There’s something about fall that completely transforms a place.
With comfortable temperatures, trees exploding into vibrant colors, sunny days, and crisp air, fall is one of the most wonderful times of the year to get lost in nature.
If you’re wondering where to go this season to experience fall in its full splendor, checking out a few US national parks may just be the ideal vacation for you. With the excuse to slow down now that the end of the year is approaching, fall also brings in much calmer vibes that allow you to be fully present and really notice the things around you.
If you’re wondering where to head, we’ve gathered a list of some of the best national parks in the United States to visit in the fall to give you a few ideas for your next getaway!
Best National Parks to Visit in Fall
Top Tip: There’s an entry fee for most national parks on this list. We highly recommend you invest in America the Beautiful – the US annual national parks pass, or have you got a 4th grader in the family?
You may also want to see our guides to:
1. Rocky Mountain National Park
It’s not exactly a secret that Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beautiful parks in the entire country, but once the temperatures start to drop, this gorgeous place in Colorado turns into a wonderland for glorious views, incredible nature draped in autumn hues, and some of the best opportunities to see wildlife up close.
The dramatic landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park was carved by water and humongous glaciers, making the scenery here look straight out of a painting.
As you explore, you’ll stumble across some of the highest peaks in the country, get treated to views of hundreds of alpine lakes and streams, and get to walk over some of the dreamiest hiking trails in the world.
Even though fall does get a little chilly at Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s highly considered the best time of the year to visit for two reasons: One is that fall foliage covers the gorgeous Trail Ridge Road, which is one of the most scenic highways in the United States and seeing it blanketed by golden aspens is a scene unlike any other.
Secondly, fall brings in the elk rut, which is the time of the year when elk arrive in the area for mating season. Not only will you be able to see hundreds of them up close, but you’ll also be able to attend the annual Elk Fest organized by the park in order to learn everything about these mountain-roaming creatures through music, live entertainment, storytelling, and interactive activities.
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle valid for 1 day, or $35 per vehicle, valid for 7 days
Seasonal Closures: Rocky Mountain National park runs a timed entry system over the busy summer months, ending October 10, 2022. After this time, you’re free to enter all areas of the park without reservations. Adverse weather conditions may close roads at any time though, keep up to date on NPS Twitter
2. Shenandoah National Park
Tucked away in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is a mecca for those looking for crisp mountain air and glorious fall foliage. Being only an hour away from Washington DC, it’s no surprise it’s one of the most popular national parks on the east coast!
Fall foliage in Shenandoah National Park usually begins showing in early October and stays all the way through mid-November, making the season quite a long one.
During your visit, you’ll be able to explore the park in various ways. A favorite for those limited on time is driving the scenic Skyline Road, Virginia, which is considered a treat to the eyes any time of the year but looks especially stunning when fall colors drape the scenery.
Hiking is another must. Shenandoah boasts 516 miles worth of trails, with 101 miles of them being part of the famous Appalachian Trail! Throughout your hiking adventures, you’ll be able to enjoy fall colors in their full splendor and see plenty of waterfalls, mountains, caverns, and more.
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days
Seasonal Closures: Fall is peak season for Shenandoah, so do expect queuing and crowds, especially on weekends. You can check out precise conditions on their webcams!
The park stays open throughout winter; however, icy conditions can see Skyline Drive closed from mid-November through February. Dickey Ridge Visitor Center closes in late November, as do lodges within the park. Most campsites close on October 30, while Big Meadow stays open until November 10 for magnificent fall camping.
3. Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park definitely takes the cake when it comes to quintessential fall destinations.
Even though Acadia is absolutely gorgeous year-round, there’s no better time to visit than the fall months, especially if vibrant autumn colors are what you’re after.
Home to a humongous offering of glorious natural landscapes that range from woodlands to mountains, lakes, and dramatic coastlines, this is one of the best national parks to visit in fall if picturesque views and a variety of recreational activities are what you’re after.
Once September creeps in, Acadia starts showing beautiful fall colors ranging from crisp gold to vibrant reds. Peak season usually happens around mid-October, but even if you can’t make it during that time, you’ll still find a wonderland of colors if you visit a bit earlier or later.
Some of the best ways to make the most out of fall in Acadia include hiking to Cadillac Mountain for panoramic views, driving the Park Loop Road across the park, hiking the Bubbles Nubble Loop to strike off a variety of landscapes, and exploring Eagles Lake by kayak or canoe.
Entrance Fee: $30 per person, valid for 7 days
Seasonal Closures: Not all parts of the park are open over winter; it’s best to check the winter closures schedule before planning a visit from December to April. Most campgrounds close by October 10, Park Loop Road closes on December 1.
