Skip to Content

23 Best National Parks to Visit in Fall

Fall foliage on trees in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Unsplash/David Hertle

Fall is a favorite season for many, and it’s easy to understand why. Cooler temperatures, gorgeous foliage, pumpkin spice lattes… the list goes on.

Fall is certainly my favorite season. Why? It’s one of the very best times to visit America’s national parks.

I asked fellow travel writers to share what they believe are the best national parks to visit in fall. Our choices are below.

If you’re in need of a fall getaway, look no further than these amazing national parks that are best in the autumn season.

A paved road winds through hills and mountains covered in red foliage
Unsplash/Chad Madden

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, view my privacy policy.

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.

Best National Parks to Visit in Autumn

Road to a Canyon

These parks truly shine in the fall. For fall foliage or special events, add a fall visit to these national parks to your bucket list!

When visiting our national parks and public lands, please practice Leave No Trace principles. Plan ahead, choose durable surfaces for camping or hiking, dispose of all waste properly, leave everything you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other park visitors.

In order to save money, I would recommend purchasing a national parks pass. These cost $80 and are valid for a full calendar year (from the date of purchase) at all public lands in the United States. After you visit 3 national parks, it’ll have paid for itself. It also makes a great gift for national park enthusiasts!

For more fall travel ideas, read our post on the best national parks for fall foliage.

Acadia National Park

Duck Brook Bridge-

By Melissa from Wandering Through Maine

Acadia National Park in Maine is amazing any time of the year, but in the fall it is spectacular. Maine is world-renowned for its foliage, and you won’t find any better spot than Acadia National Park to witness the amazing colors fall brings. 

The most popular way to see the foliage is from the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the eastern seaboard. You will get sweeping views that take in the bay, several small islands, and brilliant foliage for as far as the eye can see in all directions.

During October, the best month to visit Acadia National Park for the fall foliage, Cadillac Mountain also offers the first view of the sunrise in the U.S.  It can get a little crowded at the peak, but the sunrise in the crisp fall air is breathtaking.

Another popular way to experience the foliage in Acadia National Park is to take one of the hikes around Jordan Pond. You can choose an easy hike that takes you around the perimeter of the pond in as little as an hour or opt for a more challenging hike that requires experience and stamina and can last for up to five hours. Both offer Instagram-worthy scenery.

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

Along with incredible foliage, there are two signature events that take place in the park during October.

The Mount Desert Island Marathon must be the most beautiful marathon in the country! It winds its way through the park during peak foliage season with mountains and the ocean for a backdrop.

If you’re looking for something a little less active to do, check out the activities at the annual Acadia Oktobertfest. You’ll find music, wine, and craft beer tasting, crafts, and local artists displaying their works. There is always plenty of food, including incredible Maine lobster! There are some pretty unique contests, too. Belt sander races or stein hoisting, anyone?

The final activity everyone who visits Acadia National Park should do is drive Park Loop Road. You’ll find both Cadillac Mountian and Jordan Pond on Park Loop Road, along with other popular attractions like Thunder Hole and Sand Beach.

There is so much to see and do in Acadia National Park all year long, but October is really the best time to visit. Not only will it be less crowded, but you will experience one of nature’s most spectacular sights: the reds, golds, and oranges of the fall foliage nestled between the rocky coastline and Maine’s bright blue fall sky.

Arches National Park

A standalone rock arch
Stephanie/The Unknown Enthusiast

By Stephanie of The Unknown Enthusiast

While Arches National Park might not be the first national park that comes to mind when you mention fall foliage, it is still a really great park to visit in the autumn months.

Arches is found in the southeast quadrant of Utah and is one of Utah’s mighty five national parks. It may have some of the most awe-inspiring and otherworldly scenery of any US national park with its stunning displays of arches, interesting rock formations, canyons, and fins throughout the park. 

The main reason to visit Arches National Park in fall is not for the beautiful changing leaves – indeed, Arches really doesn’t really have many trees. Rather, it’s to enjoy the landscapes and hiking in Arches National Park in milder weather and in lower crowds.

