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15 Phenomenal Fall Destinations in U.S. National Parks for Fall Colors

A path with fallen leaves through red and orange trees
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Calling all leaf-peepers!

Fall is considered to be the best season for traveling and visiting national parks by many park lovers. Waning summer crowds, easier opportunities to spot wildlife, and cooler temperatures are huge draws for those doing late summer traveling.

But the real appeal comes from what many parks offer: a colorful display of the oncoming autumn season.

Some of the best displays of fall colors can be seen inside the national parks, but with more than 63 national parks in the U.S., it can be challenging to know which ones will give you the best showing of the shades of autumn. 

We’ve narrowed down the 15 best national parks for fall colors that are sure to give you the absolute best foliage viewing.

It’s easy to assume the northeast parks would be a surefire answer when asking where to see the best fall displays, but this list may lead you to unexpected places and new surprises. 

One thing’s for sure: this list will take you to the best of the best places if you’re hoping to experience the most exquisite and vibrant fall colors in the national parks. 

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Land Acknowledgment: This post promotes travel to native lands. We honor all Indigenous caretakers of these lands and waters, the elders who lived here before, the Indigenous today, and the generations to come.
Leaves fall from branches onto the ground
Unsplash/Autumn Mott Rodeheaver | Best National Parks for Fall Colors

The Very Best National Parks for Fall Colors

A truck bed full of small pumpkins
Unsplash/Aaron Burden

We’re breaking down our 15 favorite fall foliage destinations from still really good to the absolute best.

15. Yellowstone National Park

Steam rises from a geothermal feature
Unsplash/James Fitzgerald

Location: Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho

Millions of people flock to Yellowstone throughout the year for a chance to see the wild heart of this park come to life, and like every national park, the terrain offers something different with the changing of the seasons.

It’s hard to name a “best time of the year” to go to Yellowstone, but believe us when we tell you a fall trip belongs on your bucket list. 

PRO TIP: Most of Yellowstone is a high elevation destination, and the park can start seeing regular and heavy snowfall by September. Keep up to date on local weather if you plan on visiting the park during the fall season and be prepared for any weather conditions. 

A staggering 80% of Yellowstone National Park is covered by forests, and the park’s forests are mostly dominated by evergreen trees, as many western national parks are.

Yellowstone has nine conifer species: lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, Engelmann spruce, white spruce, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, Rocky Mountain juniper, common juniper, and limber pine. While these year-round green trees are beautiful in their own right, they provide an absolutely stunning and striking contrast to the fall colors that begin to creep into the park’s boundaries, typically starting in mid-late September. 

The deciduous trees of Yellowstone will provide most of the thrust for dramatic fall colors. Quaking aspen and cottonwood trees will transform into clusters of gold, yellow, and orange amongst the stark, dark greens of Yellowstone’s woodlands.

Fall colors

The tall grasses of Yellowstone valleys will turn a warm brownish golden hue and the iconic bison herds will desperately graze as much as they can before everything is covered in the coming snows.

The shrubbery will complete the fall portrait, igniting with blazing shades of red. Moose are particularly fond of willows, so keep your eyes out as you’re admiring the scenery. After all, Yellowstone is also one of the best parks for viewing wildlife.

While Yellowstone may not be regularly recognized as a top-tier destination for fall colors, it is an incredible place to see some of the best displays of fall in the northern Rocky Mountains. 

DON’T MISS: Take the drives through the scenic Lamar and Madison Valleys for the most fall colors. Keep your eyes on higher elevations, too!

14. Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park - Fall 2017

Location: Minnesota 

Hugging the border of Canada, and filled to the brim with iconic lakes, Voyageurs National Park is one of the most beautiful places where you can discover the raw, untouched beauty of the backwoods of Minnesota.

Voyageurs is a park that takes effort beyond just driving in through the entrance station. The park has visitor centers that are accessible by car, but if you want to explore beyond that (which you will), be prepared to hop on a boat. 

