If you are planning a vacation for the fall, consider visiting a national park. Featuring gorgeous landscapes and spectacular leaf colors, there are several US national parks that make for the perfect getaway between September and November. Read on to discover the most stunning national parks to visit this fall!
Fall is a lovely time of year to enjoy nature, especially in regions that showcase the beauty of the season. Changing leaf colors paint landscapes in bold yellows, golds, oranges, and reds. Daytime temperatures are pleasant, perfect for wandering outdoors.
The crisp morning air invites you to don some warm clothes and go out for a hike or a run. And evenings are just cool enough to toast marshmallows and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. Just thinking about cozy fall adventures makes me want to plan a fall road trip right now!
Best US National Parks to Visit in the Fall
Some national parks in the United States make for unbeatable fall destinations. From Acadia National Park in New England, famed for its fall foliage, to Rocky Mountain National Park with its aspen-covered hillsides decked out in yellow, you have lots of choices on where to go this fall!
For this article, I invited fellow travel bloggers to recommend their favorite national park to visit in the fall. We have visited many of them, and I can’t wait to experience the rest. Let’s dive right into their picks, shall we?
Joshua Tree National Park, California
While you won’t find fall colors in the California desert, fall is a great time to visit Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. Mornings and evenings are pleasant all through fall, and daytime temperatures begin to come down in October. November features perfect days and cool evenings.
Hiking, and rock climbing or bouldering are the top activities at Joshua Tree. You will find visitors scrambling all over the massive boulders that are strewn all through the northern portion of the park. Also do the scenic drive through the park, ending at Keys View at sunset.
There are a number of hikes you can do in Joshua Tree National Park, ranging from short beautiful hikes like the Hidden Valley Trail or the Barker Dam Trail to longer ones like the Lost Palms Oasis that are challenging and can take several hours. Enjoy the flora and fauna in the park, including the namesake Joshua trees and the cholla cactus garden.
While you can visit Joshua Tree National Park on a day trip from nearby Palm Springs or from Los Angeles, you can also spend a few days here, enjoying the serenity. If you do stay, enjoy the stars in the dark skies!
Where to stay
You can camp inside Joshua Tree National Park, or pick a modest motel in the small town of Twentynine Palms, just outside the park. Or you can opt for swankier digs in Palm Springs and visit for the day.
In Palm Springs, we loved our stay at the The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn. Located close to downown Palm Springs, this is a stunning resort, with gorgeous grounds and beautiful rooms.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a stay here
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Joshua Tree National Park website.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
West Texas isn’t on many people’s radars. It’s isolated and most people probably imagine a desolate landscape with tumbleweed rolling down the highway. But this secluded corner of Texas is breathtakingly beautiful, so it should be no surprise that it’s home to the state’s only two national parks.
Visiting Big Bend National Park is a must-do for any hiking enthusiast and visiting in the fall is ideal. Why? While breathtakingly beautiful, it’s still the desert. Summer is sweltering and winter can be very, very cold. Fall is one of the best times to visit (but avoid school holidays like Thanksgiving to steer clear of crowds).
Big Bend is divided into three sections: river, desert, and mountain. That’s right, mountain! Big Bend is the only national park to house an entire mountain range within its borders. Stay for at least four days if possible.
It’s a difficult park to get to so you want the effort to be worth it. Four days will allow you time to hike in all three regions. Hiking the Elena Canyon to see the Rio Grande is a must, as are Mule Ears to conquer the desert, and the Lost Mine Trail or South Rim Trail in the mountains. These trails will give you a good taste of the entire park.
Where to stay
For accommodation, there are backcountry campsites throughout the park, and a lodge in the Chisos Mountains. For alternative accommodation, book a room at the Lajitas Golf Resort in the neighboring town of Terlingua.
Text and photo by Erin Mushaway of Sol Salute
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Big Bend National Park website.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Fall is a truly spectacular time to visit Yellowstone National Park. You can see the amazing fall colors, of course, but there are other reasons to visit Yellowstone in the fall, after the crowds of summer have left.