The highs during the summertime can soar past 100°F. In October, average highs are in the mid-70s, and in November, they drop into the 50s and 60s – great hiking weather! Crowds also drop off quite a bit in the fall, with the exception of fall break and Thanksgiving break. 

The most famous spot in Arches is, of course, Delicate Arch, a dramatic, free-standing arch that you can view after a moderate, 3-mile round trip hike. Come at sunset to see the arch light up in the sun’s evening glow. 

Double Arch, two arches in red rock, on a partly cloudy day above green trees
Unsplash Photo

Double Arch is another really impressive arch, with two massive arches spanning an opening in the rocks that visitors can climb through. 

My favorite spot in Arches National Park is the Fiery Furnace, an area packed with tall fins, narrow canyons, drop-offs, hidden arches, and a whole lot of really cool rock formations.

There’s not a set trail that you’re following, rather, the point of Fiery Furnace is to explore the nooks and crannies the area has to offer as you make your way through the canyons.

Since you must get a permit to hike in this area, and there are only a very limited number of permits available each day, you have a much greater chance of nabbing one during the fall months when demand is lower. 

Still hoping for some fall foliage? You can see some leaves changing colors on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road, outside of Moab. 

Come for the weather, stay for the views, and enjoy an autumn adventure in Arches National Park!

Big Bend National Park

Shadows on a canyon
Aaren/What Do You Sea

By Aaren of What Do You Sea

As the only National Park with an entire mountain range within its borders, the most diverse amount of wildlife, and the greatest variety of geology in the smallest area than any other location in the United States, Big Bend National Park is well-deserving of a trip out to West Texas to take in all of its vast and remote beauty.

Because a large amount of Big Bend is made up of the Chihuahuan Desert, fall is the perfect time to visit when the daytime temperatures dip for favorable hiking weather. 

The cooler fall temperatures give you a higher chance of seeing all of the park’s unique wildlife. While on the trails, be on the lookout for black bears, mountain lions, javelinas, and fuzzy tarantulas.

Big Bend's Big Bowl

The Lost Mine Trail, Emory Peak, and South Rim Trails are impressive hikes for wildlife encounters and the most stunning vistas in Big Bend. Moreover, pay a visit to Santa Elena Canyon to see where the Rio Grande carved a natural land border between the US and Mexico.

During the fall months, you’ll be able to spot vibrant wildflowers at peak bloom lining the hiking trails. You can even take a steamy soak in the Boquillas Hot Spring nestled right on the Rio Grande River.

Make the most out of your days in the park, but note the exploring doesn’t stop once the sun goes down.

Big Bend National Park is a certified International Dark Sky Park and has the least amount of light pollution out of any park in the lower 48 states. On clear nights, you’ll be able to spot the milk way dancing across the sky among billions of glittering stars.

Due to the park’s remote nature, you want to bring all the day hiking essentials so you stay hydrated, energized, and safe while you explore.

The most important way to have a safe trip in Big Bend is by being mindful of the heat and drinking plenty of water, staying energized with snacks, and getting off the trails by midday.

Read More: How to Spend 3 Days in Big Bend National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Green and yellow leaves on shrubs on a canyon rim
Diane/Travels with Eli

By Diane from Travels with Eli

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado is a dramatically deep gorge carved by the Gunnison River. The cliff walls are so sheer and steep that the canyon is often cast in dark shadows, giving it the name Black Canyon. 

Established in 1999, Black Canyon is one of the newer national parks in the United States

Fall is a great time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The autumn weather is just right with warm days and cool nights. The best time to see the fall colors in the park is late September through early October. 

After the fall colors fade, late October through early November can also be a great time to visit Black Canyon. It will be much colder but there will be significantly fewer visitors.

The main road into Black Canyon National Park closes during the winter months from mid-November through mid-April.