4. Arches National Park
Perhaps a desert isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of visiting national parks in the fall, but we absolutely had to include Arches National Park in the list because this time of the year is the best time to explore this gem in Utah.
Weather-wise, the temperatures in Arches start to drop during the autumn, making it an ideal time for hiking and exploring.
The trails at this Mighty 5 national park are usually mild and perfect for getting an introduction to what hiking in the desert is like, all while providing visitors the opportunity to see colossal natural arches and strange rock formations that look almost out of this world.
Some of the best things to do at Arches National Park include hiking to Landscape Arch to see the largest natural rock arch in the world, experiencing a sunrise at Delicate Arch (this is the arch depicted on Utah’s license plates!), driving the Arches Scenic Drive, admiring the scenery at Park Avenue Point, standing under Double Arch, and more.
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days
Seasonal Closures: The park is open throughout the year., 24 hours a day. However, if you’re visiting prior to October 3, you’ll also need a timed entry permit.
5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: North Carolina and Tennessee
With so many species of trees within its boundaries, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is another wonderland to visit if seeing fall tones is your aim. Getting to see vibrant hues of yellows, oranges, and reds backdropped by snow-capped mountains is definitely something everyone should experience at least once in their lives!
Some of the best things to do in the Smokies to fully take in the season is hiking to see a few of the waterfalls in the park (they look absolutely stunning surrounded by autumn colors!), driving a few roads (Newfound Gap Road, Morton Overlook, and Clingman’s Dome Road are all amazing), and renting out a cabin inside the park to enjoy your very own personal slice of fall in the park.
Moreover, fall also brings in a plethora of fun festivals, including the Dollywood Harvest Festival to celebrate the harvest season, the Fall Harvest at the Island to honor the fall, the Octoberfest at Ober to feature the area’s German heritage, and plenty more.
Fall foliage usually begins around early October and can be viewed throughout the entirety of the month until early November. It usually peaks in mid-October.
Entrance Fee: There is no entry fee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (from 2023, be aware a Parking Tag system will be implemented)
Seasonal Closures: The park is open 24 hours a day, though there can be seasonal road closures for weather conditions in winter – stay in touch with current information on Twitter @SmokiesRoadsNPS. Some campgrounds close between the end of October and the end of November, Cades Cove and Smokemount are open year-round.
6. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
As the only national park in Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley is one of the best national parks to visit in the fall if you’d rather check out somewhere that’s not on everyone’s usual radar.
Here, you’ll be able to enjoy crisp evenings and bright sunny days, making this time of the year ideal for hiking and exploring (and you’ll find less bugs than in the summer!).
Fall foliage usually peaks around the third week of October, but you’ll be able to enjoy the colors pretty much all month making it one of the prettiest scenic drives in Ohio.
One of the favorite ways for visitors to explore Cuyahoga is by hopping on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Train, which, as its name may have clued you in, is a train that traverses the valley and provides some of the most beautiful views the entire park has to offer.
Another way to explore is by choosing to hike a few trails inside the park. There are over 120 miles worth of them on the menu. If you’re limited on time, we recommend focusing on the Brandywine Falls trail to see a 65-foot waterfall, the Virginia Kendall Ledges Trail to walk down sandstone rock “ledges”, and the Pine Grove Trail to see beautiful colors.
Entrance Fee: Entry is free
Seasonal Closures: The park is open year-round
7. Mount Rainier National Park
Boasting an active volcano and the most glaciated mountain in the continental United States, Mount Rainier is another wonderful option in PNW when it comes to choosing what national parks to visit in the fall.
What makes Mount Rainier incredibly special is the fact that it encompasses a myriad of different ecosystems, which range from lowland forests to wetlands and alpine tundra. Moreover, there are 26 named glaciers here as well as over 1,000 species of plants and animals, many of which are incredibly endangered and have found a safe haven inside the park.
Once the fall season begins, Mount Rainier bursts into life with different activities. An easy day trip from Seattle, a must-do is going on a naturalist-guided walk to spot Roosevelt Elk during the breeding season in September. Other fun things to do during the autumn include going berry picking and mushroom foraging.
As for hiking, some of the best fall hikes to try include Reflection Lakes, The Morain Trail, Third Burroughs, and the Knapsack Pass. Horseback riding is also a wonderful way to explore the park.
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days
Seasonal Closures: The park is open year-round. However, visitors are recommended to check road conditions before setting out. Many of the visitor centers close by mid-October.
8. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is guaranteed to please if you’re more in the mood to escape fall altogether and experience an entirely different landscape.