PRO TIP: If you’re inexperienced or uncomfortable driving a boat on your own, you’re not out of options for exploring Voyageurs National Park. The local communities are teeming with rentals and guides ready to take you on an unforgettable adventure through the watery avenues of the park. Just don’t forget your bug spray! 

Voyageurs is made up of 214,000 acres featuring hardwood/boreal forests, waterway systems, hiking trails (accessible by car or boat), wildlife watching, and more.

This park and its ecosystems promise an exceptional escapade, and its densely-packed forests promise a stunning show when the summer starts to slip away. 

Fall is a fleeting season in Voyageurs. While it first arrives generally in mid-September, the park’s extremely northern location ensures freezing temperatures are not far behind.

Autumn on Crane

Glimpses of fall’s presence will begin to make themselves known amongst the fir populations with the aspens, basswoods, oaks, maples, and paper birches. Take advantage of the short window and marvel as marvelous golds, reds/rusts, and yellows poke out amongst a sea of green trees nestled along the shores of the lakes. 

In the “land of 10,000 lakes,” Voyageurs is king, and when fall makes its grand debut, even the king bows down to the splendor of the changing hues. 

DON’T MISS: Lace up your boots and hike the Oberholtzer Trail; this 1.7 mile (2.7 km) trail is considered easy, and winds through sections of the forest that pop with fall colors. Use Minnesota’s Foliage Tracker to know when the peak of fall colors arrives in the park.

13. Denali National Park and Preserve

An unpaved road through the fall tundra toward a snow-capped peak
Unsplash/Lukas Ruzicka

Location: Alaska 

When one thinks of Alaska, snow-capped mountains and frosted fields of a snowy winter landscape may be the first images that come to mind.

But when summer gives way to autumn, Alaska’s true colors put on a show, and in no place is that more evident than in Denali National Park and Preserve.

PRO TIP: Fall in Denali can feel almost like winter with low temperatures, so make sure you pack the appropriate base layers you need to stay warm during your expedition. 

Fall may be fleeting in Alaska, lasting only about two weeks in late August, but it’s worth the effort to catch it. This is especially true in Denali.

Denali in Fall

Starting at the eastern edge of the park, aspen and birch trees line the ridges of the Alaska Range. One of the best views is from the Denali Park Road heading east where the Riley Creek railroad bridge makes for a picturesque photo.

Travel deeper into the park and above the treeline to see the tundra awash with yellows and oranges like you wouldn’t believe. If you’re lucky, glimpses of reds could shine through as well.

DON’T MISS: Fall is also one of the best times to view the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. Try stargazing on your trip to see if you catch any green, purple, or pink waves in the sky.

12. Yosemite National Park

A tall waterfall above orange trees and an orange field with a boardwalk
Unsplash/Jesse Callahan | Best Fall Colors in National Parks

Location: California

One of the crown jewels of the national park system, it’s hard to imagine there’s any time of the year to visit Yosemite National Park when one couldn’t be blown away by the views that took John Muir’s breath away.

Today, Yosemite is a place that draws people from all over the world eager to catch a glimpse of the park, and especially, its famous valley floor. While summer may be at the height of Yosemite’s visitation numbers, the calmer fall season still lures people in and treats them to a display of a multitude of fall colors. 

PRO TIP: Yosemite is one of the busiest parks at any point in the year. Plan to start your day early, as it can mean the difference between spending a few extra hours inside the park boundaries, or losing that time to entrance station lines. 

Most people visiting Yosemite hope to observe the astonishing waterfalls the park is so well known for. The bad news is, by the end of summer and throughout autumn/winter, most of these falls are typically in low flow stages and don’t quite pack the punch they do in the spring and early summer months.

The good news is, the fall colors will pop so brilliantly that you’ll almost forget that’s not what you came for. 

The autumn season takes a little longer to arrive in Yosemite; typically changes in the foliage won’t really start to occur until October arrives.

Yosemite National Park

Like other parks, much of Yosemite’s forests are strongly populated by evergreen trees, but competing against them is a long list of other plant life that will light up with brilliant hues.