Fog low in a canyon
Diane/Travels with Eli

One day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is all you need to see the highlights of this incredible river gorge. There are two entrances to the park but you will want to visit the more established South Rim area. 

South Rim Road is a seven-mile-long road with 12 overlooks offering views into the remarkably steep canyon. The oak trees scattered through the juniper on both sides of the road give views of stunning orange and yellow leaves during the peak fall color season.

Stop at the visitor center first to get the most current park information.  

There aren’t many hikes along the South Rim because the canyon gorge is so steep, but the Rim Rock Trail shouldn’t be missed. It is only 2 miles long but provides incredible canyon views along the way. 

All 12 overlooks provide amazing views but the best viewpoints are Gunnison Point, Cross Fissures View, Chasm View, and Painted Wall.

Canyonlands National Park

A rock arch sticks out of a canyon wall
Lisa and Chase/Planning Away

By Lisa and Chase from Planning Away

Canyonlands is one of the best national parks to visit in the fall! Located in southeastern Utah, it is surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes and outdoor recreational opportunities. 

October is one of the best times to visit Canyonlands because the weather is perfect. Canyonlands has two areas that are most accessible: Island in the Sky and The Needles. The Island in the Sky area has some amazing hikes, arches, and canyon overlooks to check out.  

The Island in the Sky District is the most popular part of Canyonlands. It is located near Arches National Park and Moab.

There are several hikes in the Island in the Sky District that are short and great for families. The best feature about this part of the park is the ability to drive from one area to the next and explore the differences in landscapes.  

An arch frames the canyon and mountains beyond at sunrise
Unsplash/Caitlyn Noble

If you love overnight backpacking, fall is the best time to explore The Needles District. A permit is required to backpack in this area. 

There are several hikes, some are more strenuous than others but all offer incredible views. 

Plus, Canyonlands is an International Dark Sky Park, meaning that you will be able to see the night sky better than anywhere else in the world.  

There are no outlets or restaurants near The Needles District so come prepared.

If overnight backpacking is not your thing, don’t worry, Moab, Utah is an incredible town near Canyonlands that offers great accommodations with plenty of mountain biking, rock climbing, and 4×4 trails.  

Moab in the Fall offers a festival every week. These festivals include:

  • The Red Rock Arts Festival
  • The Castle Valley Gourd Festival
  • The Mountain Biking Festival
  • Moab Celtic Festival
  • The Day of the Dead Celebration
  • Running Races Every Weekend

So no matter which week you visit Canyonlands National Park, you will be sure to have fun.

Capitol Reef National Park

A historic farm house in the prairie
Sara/Travel A-Broads

By Sara of Travel A-Broads

Located just west of Torrey in Utah’s south-central desert, Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in the fall.

In fact, fall is the best time to visit Capitol Reef, as this time of year offers cooler weather, perfect hiking conditions, fun fruit-picking opportunities, and beautiful fall foliage throughout the park.

Although it’s a lesser-visited national park, it stands its ground as one of the Utah Mighty Five, and you can see a lot in just one day at Capitol Reef National Park.

Plus, Capitol Reef can easily be added to a larger American Southwest road trip itinerary, since it’s only about two hours away from both Bryce Canyon National Park and Arches National Park.

Capitol Reef lies in the Waterpocket Fold, i.e. a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that was formed over millions of years, and it’s home to a treasure trove of unique geologic features, like canyons, cliffs, domes, and bridges.

Many of these can be seen by hiking some of the park’s most popular day hiking trails, like the Cassidy Arch Trail, the Frying Pan Trail, the Hickman Bridge Trail, and the Goosenecks.

A paved path leads to the Capitol Reef Visitor Center
Sara/Travel A-Broads

There are also some backcountry hiking trails that go deeper into the park and require traversing along winding gorges, through narrow slot canyons, and to steep viewpoints above the Waterpocket Fold.

