Fall is quite genuinely such a wonderful time of the year for getting out and adventuring. The temperatures are cooling (but are nowhere near cold) and there’s a general crispness to the air. Plus with leaves changing color and prices going down from the summer peaks, it’s a great opportunity for pretty sights at good prices. Here are our top picks for the best National Parks to visit in Fall this year.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located along the Appalaichain Trail, so it is naturally filled with fantastic hiking trails. But if you aren’t big on being “one with nature” it’s also one of the more accessible National Park for you. The park is filled with tons of great drive options for you to pick from. There are also lots of nearby towns to stay in or to explore for the day. Drive along Clingmans Dome Road, Rich Mountain Road, Newfound Gap Road, or any of the other great options and you’ll definitely get great views. Just put on a Fall playlist, get your favorite warm drink, and gather some friends for a scenic roadtrip.
Want a town to explore nearby? We recommend Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It’s often considered the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. There you’ll find great cabins for staying in, along with cute shops and restaurants. You can even head to Dollywood for a fun theme park adventure.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park might not be the most obvious choice for best National Parks to visit in Fall, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great! The summertime in Bryce Canyon can be hot and crowded. And in the Winter, it can get quite cold. But Fall is the perfect in between. You’ll have plenty of space for your own hiking and sightseeing, including along the popular Rim Trail. While snowfall mainly happens from December to March, it has been known to snow as early as October in Bryce Canyon. So just be sure to check the weather and to go prepared when you visit in the Fall.
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is the only National Park in the entire Northeast. But that doesn’t make it any less gorgeous. You’ll be able to catch nature’s great contrast between the bright hues of New England Fall foliage, the deep greens of the evergreen trues, and the blue waters along the coast. Acadia is situation on 48,000 acres on one of Maine’s many islands. While it will be getting colder into Fall with days in the 50s and 60s, you can still enjoy nice day hikes, stop for a lobster roll in Bar Harbor, and breathe in that fresh salty air.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is considered to be one of California’s most breathtaking destinations in the Fall. And the park is so huge, with so much to do, that your trip there is really whatever you make it to be. Crowds are down from summertime, temperatures are mild, and there’s lot of great hiking trails to explore whether you have the time for a backpacking trip or you’re just heading out on a day hike. Fall is also a major time in Yosemite for famous rock climbers (think Free Solo) who are drawn by Fall’s cooler temps. Want to catch peak Fall foliage in Yosemite National Park? The best fall photography is generally in mid-to-late October for the best color. The area’s giant Maples, Oaks, and Dogwoods provide the setting for bright yellows, light to dark reds, even purples.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is quite literally one of the hottest places on earth. So if you love the summer and are already mourning the loss of it’s heat, Death Valley National Park is perfect for you. In the Fall you can still find temperatures into the 90s. Which is definitely hot and perfect for those looking to fight off the impending winter chill, but is also a lot cooler than the summer temperatures that can reach the 120s. Which also means that you can see and do a lot more in the park since it won’t be literally too hot to function. Due to the flooding from Hurricane Hilary, the park is currently closed as they repair damage to the roads. The tentative reopening date is October 15. You can check on the park’s current status here.
Grand Teton National Park
Fall in Grand Teton is just beautiful with colorful trees and white snowy mountain tops in the background. There is also tons of wildlife that you’ll have a chance to spot – including moose, bears, and elk. Besides driving through or hiking, another great way to take in the park is a ride on the Aerial Tram at Jackson Hole. The tram runs throughout the summer and into October and lets you enjoy the sights of the park from up high on a 12 minute ride. Also catch sights of Yellowstone National Park, Snow King Mountain, and the Gros Venture mountain Range.
Our picks for best National Parks in Fall by…
Best National Parks to visit in Fall for peeping foliage: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Best National Parks to visit in Fall for avoiding crowds: Bryce Canyon National Park
Best National Parks to visit in Fall for smelling the sea breeze: Acadia National Park
Best National Parks to visit in Fall for enjoying mild temperatures: Yosemite National Park
Best National Parks to visit in Fall for pretending it’s still summer in the heat: Death Valley National Park
Best National Parks to visit in Fall for seeing wildlife: Grand Teton National Park
Whether will you head to this Fall? One of the National Parks on this list? Or another one, perhaps whichever one is closet to you. You will experience nature’s great beauty no matter which National Park you choose to visit. And honestly, Fall is a great time for traveling to just about any of them. Just because we only picked our favorite few, any of them would be a perfect outdoors trip. Just make sure to always follow LNT principles and be a good visitor to nature. So what are you waiting for? Grab the flight or the rental car that you need to get there and then the hotel for staying nearby. It won’t be long before it’s Winter…
If you won’t make it to a National Park this Fall, but want to plan an upcoming trip, explore our guides for the other seasons as well. See our Winter National Parks guide and our guide to National Parks to visit in Summer.