Quaking aspen, dogwood, sugar maple, bigleaf maple, black oak, ceanothus/deer brush, white alder, black cottonwood/Fremont cottonwood, and even poison oak will transform the Yosemite scene by presenting the entire autumn spectrum.

Yosemite is sure to impress no matter what season it’s wearing, but fall is a special time in one of the most special places on earth, and the cool fall colors will never fail to add extra flare to an already unbelievable environment. 

DON’T MISS: Glacier Point! While it seems like a given that you absolutely cannot miss the autumn drive through the heart of Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point gives you a perspective from above, and you’ll be able to see just how much of the valley floor has changed with the onset of fall. Following 2022 construction closures, the road will reopen with delays in 2023.

11. Guadalupe Mountains National Park 

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Location: Texas 

Fall colors and the American Southwest may not be a common combo. As a result, you may not expect to find stunning scenes of fall in Western Texas, especially in a park that tends to host mixed and extreme ecosystems like rocky canyons and pine forests

However, Guadalupe Mountains National Park supports a rich variety of over 1,000 species of plant life throughout its confines. Therefore, some fabulous foliage can be discovered in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 

PRO TIP: Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in the Mountain Time Zone, but the cell phone towers that provide service to the park operate in Central Standard Time. Be aware that your phone may be displaying the incorrect time while you’re visiting the park.

The Chihuahuan desert landscape doesn’t support many trees, so you’ll need to turn to the park’s high ridges, canyons, and wetter spaces for the plant life that will change, and once you find these spaces, there’s no shortage of autumn splendor that awaits you.

Bigtooth maple, Mexican buckeye, and ash trees will provide the most colors, and contrast against gray stone canyon walls to really dazzle. 

guadalupe-national-park-during-fall_38652987285_o

Fall itself has become a prime visitation time for this park because of its immense concentration of fall foliage. You can expect lots of crowds to gather in these parts of the park for the show.

Remember these parks are places communities gather, traditions continue, and people connect with nature. 

The desert might be the last place on your mind when hunting for beautiful fall shades, but in this sweet spot in Texas, you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for. 

DON’T MISS: The best hike to take you through the best array of fall colors in the park is the McKittrick Canyon Trail. Take in the colors and enjoy lunch from the porch of the Pratt Cabin, or extend the hike and challenge yourself for the best views from McKittrick Ridge. 

10. North Cascades National Park

Haze rolls in above a paved road through red and orange trees
Unsplash/Eduardo Gutierrez

Location: Washington  

It may surprise you to hear that some call North Cascades National Park  “a less crowded version of Glacier National Park.” You may also be amazed to learn it’s one of the top 10 national parks for fall colors.

What will stun you beyond belief is the actual experience of visiting North Cascades in the fall. 

PRO TIP: The best way to immerse yourself in this untamed terrain is to camp or backpack. You’ll want to secure those reservations on Recreation.gov, or check all the camping options on North Cascades’ camping page

North Cascades is just like Glacier National Park in nearly every way. An alpine ecosystem filled with towering mountains, turquoise lakes, frigid glaciers, forests and valleys, and of course, countless cascades.

If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to visit both, it can be hard to tell the difference between these two gems of park units. Perhaps the only thing that separates them is notoriety, as Glacier National Park sees millions of annual visitors, and North Cascades welcomes mere thousands.

North Cascades is one of the least visited national parks, and that may be one of its most appealing attributes. 

The sun casts a light on red leaves
Unsplash/Justin Cron | Best National Parks for Fall Foliage

Early to mid-October is when the brightest colors begin to take over. A good chunk of North Cascades’ forests are home to complex mixes of fir, pine, and larch trees, as well as shrubs.

When the shades of reds, yellows, oranges, golds, and greens take hold, contrasted against these jagged peaks and bright blue skies, there are little things that compare to a crisp autumn day in this lesser-known park. 

The annual autumn display of North Cascades can be some of the top tier in the state of Washington, and of all the national parks as a whole.

Though few people make it to this park, you can be sure you’ll be glad you did. 