But, hiking isn’t the only thing to do at Capitol Reef! There’s a 7.9-mile scenic drive, which offers views of breathtaking landscapes; the historic Gifford Farm, which now serves as a storefront and offers a selection of handmade products, locally baked fruit pies, and homemade ice cream; the single-room Fruita Schoolhouse, which was built in 1896 and once hosted classes for the local families; vast orchards, which are remnants of Fruita’s pioneer community from the late 1800s; and an incredible petroglyph panel, which showcases artwork carved and painted into stone by the Fremont Culture between 300-1300 Common Era.

With so much to do and see inside Capitol Reef National Park, it’s a must-visit fall destination!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Bat Flight from Natural Entrance Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

By The Parks Expert

Thanks to the underground caverns, there really isn’t a bad time of year to visit Carlsbad Caverns. However, we find it to be one of the best national parks to visit in autumn thanks to its marvelous spooky vibes.

First and foremost, the bat flight. This can be seen from late May through October, but we prefer to watch it in August and September. This is when baby bats join the flight!

Next, consider walking through dimly lighted tunnels. Sounds a bit spooky, doesn’t it? Thankfully, there are stairs and railings to keep you safe.

Unlike Jewel Cave and other caves managed by the National Park Service, tours are not required for Carlsbad Caverns. There is a self-guided option available. However, to go with a ranger, you’ll want to purchase a tour ticket.

Death Valley National Park

Golden hills
Milijana/World Travel Connector

By Milijana of World Travel Connector 

Fall is a fantastic time for visiting Death Valley National Park for pleasant temperatures, affordable lodging, camping season, and magnificent Leonid Shower. 

Death Valley National Park is one the best places in the USA to see the magnificent Leonid Shower that happens in November. Leonid meteor shower is a large shower of the fastest meteors. The peak of Leonid Shower is in mid-November. 

The best places in the USA for seeing Leonid Shower are the national parks on the west coast. But, while some may have snow, rain, and not good weather in general, Death Valley has pleasant air temperatures with clear skies in November. Death Valley is one of the best places in the USA to enjoy stargazing in the fall.  

Moreover, the camping season in Death Valley starts in mid-October. The average temperature high in Death Valley in November is around 77°F / 25°C, which is ideal for hiking and camping.

The sun sets on badlands formations, making them appear to glow orange
Unsplash/Jack Prichett

Strolling the most famous Death Valley sites with such air temperatures is nothing less than highly pleasurable.

Fall is the best time for roaming the incredible Zabriskie Point, Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater Basin, Artist Palette, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Harmony Borax Works, Racetrack Playa, Dantes View, Twenty Mule Team Canyon, and the Golden Canyon.

The best time for visiting Death Valley is from mid-October to mid-May. The holiday season (December to January) and spring months are popular times for visiting Death Valley.

But they come with pricey accommodation. But if you want to visit Death Valley with pleasant temperatures, affordable stays, and a unique sky phenomenon, fall is unarguably the best time to go to Death Valley, 

Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas is the nearest airport to Death Valley. A 2-hour drive takes from Las Vegas to Death Valley. Death Valley National Park can easily be visited from Las Vegas by car, bus, and day tour.

Want to see the most spectacular night sky with a marvelous Leonid shower in the USA in the fall? Do not think twice, but head to Death Valley in November.

Read More: Plan a trip with our Death Valley Itinerary

Denali National Park and Preserve

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

By Bradley from Dream Big, Travel Far

Denali National Park covers more than six million acres of preserved wilderness around Denali, the tallest mountain in all of North America. A mix of forest, deciduous taiga, tundras, and glaciers, it’s a truly diverse representation of nature’s incredible feats.

A 92-mile road stretches into the park, though only the first 13 miles are accessible to drive. You need a tour bus to travel beyond this point.

It’s located 240 miles from Anchorage, and since driving is the easiest way to visit, it’s a great idea to hire an RV or campervan from Alaska. There are lots of campgrounds in Denali to park your motorhome, and spending the night gives you the chance to enjoy the views in the morning.

Denali National Park is especially beautiful during the fall season, with the foliage exuding a stunning autumnal charm. The taiga has turned into various shades of red, with the aspen and balsam poplar colored in fantastic yellow and golden hues.