This striking national park in Utah is famed for being home to the largest collection of hoodoos in the world, but due to its location in the desert, summers tend to get scorching hot and winters particularly cold, making fall an ideal time to visit for bearable temperatures.
While there aren’t any fall-themed activities during the season, fall brings the wonderful chance to explore some of the most famous parts of Bryce Canyon without the hoards of crowds around.
Some of the best ways to make the most out of your visit include hiking the Queen’s Garden to Navajo Loop, following the Fairyland Loop, and joining a ranger-led program to fully understand the park’s unique geology.
Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid 7 days
Seasonal Closures: The park is open year-round, and North Campground is always open. Sunset campground closes from November 1.
9. Grand Canyon National Park
With the summer crowds dwindling at the beginning of September, fall is a wonderful time of the year to visit the United States’ most iconic national park.
Not only will you get to see one of the most internationally-recognized natural landscapes of the country without so many people around, but fall means crisp air and much more comfortable temperatures for hiking.
Even though the Grand Canyon isn’t exactly a destination for foliage, if you want to add that to your itinerary, you’ll find plenty of patches of golden aspens on the North Rim section of the park.
This brings in a completely unique perspective of the landscape, which looks absolutely gorgeous when splashed with bright yellow tones, especially in late September and early October.
Moreover, fall is also a great time to see the wildlife the Grand Canyon has to offer. With cooler temperatures and crowds gone, animals like elk, mule deer, chipmunks, bats, and plenty more reptiles start showing up both on trails and even around some of the lodges and campsites at the park.
Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid 7 days
Seasonal Closures: The South Rim is open year-round, with reservations still recommended for lodging camping throughout the fall. North Rim closes from October 15.
- Grab our complete family guide to the Grand Canyon – including a printable checklist of all the highlights!
10. Glacier National Park
Home to vast glaciers and over 1 million acres of striking scenery that bursts to life this time of the year with glorious hues of gold, visiting Glacier National Park during the fall is magical.
You’ll be treated to views of jagged peaks, mild meadows, and cascading waterfalls here. As if that weren’t enough, wildlife encounters are more common during the fall season when crowds are gone, and temperatures are mild, which means you’ll get the chance to spot different species like bears, hawks, and golden eagles.
Fall foliage at Glacier National Park varies. On the western side of the park, trees start changing color around mid-September, while those on the east do so more towards the beginning of October.
Some of the best things to do at Glacier National Park during the fall include wildlife viewing, floating over the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River when water is running slow, and driving the Going-to-the-Sun road.
Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid 7 days (Winter rate $25 from 1 November)
Seasonal Closures: The park is open year-round. A timed entry system operates at Glacier National Park until September 11. Many parts of the park may be affected by road closures by late fall, and campgrounds close.
Summary of the Best US National Parks to Visit in the Fall
|Rocky Mountain National Park||Colorado||Open year-round|
Timed entry through to 10 Oct
Winter road closures likely
|Shenandoah National Park||Virginia||Open year-round|
Big Meadow camping open until 10 Nov
Skyline Drive can be closed for icy conditions Nov-Feb
|Acadia National Park||Maine||Open year-round|
Most campgrounds close by 10 Nov
Park Loop Road closes 1 Dec
|Arches National Park||Utah||Open year-round|
Timed Entry permits needed until 3 Oct
|Great Smoky Mountains National Park||NC/TN||Open year-round|
Some winter road closures possible
|Cuyahoga Valley National Park||Ohio||Open year-round||Free|
|Mount Rainier National Park||Washington||Open year-round|
Many visitor centers and campgrounds close by mid-Oct,
check road status
|Bryce Canyon National Park||Utah||Open year-round|
Sunset campground closes from 1 Nov
|Grand Canyon National Park||Arizona||South Rim open year-round|
North Rim closes from 15 Oct
|Glacier National Park||Montana||Open year-round|
Timed entry system runs until 11 Sep
Many parts of the park affected by road closures, dates vary over winter
More Tips Before Setting Off On Your Family National Park Road Trip
- Read these pro-tips for visiting national parks before tackling a US National Parks road trip
- For a fun addition to your national parks road trip, grab yourself a National Parks Passport
- Want to avoid the crowds? Try these lesser-known US National Parks for a unique family vacation
- Got a 4th Grader in the family? Don’t forget you may be eligible for a FREE national parks pass as part of the Every Kid Outdoors campaign
- Planning a spring visit instead? Our favorite US National Parks for Spring wildflowers and fewer crowds!
- Make sure you download our printable family road trip checklist, so you never forget an important item again
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