DON’T MISS: Drive the 30-mile (48.3 km) North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), and go slow during it! Taking your time on this road will allow you to absorb the immense beauty of this landscape. Remember to stay up-to-date on road conditions with the Washington DOT.

9. Glacier National Park 

Orange leaves frame a snow-capped mountain
Unsplash/Sydney Angove | Best National Parks for Fall Foliage

Location: Montana 

North Cascades National Park may be a close match to the splendor of Glacier National Park, but there’s no replacing or outdoing the original.

As the “Crown of the Continent” park, Glacier is all but lacking in mountain majesty. And though autumn is a small stint in a year at Glacier, it’s one of the most scenic times to visit one of the most scenic parks. 

PRO TIP: Glacier is one of those parks where wildlife survives and thrives; especially bear populations. Make sure to keep bear spray with you, and know it works on more than just bears should you encounter any other aggressive animals. Read more about bear safety before you go.

Montana is known as Big Sky Country, and that reputation shines through every inch of Glacier National Park.

The park protects one million acres of glacially-carved natural beauty, and photos of this place do not do it real justice. Glacier is one of those parks you have to experience with all your senses to genuinely appreciate this most magnificent mountain magic. 

By the middle of September, the most dramatic changes in the landscape will start to occur. The leaves of the aspens and the needles of Western Larch trees will set the landscape ablaze with small clusters of colors, and shrubs will slither across the lower bushes.

Beautiful yellow flowers beneath tall gray mountains
Unsplash/Hans Hamann

In stark contrast to the snow-capped mountains, these factors combine to create a stunning fall scene like you wouldn’t believe. 

If there’s anything bad to say about Glacier, it’s that winter always seems to come too early to crash fall’s party, and a lot of Glacier National Park’s access pretty much shuts down in the wintertime.

Most of the park’s famous Going to the Sun Road will be closed, so be sure you get in early enough to beat the coming frost, but not too early to miss the fall colors.

One of the best parks to visit overall, words often fail when trying to describe the sheer vision that Glacier provides. Fall colors accentuate and enhance an already perfect slice of Montana.

Let Big Sky Country take your breath away.  

DON’T MISS: Lake McDonald has more than just fall colors scattered around its shore; it’s the lake with all the colorful stones stationed on the bottom that you always see pictures of online. Make sure that on your quest to spot fall colors, you don’t forget to stop and check out this other incredible display of the colors of nature. 

8. Zion National Park 

Green and yellow trees frame a river
Unsplash/PJ Gal

Location: Utah 

Utah is home to the world-renowned loop of parks, “The Mighty Five.” And if you’re asking which park is the best of them all, depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different answer every time.

If you throw in a few more specifics, like, “Which of The Mighty Five is the best to visit in the fall?”, you’ll hear Zion National Park

PRO TIP: Most people who venture to the park are hoping to take a shot at conquering the Angels Landing Hike. As of April 2022, permits are required to complete this trail. Apply for your permit in advance to have the best chance of getting to trek on this legendary rock fin. 

The American Southwest welcomes most travelers in the fall season thanks to the cooler temperatures settling over the deserts. Zion is no different; while summer traffic will definitely disappear, there will still be a lot of eager travelers heading to Zion.

Luckily for us, the park has prepared for this. There is a faithful Zion Shuttle system that takes visitors throughout the whole canyon daily, which lessens road congestion and provides free transportation to the places you’ll want to go.

The shuttle is free; all you need to do is use your park map to find the pick-up locations, and they’ll bring you to the heart of Zion Canyon, and the heart of the fall foliage. 

A river runs through a canyon
Unsplash/Dave Babler

Fall colors will start in the park’s higher elevations, and they’ll begin their descent into the famed Zion Canyon as the season goes on.

There is a good variety of tree species that surprisingly flourish in this arid desert. The dominant greens of the Douglas firs and pine trees are interspersed with aspens, maples, oaks, and cottonwoods, which will slowly fade into a fall rainbow of reds, rusts, coppers, yellows, and oranges.

All of these against the prominent orange canyon walls merge to create a truly stunning fall scene.