Caribou in Fall Tundra Color

The coldness of winter has yet to settle in, which means exploring the grounds can feel more comfortable. Still, you’ll be able to witness the spectacular, snow-capped peaks of the mountains, which make for a truly magical landscape.

Come at the end of fall and the onset of winter, and there’s an opportunity to view the enchanting northern lights.

In terms of wildlife, this is a great time to watch moose as it’s their mating season. Bears are hunting for food to get ready for winter, the caribou population is migrating, and you might even be lucky enough to spot a Dall sheep or wolf.

For the best photo spot, consider camping at Wonder Lake, which can be particularly captivating in the mornings!

With that said, the busiest time in Denali for tourists is still the summer. It can get very lively during these months, which means visiting in the fall lets you get away from the crowds.

Everglades National Park

A paved path leads to a tower. An alligator rests on the path.

By The Parks Expert

While winter is the most popular time to visit the Everglades, visiting in the fall has a number of benefits.

First, you’ll avoid the winter crowds. Second, you’ll avoid the summer heat. Third, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll avoid the summer bugs.

Hiking in the Everglades is great in the fall thanks to milder temperatures and fewer mosquitoes. Other things to do in the Everglades include biking, birdwatching, canoeing, kayaking, and participating in a variety of awesome ranger programs.

Plus, you’ll be close to other Florida national parks like Dry Tortugas and Biscayne for an epic Florida road trip.

One thing to keep in mind if visiting Everglades National Park in fall is hurricane season. This lasts from June 1 to November 30, so it’s a good idea to check the conditions before you go.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

A tidewater glacier below a snow-capped mountain
Karen/Forever Karen

By Karen of Forever Karen

Located in Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It has over three million acres of untouched rainforest, rugged mountains, and some of the world’s best glaciers.

Travelers to Glacier Bay can only access the area by plane (from Juneau) or boat. For many who visit Alaska, it’s a bucket list destination.

Large cruise ships are the preferred way of travel. However, the national park only allows two large ships to enter the park a day.

While Glacier Bay, Alaska itineraries command a premium price, you’ll enjoy cruising Glacier Bay National Park with a park ranger for nine hours. During that time, you’ll learn about the flora, glaciers, and wildlife that call this area home.

The tidewater glaciers (glaciers that touch the ocean) are the highlight of the park, but it has valley glaciers too.

View of Glacier Bay

In September and October, summer turns to fall pretty fast. The landscape receives its first dusting of snow, giving the peaks a frosted glow. Since the forest contains Sitka spruce, cedar, and western hemlock, there isn’t a noticeable color change.

Being further north, the park experiences daytime temperatures from the 30s to 40°F, although it will feel much colder next to a glacier.

September and October are the wettest months in Alaska, but don’t let that prevent you from visiting. Be prepared by packing a warm, waterproof jacket, layers, and waterproof shoes.

In fall, expect crisp air, similar to visiting Colorado in winter. Since the kids are back in school, you’ll enjoy the journey with fewer people.

As the summer comes to a close, bears are foraging for food. They need to eat a lot to sustain themselves for the winter hibernation.

Compact binoculars are essential to spotting bears along the shorelines of Glacier Bay National Park. You may see harbor seals, bald eagles, and a lingering whale.

Governors Island National Monument

A canon points toward the New York City skyline
Sarah/Mukikapup’s Travels

By Sarah from Mukikapup’s Travels

Governors Island is like an oasis in the midst of NYC – even more so than Central Park.

Not only is it an island that’s only reachable by ferry, but no cars are allowed (other than necessary vehicles and food trucks) on the 172-acre New York Harbor island.

The National Park Service operates the northern end of the island, which has two national monuments, Fort Jay and Castle Williams.

A trust operates the rest, where there are historic homes and buildings, plus nature and development that make it the perfect public park. There’s even a school on the island where students study marine biology and related fields.

