission fee, or use your National Parks Pass. Visitors will find picnic facilities, restrooms, and a helpful Visitor’s Center.
Popular activities at the seashore include visiting the beautiful Malaquite Beach, fishing by boat or from the shore, and discovering the dunes in a 4-wheel drive. Birdwatchers will love seeing the thousands of birds that migrate here each fall.
Located between the towns of Corpus Christi and Port Aransas, two of Texas’ best beach towns, the area has plenty of things to do and explore. Plenty of cute surf shops offer fun souvenirs, and visitors will find interesting facts to explore at the USS Lexington and the Texas Surf Museum.
Rent a golf cart and ride along the sand and then head to Surfside Sandwich Shoppe for tasty burgers or Rollin’ Tide Shrimp Co. for a local shrimp boil while the sun goes down. Recommended by Sierra, Very Truly Texas
Utah National Parks in the Fall
As the temperatures begin to drop and leaves start to change colors, visiting Utah National Parks in the Fall is one of the best times of the year to go!
Fall is still a busy season for the Utah National Parks. During September and October the roads, hiking trails and parking lots typically fill to capacity. Typically by November, things start to wind down and crowds begin to thin.
Definitely add all 5 National Parks to your Utah bucket list!
Arches National Park in the Fall
One of the best times to visit Arches National Park is the fall, when the scorching temperatures and swelling crowds (and prices!) of summer have subsided.
You’ll need to make a reservation to enter the park from April through the end of October between the hours of 7 AM to 4 PM. Here’s a quick tip: the beginning of November is one of the quietest times in the park and you won’t need to make a reservation!
Additionally, all visitors (regardless of when you visit) will need to pay the entrance fee or use your National Parks pass.
While you’re here, take advantage of the pleasant weather and explore any of the best hikes in Arches National Park to see its famed sandstone structures. For example, Devil’s Garden is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of trail, which can be as short as 1.9 miles or as long as 7.9 miles and can pass as many as seven natural arches along the way.
Alternatively, the Fiery Furnace hike can be an excellent option for more advanced hikers, as you rely on route-finding to navigate your way through a maze of red rock formations. Recommended by Jessica, Uprooted Traveler
Where to Stay Near Arches National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park in the Fall
As the summer crowds thin out and temperatures cool down, you can enjoy stunning views at Bryce Canyon in the fall without having to deal with the heat or huge numbers of tourists.
During the fall season, you can enjoy Bryce Canyon National Park fall activities like hiking, backpacking, scenic drives, horseback riding, landscape photography, and stargazing! Recommended by Dave & Jamie, Photo Jeepers
Where to Stay Near Bryce Canyon
Canyonlands National Park in the Fall
Fall is a wonderful time to explore some of the country’s most beautiful national parks, especially those in the Southwest. Because so much of the southwest is dominated by a desert climate, the moderate fall temperatures make for a more comfortable experience when enjoying the great outdoors.
Canyonlands is one of the most magnificent US Southwest National Parks and is a wonder to visit during the fall. Reservations are not required to enter the park. Because this season provides optimal weather, it is a popular time to visit the park, so expect crowds.
Fall activities in Canyonlands center around the gorgeous scenery of the land. You can enjoy a scenic drive through Island in the Sky or spend your time hiking Mesa Arch or taking in all the stunning overlooks and viewpoints.
One of the best ways to explore Canyonlands is onboard one of the many Moab Jeep tours. There are tours specifically dedicated to exploring Canyonlands and others that cover Arches National Park as well as other exciting routes in Moab’s backcountry.
There are so many wonders to be discovered in US Southwest National Parks in the fall. Take advantage of the cooling temperatures, limitless recreation opportunities, and awe-inspiring views of Canyonlands National Park in the fall. Recommended by Candice, CS Ginger
Where to Stay Near Canyonlands
Capitol Reef National Park in the Fall
If you want to visit one of the best national parks in the southwestern USA in the fall then you can’t beat Capitol Reef National Park.
Fall is the perfect time of year to enjoy some of the best hikes in Capitol Reef National Park all by yourself. Temperatures are much milder in the fall than in the summer. In fact, highs dip to around 64 F in October, making this a great time of year to try the Grand Wash Hike to the Narrows, the Hickman Bridge Hike, and the Cassidy Arch Hike.
But, fall also means that the park comes alive with vibrant foliage that peaks around mid-October. And one of the best places to see beautiful colorful fall leaves is during the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive.
This epic 25-mile road trip has great pull-offs where you can stop to photograph stunning fall foliage with red rocks and sandstone cliffs in the background.
However, another great fall drive you can try is Scenic Byway 12. You’ll climb for 20 minutes to the summit of Boulder Mountain and can admire panoramas of Capitol Reef with fall colors in the background. Recommended by Meg, Fox in the Forest
Places to Stay Near Capitol Reef
- Places to Stay at Capitol Reef National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park Camping
- Hotels near Capitol Reef National Park
Zion National Park in the Fall
Looking for the perfect time to explore Zion National Park? Look no further! Fall is the ideal season to experience the park’s wonders. Those on a day trip to Zion from Las Vegas won’t have to battle crowds like during the peak summer season, allowing for a more peaceful and intimate experience with nature.
With average fall temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to low 80s Fahrenheit, you can comfortably engage in activities such as hiking, biking, and camping without being hindered by scorching summer heat or winter chill.
With cooler weather prevailing, exploring Zion National Park fall hikes to see breathtaking landscapes becomes even more enjoyable. You can traverse the park’s iconic trails, such as Angel’s Landing or Observation Point, with ease and soak in the stunning vistas that surround you.
The fall season transforms Zion National Park into a vibrant masterpiece of colors. The contrast between colorful leaves and towering sandstone cliffs is truly awe-inspiring.
Zion National Park in October is a magical time to visit due to the perfect weather and a plethora of special events and festivals that enhance the overall experience. From music festivals to guided tours, there’s something for everyone during this vibrant season. Recommended by Shannon, Three Days In Vegas
Where to Stay Near Zion