The crisp autumn air is calling! As the leaves burst into vivid shades of red, orange, and yellow, it's time to trade in beach towels for cozy sweaters and head out to enjoy the natural beauty of fall.
For breathtaking views of fall foliage, you can't beat these national parks:
- Acadia National Park
- Shenandoah National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Death Valley National Park
Read on to learn about these national parks and some tried and tested tips for your autumn visit.
1. Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park is an exquisite destination for fall foliage enthusiasts. Located on Mount Desert Island, the park is adorned with a beautiful variety of trees like maples, oaks, and birches in red, orange, and yellow during autumn.
With over 120 miles of hiking trails, including the Precipice Loop and Jordan Pond Path, the park offers endless exploration opportunities.
The nearby charming coastal town of Bar Harbor complements the park experience with its picturesque streets, seafood restaurants, and various shops and historic landmarks.
This forum also offers a wealth of seasoned advice for your autumn visit to Acadia:
Cadillac Mountain is a must-visit in Acadia National Park for its panoramic views. You can hike or drive to the top, but a drive at sunset is highly recommended.
For a more secluded hike, try the trails on the St. Sauveur and Acadia Mountains, which offer stunning views of Somes Sound.
Ride along the car-free carriage trails, especially the route from Northeast Harbor to Jordan Pond, unveiling fall's palette en route.
Take a ferry to Schoodic Point or charter a boat to explore the serene islands.
Relish the unique flavors of the region with lobster stew at Jordan Pond House, and don’t miss the blueberry treats around!
Wind down at quaint farm stands, like Triple Chick Farm or Beech Hill Farm, and explore the charming markets in Bar Harbor.
2. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers a captivating display of autumn colors. The 105-mile Skyline Drive provides panoramic views of the fall landscape and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Numerous hiking trails, including parts of the Appalachian Trail and Old Rag Mountain Trail, offer a closer look at the vibrant fall foliage.
The park hosts the annual Leaf Peeper’s Festival, celebrating the changing seasons with music, food, and outdoor activities, enhancing the autumn experience.
Here are some practical tips for your visit from fellow fall enthusiasts:
- Arrive early due to crowding; check for ticket requirements.
- Visit Pass Mountain for fall foliage views.
- Hike Jeremy's Run for some autumn scenery.
- Try Bearfence for a short, exciting hike with rock scrambles and views.
- Explore hikes like Old Rag, Marys Rock, Hightop Summit, Stony Man, etc.
- Don't miss Hawksbill and Stony Man summits.
- Check the weather for fog; enjoy sunrise/sunset from Skyline Drive overlooks.
- Stargaze at Big Meadows and join "park after dark" programs if camping.
- Camping within the park is a great choice for nature enthusiasts.
- Remember to check trail conditions and information before your visit.
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Known for its mesmerizing fall foliage, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park spans Tennessee and North Carolina.
Its 800 square miles of forest feature diverse trees like sugar maples, hickories, and scarlet oaks, illuminating the park with brilliant autumn colors.
Popular autumn hiking destinations include the Appalachian Trail and Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park.
For a leisurely experience, visitors can explore shorter trails, such as the Abrams Falls trail, or embark on a scenic drive along the Newfound Gap Road.
Here are some extra tips from previous travelers:
- Explore the Foothills Parkway within the park for a scenic drive.
- Drive along Cades Cove for a picturesque route.
- Hike along Alum Cave Bluffs, Charlie's Bunion, and Gregory Bald.
- Explore the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail for a scenic drive within the park.
- The Rainbow Falls Trail is a beautiful hiking experience in the park.
4. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park is renowned for its spectacular peaks and vibrant fall colors. A scenic drive along Teton Park Road offers stunning views of the changing aspens and abundant wildlife like moose and bison.
Hiking trails like Taggart Lake Trail and Cascade Canyon Trail offer a beautiful, immersive fall experience.
You should also stop by the nearby Jackson Hole for additional attractions like shopping, dining, and cultural events.
For more foliage adventure, check out these tips:
- Enjoy the hike to Lake Solitude, a lovely day hike in the park.
- Take a boat ride across Jenny Lake for a scenic experience.
- Hike up to Cascade Canyon, one of the best hikes in the national park system.
- Consider taking the first-morning boat ride for a discount and to avoid crowds.
- Bring bear spray with you if you plan to hike in the area.
If you're craving wildlife adventures, read The National Museum of Wildlife Art: A Cultural Gem Near Yellowstone
5. Glacier National Park, Montana
With its breathtaking mountain scenery, Glacier National Park is a haven for fall foliage lovers. Hiking trails like the Highline Trail and Grinnell Glacier Trail offer unforgettable views of the park’s autumn landscape.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is another way to witness the park in the fall, driving through vibrant forests and lakes. If you want to be more active, you should explore Big Mountain for hiking, biking, and zip-lining.
Here are more expert advice and safety tips when exploring Glacier National Park in autumn:
- Check the status of Going-to-the-Sun Road and other roads, as they may be closed in the autumn season.
- If Going to the Sun Road is open, be prepared for dense clouds and reduced visibility, especially at Logan Pass.
- Consider hiking the Fishercap Lake to the Red Rock Lake area for a lighter trail, but be cautious about bear activity.
- Be bear-aware by keeping food in airtight containers, carrying bear spray, and making noise on the trail.
- Hidden Lake hike is one of the busiest in the park but still relatively safe if you carry bear spray and make noise.