Governors Island Hills Sunset

Besides touring Fort Jay and Castle Williams to learn about the island’s history as a fortress to protect NYC, you can continue to explore the island by bike, get amazing skyline views, hang out in Hammock Grove, and check out art exhibits.

There’s also a spa, various hills with great views (including one with a slide), free walking tours, food stands, picnicking, outdoor drinking, and a lot more.

There are always various events going on at Governors Island such as various art installations, a market pop-up, kayaking, games, a family day celebration, a bird challenge, an urban farm tour, and others.

Grand Canyon National Park

A man sits on the rim of the Grand Canyon to admire the view
Brodi Cole/Our Offbeat Life

By Brodi Cole of Our Offbeat Life

The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, and for good reason. The immense size of the canyon, its unique geology, and its stunning views make it a must-see for anyone visiting Arizona.

However, many people don’t realize that Grand Canyon National Park is also an excellent place to see fall foliage. With its wide variety of trees and plants, the Grand Canyon is one of the best places in Arizona to see the changing leaves.

The best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park if you’re hoping to see fall foliage is from mid-October to early November. This is typically when the leaves are at their peak color. However, because the exact timing can vary depending on the weather, it’s always a good idea to check the conditions before you go. 

There are two main areas of the park where you’re likely to see fall foliage: Bright Angel Trail and South Rim Drive.

Trailhead view, Grand Canyon National Park, USA

Bright Angel Trail is a popular hiking trail that leads down into the canyon from the South Rim. The trail is lined with trees and plants that put on a spectacular show of color in the fall.

South Rim Drive is a scenic road that loops around the perimeter of the canyon. Along the drive, you’ll find numerous pull-offs where you can stop and enjoy views of the colorful foliage. 

In addition to hiking and driving, there are plenty of other things to do at Grand Canyon National Park in the fall. Ranger-led programs are offered throughout the park including hikes, talks, and Junior Ranger activities for kids.

Mule rides down into the canyon are also available, but book out pretty far in advance. And no trip to the park would be complete without a visit to one of its iconic viewpoints, such as Bright Angel Point or Mather Point. Desert View Watchtower is also breathtaking.

Haleakala National Park

Fog rolls into a colorful caldera
Karen/Forever Karen

By Karen from Karen Forever

Located on Maui, Haleakala National Park consists of a dormant volcano with a unique moonlike landscape. Its footprint is so large that it engulfs 75 percent of Maui’s landscape! 

Haleakala stands at 10,023 feet above sea level but measures 30,000 feet from its base at the bottom of the ocean, making it one of the highest mountains globally. Above the clouds, you’ll enjoy magnificent views, which could include seeing volcanoes on other Hawaiian islands.

Getting to its peak requires a long switchback drive, unsuitable for those suffering from motion sickness (unless you use motion sickness medication). Allow up to two hours to drive one way.

Since it’s an uphill drive all the way, you’ll experience 17 of the world’s 20 different climatic zones. Be prepared by taking some warm clothes. While it might be in the 80s on the coast, it could be as cold as the 40s at the peak.

Haleakala Sunrise

Many who visit Haleakala go hiking or see the sunrise. The iconic sunrise event has become incredibly popular recently. Now, the national park has introduced a reservation system. In summer, travelers need to wake up at 2 am to make the journey.

However, visiting in the fall brings fewer crowds and a slightly later sunrise. With fewer people, you won’t need to rise so early to snag that coveted parking spot at the best lookout. Alternatively, you can go for the sunset if you’re not an early bird.

With over 40 miles of hiking trails, Haleakala attracts campers and hikers to explore its moonlike landscape. While Hawaii experiences hot weather year-round, you’ll enjoy slightly cooler weather in the fall, ideal for hiking in a volcano.

During a hike, you may encounter rare species such as the Nene, a native Hawaiian goose, and the Haleakala Silversword, a rare Hawaiian plant. Remember to stay on the trails to protect the delicate habitat.