Zion is a paradise of a park in autumn. “Zion” itself translates to the kingdom of heaven, and it’s such a heavenly place in the fall.

DON’T MISS: The hike to the Emerald Pools. There are three pools (lower, middle, and upper) in total, and each offers varying difficulty to reach it. If you choose to go all the way to the upper pools (which you should!), you’ll have gorgeous views of the lower canyon and its fall transformation from above. Learn more by reading our guide to the best hikes in Zion.

7. Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake Autumn

Location: Colorado  

There’s a reason John Denver wrote his famous track, “Rocky Mountain High” for the state of Colorado; its infinite beauty inspires millions of people who visit every year.

While it’s impossible to find any stretch of the Colorado Rockies that isn’t incredible, surely the inspiration for the rocky mountain high he sang about can be found in Rocky Mountain National Park

PRO TIP: The park uses a timed entry reservation system during its peak visitation times. Visitors will need to reserve a permit to enter the park, and the reservations last typically from late May to mid-October. This is not the same as a park entry fee, so plan ahead and book your permit before you head to Rocky Mountain.  

Rocky Mountain National Park’s 265,807 acres encompasses a portion of the famous range that can only be defined by the term “pure splendor.”

A spectacular span of mountain environments, the park protects a wilderness filled with so much natural wonder unlike any other on earth. And when the autumn season begins, Rocky Mountain erupts into a colorful display that’s hard to beat. 

Partly cloudy skies above a valley
Unsplash/Kelsey Wiedel

The park boasts forests with a healthy mix of conifers, shrubs, and deciduous trees. While the cone-bearing trees will maintain their gorgeous greens throughout their lives, the park’s quaking aspen, narrow-leaf cottonwoods, and diverse shrubs will give off more than enough fall colors to please anyone on the hunt for reds, golds, oranges, and yellows.

These particular trees prefer more moist environments, so look for streams and other water sources.

As if the visuals weren’t enough, the fall soundtrack of Rocky Mountain will also get you in the fall mood. While you’re out enjoying nature’s colors, listen out for the bugle of the bull elk as they begin their mating season. Or the gentle breezes rustling the leaves as they quake. 

The quintessential Rocky Mountain experience always awaits in Rocky Mountain National Park. When fall steps up to the plate in the Rockies, it hits a home run in Rocky Mountain National Park. Don’t miss this one; it’s one of the best. 

DON’T MISS: Wildlife watching! While you’re searching for fall colors, keep in mind autumn offsets the elk rut. There are few wildlife watching experiences that compare to watching two male elk battle for dominance of the herd, so keep your eyes open and your distance appropriate.

6. Grand Teton National Park

Yellow trees in fall below the Teton range
Unsplash/Sterling Lanier

Location: Wyoming  

Picture this: some of the most defined and prominent mountains rising off the flat earth, with a neighboring wild river, and colorful brush along the way.

Or how about those same mountains, overshadowed by a rustic old barn in the foreground, and the landscape drenched in warm and glowing golden aspens as they sway in the crisp breeze?

These sound like things out of a Bob Ross painting, don’t they? It’s actually a perfect description for a fall day in Grand Teton National Park

PRO TIP: The parking spots for the best fall photo ops will fill up when the season is in full swing, so if you’re hoping to get easy accessibility to these parking areas, leave early. Never park in undesignated spaces.   

Just south of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton is one of the most stunning parks you can visit whenever you have the opportunity to go, but there’s no denying autumn just brings a little something extra to an already pristine landscape.

The park has approximately 310,000 acres and is home to an array of various plant life and wildlife species.  There are many trees that call Grand Teton National Park home.

Most commonly, blue spruce, Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir, subalpine fir, lodgepole/whitebark, and limber pines play an important role in balancing the ecosystem.

Pioneers

Then there are the leaves of the deciduous trees that give way to the fall chill creeping into the air by mid-September. Near the moisture-rich areas of the park, cottonwood and balsam trees turn golden, while the hillsides’ masses of aspen trees begin to change to gold and orange.