Most importantly, fall is wildlife mating season, so you have a higher chance of spotting wildlife in most areas of the park. Yellowstone is home to species like bison, bears, coyotes, wolves, deer, pronghorn, elks, and golden eagles.
But wildlife is not the only reason why Yellowstone belongs among the most fascinating national parks in the USA. The park contains over 60 percent of all the world’s geysers and about 10,000 other geothermal features, including fumaroles, hot springs, and mud pots! It’s a true natural wonderland.
Among the most beautiful places to visit is the Grand Prismatic Spring: the most famous and third largest hot spring in the world. Also don’t miss the monumental Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Old Faithful, the geyser that erupts approximately every 90 minutes. There are many more beautiful things to see in Yellowstone National Park, so you should plan on at least 3-5 days for your visit.
Fall is also great for hikers because it’s easier to get backcountry permits and you will likely not meet many people on trails. Be prepared for cooler weather. The best time to visit is from September until mid-October. Later in the season there are fewer services and facilities open and some roads might be closed due to the snow conditions.
Where to stay
There are lodges in all Yellowstone villages. Great locations to stay are the Canyon Village or the Old Faithful Village, where you can stay in charming Old Faithful Inn. Near the west entrance to the park, book a stay at the highly-rated WorldMark West Yellowstone, a condominium complex offering comfortable units.
Text and photo by Adriana Plotzerová of Czech the World
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Yellowstone National Park website.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is a fantastic park to visit in fall, because fall marks the beginning of elk rutting season, with bugling and battling males vying for mates. It is also the season when the aspen trees put on a show of blazing yellow color.
This park has plenty to see, whatever your comfort level with adventures and hiking. You can drive through the park and never leave your car, or do short day hikes, or pump up the adventure quotient with epic multi-day backpacking treks.
All visitors will want to be sure and explore the famous high altitude Trail Ridge Road, cruise to spot wildlife like bighorn sheep, black bears, and moose, and visit one of the glacier-fed lakes. It’s easy to spend an entire week here, but 3 days feels like a must-have minimum in order to check out both sides of the park, a trail or two, and enjoy the gateway towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake.
Be sure to pack several layers, as the weather can vary wildly depending on how high up you are, and afternoon showers are common! Before you go, read more about the area and some tips for visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in order to get the most out of your trip.
Where to stay
A great place to stay in Estes Park is the YMCA of The Rockies, which offers adorable little cabins and lots of on-site activities all right next to the park.
Text and photo by Stephanie Woodson of Explore More Clean Less
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Rocky Mountain National Park website.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
One of the most stunning US national parks to experience in the fall is Bryce Canyon National Park, located in Utah. With stunning red, white, and orange rock formations, unusual hoodoos, and fantastic places to hike, Bryce Canyon is amazing.
If you’re a photography buff, you will find scenic spots all over the park, but the best photo spots include Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Fairy Point. In the fall, the aspen, cottonwoods, and oaks in the area turn to shades of brilliant yellow, orange, and red, making for awesome landscapes.
Hiking throughout the park and getting up close to the unusual rock formations called hoodoos are a surreal experience. Start from the top areas and hike to the lower part of the canyon so you can look back up and admire the hoodoos. You can also do the scenic drive through the park and look for wildlife when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.
The park is sunny through most of the year with typical seasonal changes. Allow for at least 2-3 days to enjoy the gorgeous scenery, take in sunrise and sunset, and do a couple of hikes.
Where to stay
The Lodge at Bryce Canyon features comfortable rooms and on-site dining. Located very close to the rim of the canyon, the lodge is perfect if you love sunrises and sunsets. Just outside the park, the Bryce Canyon Villas are standalone wood cabins with private decks and all the amenities.
Text and photo by Noel Morata of Travel Photo Discovery
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Bryce Canyon National Park website.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park is popular year-round, but fall is one of the best times to visit the park. While it will most likely still be busy in the fall, it will probably be a little less so than in the summer.