- While visiting Many Glacier, expect fewer crowds and limited services. Be prepared for creative meal options.
- Consider exploring Chief Mountain Highway for a scenic drive.
- Watch for wildlife, such as mountain goats and marmots, while hiking.
- If camping, consider whether to camp in a tent or a car, taking bear concerns into account.
6. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Gold and orange aspens in Rocky Mountain National Park highlight the fall scenery.
Trail Ridge Road, spanning the park, offers enchanting views of this colorful display. Multiple hiking trails, ranging from easy walks around Bear Lake to challenging hikes up Flattop Mountain, accommodate all visitors.
The nearby mountain town, Estes Park, enhances the visitor experience with lodging options and local attractions.
- Prepare for rapidly changing weather, ranging from hot to snowy, in less than 12 hours. Check the weather forecast twice daily.
- Overpack and expect the unexpected; bring extra clothing and supplies.
- Consider getting two weeks' worth of food and supplies if you stay for a week.
- Have a satellite phone or radio due to spotty cell service in the area.
- Check road statuses for closures due to autumn weather conditions.
- Secure timed entry tickets and reservations for park attractions.
- Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road offer an alternative to Pike's Peak.
- Consider a 4-wheel drive vehicle for snow concerns at high elevations.
For more southwestern autumn trip ideas, read: Four Southwest National Parks I Visited That Are Amazing During Fall
7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located between Cleveland and Akron, is a delightful destination for the fall.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a good vantage point to admire the autumn colors, while trails like Ledges Trail and Oak Hill Trail offer immersive hiking experiences.
The magnificent Brandywine Falls, surrounded by vibrant fall colors, is a beautiful attraction within the park. To make the most of your trip, consider these tips:
- Plan your visit early to avoid crowds.
- Visit Szalay's Farm (reopens in June 2024) for food, a farm market, and a haunted corn maze.
- Drive along Route 603 for beautiful autumn scenery.
- Take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley National Park railway.
- Hike to the top of Ledges for a breathtaking view.
- Explore the Towpath Trails and go biking from Lock 29 trailhead.
8. Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is famed for its granite cliffs and waterfalls, but fall brings a warm vibrance, with dogwood trees turning shades of red.
The park’s dramatic landscape is softened and enriched by the autumn colors, offering a refreshing perspective to visitors during the fall season.
There are mixed reviews on the intensity of autumn colors in Yosemite National Park, but these tips could help you enjoy the best it has to offer:
- October is a great month to visit the Valley for a fall vibe, even if the colors are not intense.
- Take Sonora Pass to Highway 395 on the Eastern Slope for magnificent fall colors.
- Recommended stops along Highway 395 for fall colors include June Lake Loop, Sonora Pass, Leavitt Meadows, Conway Pass near Mono Lake, and Lundy Canyon/Lundy Lake.
- June Lake Loop is a favorite spot in the Sierra for fall colors.
- For better fall colors, head to the eastern Sierra, particularly the aspen/poplar groves on the east side of Monitor Pass.
Enjoy more of Yosemite National Park's visuals here: 21 Yosemite National Park Pictures [A Trip Down Memory Lane]
9. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
At Mount Rainier National Park, vine maples erupt in brilliant red hues against the backdrop of the majestic snow-capped peak.
Here's a list of suggestions for exploring Mount Rainier National Park and nearby areas in the autumn season:
- Check wta.org for hiking trail information.
- Bring a Discover Pass for state lands or an America the Beautiful Pass for federal lands.
- Stay informed about trail closures.
- Start your hikes from Sunrise and Paradise.
- Consider the Grove of the Patriarchs and Summerland for forest hikes.
- Explore pullouts like Narada Falls and the Ricksecker lookout.
- Avoid crowds by arriving early or later in the afternoon.
- Buy your park pass online and download it to your phone.
- Expect limited cell service in the park.
10. Death Valley National Park, California
Known for its extreme desert conditions, Death Valley National Park also offers a delightful autumn spectacle.
Cottonwood trees adorn the rugged desert landscape with shades of gold during the fall. Have a cool and stress-free time by saving these helpful tips when exploring Death Valley National Park:
- Book accommodations or use a camper due to extreme heat.
- Plan outdoor activities for mornings and evenings.
- Use the visitor center for AC and info.
- Expect limited cell service.
- Explore cooler areas off Highway 395 (eastern Sierra).
- Stick to paved roads in non-4WD vehicles for highlights.
- Visit Dante's View for views and cooler temps.
- Watch your car's temperature and keep your pets cool.
- Photo at Badwater sign; hike early.
- Drive Artists Palette in the afternoon.
- Stop at Zabriskie Point with a hat and water.
- Check road closures at visitor centers.
- Explore the Nevada side (Furnace Creek & Badwater).
Let the Colors Captivate You This Fall
As the brief autumn days draw to a close, make time to witness nature's majestic palette unfold across the awe-inspiring landscapes of America's national parks.
From Acadia's vibrant maples to Yosemite's blazing dogwoods, a world of dazzling color awaits. Plan your trip strategically to catch peak conditions, but remain flexible — weather can impact timing.
Prioritize lesser-known parks like Cuyahoga Valley to avoid crowds when possible. And don't forget your camera! Fall foliage season offers an unparalleled opportunity to connect with nature's beauty.
As Aldo Leopold said, "There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." Go out and let the wild colors of autumn move your spirit!