All combine to make for a landscape that turns to pure gold, glowing beneath one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. 

The Grand Tetons look good no matter what angle you catch them in. The only way to step it up a notch? Add the dramatic dash of fall colors, and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect trip to the Grand Teton National Park.

If you’re looking for the best of the best in the American West for viewing fall colors, Grand Teton contains the pinnacle of Rocky Mountain fall foliage. 

DON’T MISS: The three best spots for fall photography in the park are the Willow Flats, the Snake River Overlook, the Moulton Barn on Mormon Row, and Oxbow Bend. Of these three, the best is Oxbow Bend.

5. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve 

A steel bridge over a gorge surrounded by fall colors
Unsplash/Janeson Keeley

Location: West Virginia 

When you’re searching for the colors of autumn, your instincts may lead you out east. Trust those instincts!

Though the American West may surprise you with how many parks it has that offer fabular fall foliage, the top five parks are all out east. Starting out the top five is the newest national park, but it certainly ranks among the highest amongst the fall color lists. 

PRO TIP: Try to plan your fall visit for the third Saturday in October so you can experience the one-day festival known as Bridge Day. The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce hosts this annual event every year and welcomes thousands of people to partake in numerous activities, like taking in the great views, sampling from food and crafts vendors, BASE jumping, rappelling, music, and more.

In 1978, New River Gorge became a protected National River, protecting one of the oldest rivers on the continent. In 2020, it was upgraded to a National Park and Preserve.

Today, there are over 70,000 protected acres in this park, offering those who visit a deep dive into boundless natural and cultural history, as well as countless recreational adventures. 

Plant life could not be more diverse in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. There may be too many to name, but as a result, you know you’ll get one of the best displays of fall colors.

New River Gorge I

The fall colors will be at their peak in mid-October, but colors may begin to change by early September if conditions are particularly dry.

With so much intensity in the reds, oranges, and yellows, it will look like the park is on fire. You won’t believe how stunning America’s newest national park can be in the fall. 

If we could reference another John Denver hit, remember that he called West Virginia “almost heaven,” and truer words have never been spoken. If you want to get as close to heaven on earth as you can, try New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. 

DON’T MISS: The New River Gorge Bridge will complete the fall aesthetic in any of your photos. You’ll get the best views of the gorge and the bridge by hiking the Long Point Trail.  

4. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Yellow leaves and branches frame a waterfall
Unsplash/Ally Griffin

Location: Ohio

You may not place a bet on the state of Ohio to be a place you’d travel to for a stunning national park, or a magical display of autumn colors, but you’d be on the losing side of that gamble.

Northern Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley is always ready to impress, but when fall comes knocking on the door, it puts on its absolute greatest displays. 

PRO TIP: Trust us when we say you’ll want to take a ride aboard Cuyahoga Valley’s famous Fall Flyer, Cuyahoga Valley’s scenic railroad. This excursion promises unbelievable views of an unexpected valley and is arguably the best way to experience the peak of fall colors in an excellent fall park. You’ll want to book your tickets early to lock in your space on the historic and picturesque train. 

A lesser-known gem in the park system, Cuyahoga Valley National Park was established in the year 2000. It protects and preserves more than 32,000 acres, and is a haven for rare plant and wildlife species, rolling hills and farmlands, deep and thick forests, a scenic railroad, and a river that creates several wonderful waterfalls.

This park may not seem comparable to great parks of the West, but when autumn settles in, it may seem the other way around.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Lookout.

Cuyahoga Valley may be known for its namesake valley, but it’s flush with lush forests. And no matter how much you may familiarize yourself with the forests of the park in any season, the next one will bring changes you may not expect or recognize.

While there are evergreens present throughout the park, the tall oak, hickory, and beech trees will provide most of the visible color changes when fall arrives in October.  

This lesser-known park easily earns a space on the top five list for fall colors in national parks. You may not have expected to add Ohio to your list of fall travel destinations, but after your adventures in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, you’ll be endlessly glad that you did. 