With clear days and temperate nights, fall weather in Zion is just right for outdoor adventures. If you want to hike The Narrows, the water will be a little warmer than in the spring, and levels lower. You should still be cautious of flash floods though.
Fall colors (in late October and early November) are a little bonus to go along with the great weather. If you head up Kolob Terrace Road by the Subway trailhead (permit only, though) you can see some leaves changing on ferns and aspens by the Wildcat Canyon trailhead. It’s also much less busy in this area.
If you are looking for things to do in Zion besides hiking, be sure you take a drive into Kolob Canyon to admire the views. You can also stargaze, picnic beside the Virgin River, and check out the Human History Museum.
Spend at least two days in the park if you can. However, if you are very limited on time, it’s still possible to see and do quite a bit in Zion National Park in one day.
Where to stay
Stay in Springdale: it’s right outside the park. Highly-rated Hotel Cliffrose Springdale is located just 8 miles from the park. Hurricane and St. George are other great options nearby, and budget friendly as well.
Text and photo by Megan Johnson of Red Around the World
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Zion National Park website.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Fall is by far the best time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park because the entire mountainside is vibrant with brilliant colors. Plus, daytime temperatures in the fall are just right for hiking and other outdoors activities.
The peak fall color period varies quite a bit with altitude and different sections of the park have different peaks. However, as long as you plan a visit in the last two weeks of October, you should definitely be able to see some fall colors in the park.
Trees like dogwood, birches, and oaks turn varying shades of red, yellow, and orange and create beautiful photo opportunities. October is also a good time to see wildlife including bears, deer, and elks.
Begin your visit at the Sugarland Visitor Center and hike the Laurel Falls. The waterfall looks pretty when surrounded by fall foliage and you also have a chance of sighting a bear or two.
Then follow the Cades Cove Loop into the park and see some of the earliest buildings in the area. Visit the historic grist mill at the Cades Cove Visitor Center. Finally, see a panoramic view of the fall colors from Clingman’s Dome.
While you are visiting the Smokies, do not forget to stop in Gatlinburg. This is the perfect base for exploring the park and has lots of fall and harvest-themed activities and events including Oktoberfest.
Three days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will allow you to take in everything on offer in the park at leisure. You can drive around the park, do a couple of hikes, and enjoy nearby Gatlinburg or Dollywood.
Where to stay
Pigeon Forge is just a few miles from the entrance to the park and offers numerous lodging and dining options. The Riverstone Resort and Spa features a lazy river and indoor pool as well as a spa.
Text and photo by Ketki Sharangpani of Dotted Globe
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park is an amazing spot to visit in autumn. Even though the park is gorgeous year-round, in the fall when the foliage changes color, it becomes truly spectacular.
The park is famous for its Skyline Drive and road that goes a little over one hundred miles through Virginia’s portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The drive includes many viewing stations where you can safely park your car and enjoy the spectacular mountain views below.
The trees in the mountains turn to vibrant colors, and they are spread over multiple ridges and valleys. It almost feels like you’re looking out over a painted field.
The park is gorgeous all day, but it’s really special at sunset. But be sure to time your trip right so you don’t end up wasting some of the gorgeous views by driving after dark!
If you have an annual National Parks Pass you can enter for free, otherwise you pay the park entrance fee when you enter. The route through the park has a few amenities like places to eat and restrooms.
Where to stay
Lodging is available at various places inside the park. Skyland along Skyline Drive features rooms and standalone cabins. Or you can choose Big Meadows Lodge or Lewis Mountain Cabins.
If you want to take the route heading north, you can also stay at nearby Charlottesville the night before. Here you can also tour Monticello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Text and photo by Stephanie Craig of History Fangirl
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Shenandoah National Park website.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is beautiful in the fall. The air is fresh and crisp and the park is very quiet compared to the rush during the summer months. The drive through the park is beautiful in the fall.
