The Best National Parks to Visit in Fall
- 1. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- 2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- 3. Acadia National Park, Maine
- 4. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
- 5. Glacier National Park, Montana
- 6. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
- 7. North Cascades National Park, Washington
- 8. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
- 9. Arches National Park, Utah
- 10. Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
- 11. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
- 12. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Our national parks are incredible any time of year, and fall is no exception. The scenery is majestic and the crowds tend to be smaller, especially compared to summertime, when visitor numbers tend to swell. To help you plan an upcoming national park visit, we have compiled a list of the 12 parks we think will make for unforgettable autumn adventures and even great fall vacation ideas. But before we get into the details of our chosen parks, let’s quickly look at a few other benefits of visiting during shoulder season.
Why visit national parks in the fall?
The Best National Parks for Fall
1. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The park is also known for its alpine tundra—the area above the tree line where beautiful wildflowers and various high-elevation vegetation can be found. Hiking trails like the Ute Trail and Tundra Communities Trail provide an opportunity to explore these unique and beautiful mountain landscapes. Remember that even during the fall, the combination of high elevations and lack of shade above the tree line greatly increase your exposure to damaging ultraviolet rays. So make sure to protect yourself with sunscreen and UPF-rated clothing. For those looking for something less strenuous, the park offers Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in North America, with breathtaking panoramic alpine views that most roads can only dream of.
3. Acadia National Park, Maine
4. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
5. Glacier National Park, Montana
While you’re here, be sure to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier’s famous scenic drive—a must-do for a fall trip to Glacier National Park. Constructed in 1932, the 50-mile road that winds through the heart of the park is considered to be a true feat of engineering. At its highest point at Logan Pass, the road reaches an elevation of over 6,500 feet, offering sweeping mountain views, made all the better by the red, orange, and yellow fall colors. And along the way, keep an eye out for wildlife like mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, and even the occasional grizzly bear. The road is open into October, weather permitting.
6. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
As a bonus, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located right next to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which features a vast network of caves and chambers to explore on your own or as part of a guided tour. Make sure to see The Big Room, one of the largest cave chambers in North America. Temperatures in these underground caves are consistently cool year-round, so make sure to bring a light jacket or midlayer—and probably a headlamp.
7. North Cascades National Park, Washington
Extend your Washington state fall visit by including Olympic National Park for the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival held every October in Port Angeles, Washington. Delight in the delicious bounty from the Pacific Ocean and learn about the local maritime culture while enjoying live music and visiting artisan vendors.
8. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
If you find yourself visiting in October, be sure to head to Gatlinburg to experience the annual Ober’s OktOBERfest, where you can enjoy Bavarian folk dances, German-inspired foods, and much more all month long.
9. Arches National Park, Utah
Another special fall event near Arches National Park is the Harvest Time Scarecrow Festival in Capitol Reef National Park, where you can see various scarecrows created by the locals and enjoy pumpkin-carving contests and food vendors throughout October. And if your travels in Utah take you to Zion National Park at the end of September, be sure to check out the Zion Canyon Music Festival in Springdale, Utah, where you’ll find an abundance of music, food, arts, crafts, and fun.
10. Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Visiting Denali National Park and Preserve in the fall is a great time to explore the park without the crowds of summer or the extreme cold of the winter months. Just remember, those more moderate temperatures will get cooler and cooler as you get deeper into October. So be sure to dress warmly—we’d recommend outerwear and footwear featuring extra warm Omni-Heat™ Infinity technology.
11. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
There are stops along the parkway that provide plenty of opportunity to learn about Appalachian history and culture. You’ll also find scenic overlooks, camping areas, and hiking trails. If you’re up for a challenging hike of over 11 miles round trip, take the Mount Mitchell Trail to the peak of Mount Mitchell (elevation: 6,684 ft.). With a 3,600-foot gain in elevation, you’re atop the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River.
If your visit to Blue Ridge Parkway allows time for a side trip, consider heading to Congaree National Park during the Congaree Swampfest the first full weekend of October. Enjoy a variety of live R&B, jazz, and gospel music as well as special exhibits, activities for children, and events offered by the park, from guided hikes to an evening Owl Prowl.