DON’T MISS: This park is packed with incredible waterfalls that are only made more beautiful by fall colors in ways you can’t imagine. The most famous of these just may be Brandywine Falls, and this 60-foot-fall (18.3 m) only requires a short hike. Be sure to visit this waterfall again at other times of the year, too, to really appreciate just how much the land changes with the seasons.

3. Shenandoah National Park

A paved road curves, surrounded by fallen leaves and fall foliage on trees
Unsplash/Reshma Mallecha

Location: Virginia  

When you’re looking for the best national parks for fall colors, look no further than the next three suggestions. You can be sure we saved the absolute best of the best for the top of the list.

Beginning the top tier fall parks, we have a place in Virginia, and this one could have easily claimed the number one spot. 

PRO TIP: This is a park known for its fall colors, and people come from long and far to experience the unforgettable lure of the vibrant colors on display here. The park recommends visiting on weekdays in the fall to have the best chance of avoiding large crowds of fall color seekers. Similarly, we recommend weekday visits that start as early as possible. 

About 75 miles (121 km) from the heart of the bustling nation’s capital lies a tranquil oasis of woodlands, waterfalls, vistas, valleys and so much more. Within its almost 200,000 acres, Shenandoah National Park holds some of the most prime habitats for fall colors to claim at the start of the season.

Fall is such a big deal in this park, they have literally designated a “Fall Color Webcam” for hopeful visitors to check the progress of the changing seasons. They also publish an annual fall bulletin as well. 

For the entire months of September and October, these tranquil forests, bustling with wildlife during the summer, calm when the stillness of autumn’s arrival.

Fall colors in a mountainous valley
Unsplash/Akhila Katuri

The park itself calls its fall colors “unbe-leaf-able,” and rightfully so; over 95% of the park is covered in forests, which promise to put on a show every year with the colors that faithfully come.

We mainly have the park’s chestnut and red oak trees for most of the amazing colors that arise in the park every year, and they’ll give you some of the most vigorous shades of oranges, reds, and golds you could ask for. 

No one famously said Virginia was “almost heaven,” but after a fall visit, you’ll be asking why.

This place and its fall color palette are guaranteed to take your breath away. Make sure you visit, so you can see just why this park landed in the top three. 

DON’T MISS: Take a slow drive through the winding roads of the park during peak fall. Skyline Drive provides amazing views from its overlooks.

2. Acadia National Park 

A woman looks up at the fall foliage on the trees above her
Unsplash/Clay Banks

Location: Maine

One of the farthest eastern points of the United States, along the shorelines of Acadia National Park, any visitor can expect to find one of the best displays of fall colors in Acadia National Park.

Beautiful any time of the year, the park’s true spirit comes alive in autumn, making it one of the best times to visit Acadia National Park.

PRO TIP: Also in fall, Cadillac Mountain sunrise is the first light to touch American soil. Grab your reservations for a sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean that you’ll never forget. 

While the fall colors will surround you, one of the best ways to take them all in is a short drive on the Park Loop Road. Stop by iconic locations like Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake to see the colors reflected in the water.

Fall On The Maine Coastline

Other great opportunities include hikes, bike rides, or carriage rides on the park’s carriage roads. These unpaved and wide paths bring visitors to some of the best fall foliage in the northeast.

No matter how you choose to take in the colors, Acadia in the fall is almost guaranteed to take your breath away.

DON’T MISS: One of the best ways to appreciate the fall colors in Acadia is from above. Take a hike to one of its many mountain summits for incredible views. We recommend Precipice Trail, Beehive Trail, or any of the mountainous hikes in Acadia.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

Fall foliage above a tent at a camp site
Unsplash/Andrew Neel

Location: Tennessee and North Carolina

Now we’re looking for the supreme fall park, and maybe you won’t be surprised to see our pick for number one. If one wants to experience the best fall foliage in any national park, the king of autumn is definitely Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Though they’re known to many as the Blue Ridge Mountains, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be anything but blue in the fall season. 