Late September to early October is a great time for hiking. The weather isn’t too hot. Bug season has passed, so you won’t be bitten by those pesky mosquitoes, and most of the popular trails are still open throughout the park.
The cables to Half Dome usually are still up through the first weekend of October if that’s on your bucket list. Mid and late October offer opportunities to see some fall colors throughout the park.
In years when the snowmelt is heavy, the waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley may still be flowing in the fall months, but the best time for waterfalls in Yosemite is undoubtedly during the spring and early summer months.
Where to stay
Camping is fantastic in the fall. It gets chilly at night, so make sure you have a good sleeping bag. There are multiple campgrounds throughout the park. They usually sell out pretty quickly, so make sure to book in advance on recreation.gov.
Hotels and cabins are available just outside the park. Consider Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite in Mather, located right next to the Hetch Hetchy entrance to the park about one hour from Yosemite Village.
Acadia National Park, Maine
There may be no better national park to visit in the fall than Acadia National Park, situated on the coast of Maine.
New England is known for its incredible fall foliage, and the northern parts of the region, like Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, boast some of the best foliage of all. Acadia is no different.
In the fall, the leaves change to glorious, robust reds, oranges, and golds. But to make the scenery even more stunning, added in are the steep, rugged cliffs of the Maine coast.
Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island, Maine. The closest town is Bar Harbor, which is a fun and charming town to visit all on its own. But for fall activities, there are so many things to do in Acadia National Park.
Hiking and camping are among the most popular activities, with dozens of trails for hikers of all levels. But you can also get out on the water. Even as late as October, there are scenic cruises to be had with wildlife spotting opportunities.
Acadia is one of the most beautiful places you may ever visit, and you’re definitely going to want to return again and again.
Where to stay
The town of Bar Harbor offers great lodging and dining options close to the park. Consider The Inn on Mount Desert, located just a mile from the park entrance. It is close to shopping, restaurants, and the waterfront as well.
Text and photo by Amy Hartle of New England with Love
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Acadia National Park website.
Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim), Arizona
If you’re looking for sweeping canyon views and plenty of solitude, then you’ll want to add the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to your bucket list. The North Rim sits over 1,000 feet in elevation higher than the South Rim. This means that you’ll find beautiful pine and aspen forests right along the canyon rim.
There are many incredible hiking trails along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. One you must not miss is the Cape Final Trail, which includes a single campsite. If you are lucky enough to obtain a permit, you can sleep in solitude right on the canyon’s edge. Visit Cape Royal for incredible fall views and an easy hike.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon sees about 10% of the visitors of the South Rim, which means you’ll have jaw-dropping canyon views all to yourself. Be sure to visit before October 15. The road to the main visitor’s center and the park closes to vehicles after this date.
You can still visit by hiking the road, but it’s a lot more difficult than driving. However, don’t let the early close date stop you. The best time for fall colors along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is from mid-September through mid-October.
Be sure to pack a few warm layers like a fleece jacket, hat, and gloves. Just because you’re in the desert doesn’t mean you can’t get cold! If you’re lucky, you may even see the Grand Canyon dusted in snow!
Text and photo by Meg Atteberry of Fox in the Forest
For information about park hours and safety guidelines, visit the Grand Canyon National Park website.
So there you have it: the most spectacular US national parks to visit this fall! Have you visited any of them yet? I would love to read your thoughts if you have: comment below to respond!
If you haven’t yet had a chance to visit these spectacularly beautiful parks, I do hope you will plan a visit soon. And if you are considering a summer vacation at a national park, check out my list of the most spectacular US National Parks to visit in the summer!
MORE SCENIC PLACES TO VISIT
Alberta: The Best Things to Do in Jasper National Park
British Columbia: One Day in Yoho National Park
California: Exciting Experiences in Death Valley National Park
Nevada: What to Do at Valley of Fire State Park
California: One Day in Joshua Tree National Park
British Columbia: A Day Trip to Mount Robson Provincial Park
Alberta: Things to Do in Lake Louise
California: The Best Stops Along the Pacific Coast Highway
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