Best National Parks to Visit in Fall

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Fall is a wonderful time to spend in the national parks. The weather is slowly changing from the heat of summer to the cool of winter. I always feel like the parks come back to life. The wildlife is more active with their last-minute winter preparations. This year’s babies are starting to find their place in the world and are a little more active and ready to explore their environment. Best of all, the colors start to change. Here are the 11 Best National Parks to Visit in the Fall.

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Best National Parks for Fall

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Best National Parks for a Fall Getaway

Denali National Park and Preserve

Best Time to Visit: Late August and Early September

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska might be a surprising choice for a fall visit but there are few parks that put on a better show than Denali. The leaves start their colorful show early. The quaking aspens and paper birch turn the low elevation forest gold. As you head into the park, the willows and tundra shrubs break out into radiant reds and oranges.

Fall means a flurry of activity for the park’s larger wildlife. The bears are gorging themselves on fall berries. The bull moose are busy showing off their massive antlers while looking for a mate.

The best part of fall in Denali is the annual Denali Road Lottery which lets 2,000 lucky personal vehicles drive the park road.

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A cloudy day in Denali National Park with fall colors

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best Time to Visit: Late September and October

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina is one of the best national parks for fall foliage. The biodiversity of the Smokies allows for an extended leaf viewing season and a wide range of colors. Expect to see a rainbow of reds, yellows, oranges, and an occasional purple. Take a drive in the park to enjoy the many overlooks and explore the different colors of the mountains.

Be prepared for crowds. Fall is a busy time in the Great Smoky Mountains. This park is one of the most visited national parks and almost as many visitors come to see the fall foliage as they do to play during the summer. Arrive early and on a weekday if at all possible.

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Great Smoky Mountains Fall
Photo Credit – Carl Wycoff from Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Big Bend National Park

Best Time to Visit: October and November

Big Bend National Park, Texas is the southernmost park on this list. Big Bend is a perfect park to explore in the fall. The heat of the brutal summer heat of the Chihuahuan Desert has passed and the days are mild and evening are cool. The kids are back in school and visitors are less common than during the Spring Break season.

Fall is the rainy season in the park and while these storms can produce localized short term flooding, they cool the desert and make hiking more pleasant.

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Big Bend
Photo Credit: Jonathan Cutrer, CC BY 2.0

Grand Teton National Park

Best Time to Visit: September

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming is a great fall foliage park. Its landscape dominated by golden yellow and orange leaves with a backdrop of alpine takes and the Teton mountain range. If you are lucky the mountains might get a dusting of snow to contrast the colors of the leaves. The leaves colors typically peak around the third week of September.

Elk and moose will be more active as they are in rut and looking for a mate or two. The bulls of both species will have their massive antlers and Bull Elk bugles can be heard in the park.

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Grand Teton in fall colors

Glacier National Park

Best Time to Visit: Mid-September to Early October

Fall in Glacier National Park, Montana can be a glorious time to visit the park. The park’s leaves start to change color on the western side of the park and slowly work east. The parks primary color is the golden yellow of the aspens and larch trees. The wildlife will be busy with their final preparations for winter and bear sighting are common.

As fall rolls in the Glacier’s summer crowds head out and the park starts to thin out. This also means that much of the park and surrounding area hotels, restaurants, and visitor services will shut down between the middle and end of September. The Going-to-the-Sun road closes as snow is expected and will not reopen until the following summer. This means there is no road from the east to the west side of the park.

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Glacier in Fall
Photo Credit: NPS / Tim Rains, Public Domain

Joshua Tree National Park

Best Time to Visit: October and November

Joshua Tree National Park, California is a great national park to visit in fall. Joshua Tree isn’t going to have any fall foliage but the soft autumn light illuminates the park’s famed rock formations. The fall temperatures are nice and crisp. These cooler temperatures allow for greater exploration of the park without dealing with the searing heat of a desert summer.

Fall is one of the busiest times in the park but nowhere near as bad as spring crowds. Start your hikes early and enjoy the cooler temperatures.

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Fall in Joshua Tree
Photo Credit: Ian D. Keating, CC BY 2.0

Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Time to Visit: September and October

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado is best described in the fall as yellow. The landscape is painted yellow by the aspens. At the high elevations trees start to change in late August and slowly works it’s down the mountain until late October.

As fall settles into the park, bull elk can be heard bugling around the park. Visitors to the high elevations will often see the bighorn sheep getting into head-butting competitions.

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Rock Mountain Lake with fall colors
Photo Credit: Christian Collins, CC BY-SA 2.0

Acadia National Park

Best Time to Visit: October

Acadia National Park, Maine is the king of New England’s fall foliage trail. Head up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain for panorama views of the colors. The leaves range from bright red to orange to golden yellow. Acadia is a great spot for bird-watchers. One has the chance to spot sea ducks, migrating birds of prey and many other species of birds.

The leaves bring in the crowds. Plan to get to the park early and secure your parking space.

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View for Cadillac Mountain with fall colors

Yosemite National Park

Best Time to Visit: September and October

Yosemite National Park, California is a great place to visit in the fall. It is a perfect time to explore the park without the huge crowds of the summer. Most of the park roads are still open and ready for you to explore. The park has a limited color change due to only having small patches of maples, oaks, and dogwoods. Most of the rest of the other trees are evergreen.

Fall is not a great time to see the waterfall. The previous year’s snowmelt is almost gone and water levels are very low. It is also possible that the valley will be hazy with smoke depending on that year’s forest fire situation.

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Yosemite with fall colors

Mount Rainier National Park

Best Time to Visit: Mid-October to November

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington has stunning fall color displaces at the high elevations. The parks wonderful wildflowers are replaced by a stunning display of golds and golds. Different sections of the park turn different colors based on elevation and plant life. The evergreen forest of Chinook and White Pass are full of the golden Larch while Highway 12 offers a range of colors from the cottonwoods, willow, and many more.

Fall is a great time to hike in the park as the huckleberries are ripe and ready to be eaten. Many of the trails offer epic views of the foliage and unparalleled views of Mount Rainier.

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Mount Rainier with fall colors
Photo Credit: David Prasad, CC BY-SA 2.0

Great Basin National Park

Best Time to Visit: October

Great Basin National Park, Nevada is another great park to see the golden hues of the aspen trees. The park’s weather will cool off and if you are willing to put in the work the pine nuts are ready to be picked and eaten.

The park is much less crowded during the fall but no less spectacular. The campground rarely fills and it will feel like you have the park to yourself.

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Great Basin Aspen Trees in fall colors
Photo Credit: NPS

What is your favorite national park to visit in the fall?

Looking for the best national parks for a fall getaway?  Here are National Park Obsessed's favorite national parks to visit in fall.  Fall National Parks | National Parks for Fall | Fall National Park Getaway | Fall Destinations | National Park Destinations | national park photography | Autumn Getaways | Autumn National Parks |
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Welcome to the wonderful world of National Parks. I'm here to help you plan your NEXT amazing adventure through the United States National Parks and beyond. I want the national parks to be accessible to all.

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