PRO TIP: Maximize your time here. This expansive park extends across two state borders. Explore both sides and the gateway towns on either. All of the Smoky Mountains are bursting with unique character and personality. If you really want to get away from the crowds but want to immerse yourself in the fall forests, seek out a hike to one of the park’s mysterious ghost towns. 

Over 522,000 acres, Great Smoky Mountains is one of those parks that has something that will imprint emotions of awe on anyone who visits.

From seemingly-endless forested mountains and superb waterfalls, this park attracts multiple millions of people throughout the year to see the sheer majesty of what’s found here. In fact, it’s the most visited of all the 63 national parks.

If you were to look for a visual representation of the word “autumn,” it’s assured you’d find a picture of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the fall.

Known for their famous tint from the “smoky” fog that tends to hang on to the ridges, the hazy blue will all but disappear in the fall, giving way to an unbelievable array of every shade of fall color you can imagine. 

The park contains eight major types of forests spanning from its high elevations to its valley floors. Spruce-fir forest, northern hardwood forest, cove hardwood forest, hemlock forest, oak-hickory forest, pine-oak forest, montane alluvial forest, and successional forests all combine to cover more than 96% of the park’s totality.

Someone holds an order leaf up to a waterfall
Unsplash/Joshua Woroniecki

All of them work together with autumn to create the most stunning views of what makes fall truly special: the colors. 

You may already be familiar with some of the iconic features of this world-renowned park. Places like Clingman’s Dome, Cades Cove, the Newfound Gap and so much more become entirely different scenes with the arrival of fall.

The changing colors work their magic on these and the whole park, transforming the landscape into an explosion of the most beautiful vibrant shades and hues of reds, greens, oranges, yellows, golds, coppers, and more. 

This is the number one park for viewing fall colors in every way. It’s the most visited park, and autumn is the best time of the year to see it.

Every color of the fall palette comes out in full force to make this place the best park for fall color seekers. If you’re truly seeking the best national park with the best fall colors, it has to be Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

DON’T MISS: The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the U.S. and not one you should skip, for any reason. It should come as no surprise as the best time for this top drive is autumn, when the fall foliage comes out to show off its brilliance. The road winds its way from Great Smoky Mountains to Shenandoah National Park.

Honorable Mentions

A trail through bright red shrubs
Unsplash/Sergei A.

We would be remiss to leave out the national parks that almost made the list. For alternate fall foliage destinations, look no further than Grand Canyon National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Sequoia National Park, or Mount Rainier National Park.

Pin Our Favorite National Parks to See Fall Foliage

Fall leaves hanging from trees
Unsplash/Timothy Eberly

Make no mistake, any national park can offer you a worthwhile experience during the fall season. And with so many to choose from, the list presents endless opportunities for fall experiences. 

If your goal in fall traveling is getting out there and finding the best fall foliage, these 15 national parks are the cream of the crop. All of them provide explosions of colors that any leaf-peeper would be impressed by.

Not to be outdone, Great Smoky Mountains dawns an autumn display unlike anything you could believe, but the other 14 will take your breath away, guaranteed. 

Calling all leaf peepers! We’ve narrowed down the 15 best national parks for fall colors that are sure to give you the absolute best foliage viewing. Waning summer crowds, easier opportunities to spot wildlife, and cooler temperatures are huge draws for those doing late summer traveling. Sprinkle in a colorful display of the oncoming autumn season and you have the perfect recipe.
Calling all leaf peepers! We’ve narrowed down the 15 best national parks for fall colors that are sure to give you the absolute best foliage viewing. Waning summer crowds, easier opportunities to spot wildlife, and cooler temperatures are huge draws for those doing late summer traveling. Sprinkle in a colorful display of the oncoming autumn season and you have the perfect recipe.
Calling all leaf peepers! We’ve narrowed down the 15 best national parks for fall colors that are sure to give you the absolute best foliage viewing. Waning summer crowds, easier opportunities to spot wildlife, and cooler temperatures are huge draws for those doing late summer traveling. Sprinkle in a colorful display of the oncoming autumn season and you have the perfect recipe.

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