Read More: Best Things to Do in Haleakala National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Green and yellow leaves in a lush forest
Anu Agarwal/Destination Checkoff

By Anu Agarwal From Destination Checkoff

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a very unique and special National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. It has active and dormant volcanoes, rainforests, lava tubes, and a lot of volcano history.

day trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must on any trip to Big Island. The fall season and especially early November is the ideal time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as the crowds are fewer compared to summer and winter breaks and the weather is ideal for exploring the various features of the park. 

The Kilauea volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been erupting frequently since 2021 and you can see volcano steam coming out of the Halemaumau crater during day time.

Shorter fall days allow you to stay in the park after dark to see the nighttime lava glow from the many vista points of the Kilauea crater. Seeing the lava glow is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Lava lake at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The cooler fall days allow for exploring the many excellent trails in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea Iki crater hike is one of the best hikes as you walk inside a volcano crater, through lush rainforest, and also through a lava tube at the end! 

There are several attractions along the Crater Rim Drive like seeing sulfur banks and steam vents. The Volcano House inside the park is a great lodging option if you decide to spend the night in the park. It also has a restaurant for lunch after a gorgeous morning hike in the park. 

There are several awesome things to do near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park like visiting the town of Hilo and exploring the unique Punaluu black sand beach. The black sand is actually made of tiny particles of volcano rocks! Both are only 45 minutes drive from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in the fall in the US. 

Mount Rainier National Park

A hiker walks a trail through red, orange, and yellow tundra on a hillside
Jessica/Uprooted Traveler

By Jessica from Uprooted Traveler

For one of the most jaw-dropping and unique parks to visit in the fall, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state should absolutely be on your bucket list.

The eponymous mountain, towering 14,411 feet above the earth below, is famous for its fields of technicolor wildflowers, abundant wildlife, and breathtaking views of both Rainier and the surrounding Cascade Mountains. 

While the park is gorgeous to visit year-round, fall is a particularly dazzling time to explore its landscape. While many of its trees are conifers, there are a number of deciduous trees, like big leaf maple, that explode with brilliant fall colors.

However, what makes fall in Mount Rainier more special are the wildflowers and shrubs that blanket its valleys and slopes, bursting into vibrant shades of orange and red.

Mt Rainier

In certain areas of the park, you can even find larch trees, a special alpine conifer whose needles turn shockingly golden before falling to the ground for winter. Larches are so beloved in Washington that autumn is frequently referred to as “larch madness”. 

Some of the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park to enjoy fall foliage are the Skyline Loop trail and Naches Peak Loop.

The Skyline Loop is one of the most popular hikes in the park, taking you through Rainier’s fields, thick with huckleberry and scarlet paintbrush, all the way up close and personal with the Nisqually Glacier.

For an easier trail, the Naches Peak Loop winds past stunning alpine lakes and fields of autumnal wildflowers, as Mount Rainier looms overhead. 

For a lower impact option to enjoy the fall colors, consider driving the Chinook Scenic Byway, where you’ll wind through 107 miles of the national park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, passing ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and some of the most gorgeous alpine autumnal foliage the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

A steel bridge over a river surrounded by trees with autumn leaves
Megan/Red Around the World

By Megan from Red Around the World

New River Gorge National Park is the newest national park and can be found in the heart of West Virginia.  It is definitely one of the best national parks to visit in the fall thanks to the perfect weather and beautiful scenery. 

The park isn’t remote like some others, so you spend a lot of time driving through towns getting to the different areas but that doesn’t mean it is any less beautiful. This is a great national park to visit in the fall particularly if you want to see the leaves change. 

Some of the best places to admire the foliage are the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, the Main Overlook (sometimes called the Grandview Overlook), and the Sandstone Falls Overlook.   

New River Gorge, WV

At the visitor center, you can take a short walk down a lot of stairs to an overlook of the New River Gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge. It’s a beautiful view and you can see Fayette Station Road below. 

At the Main Overlook, there are plenty of hiking trails if you want to move around a bit while you’re there.  The Sandstone Falls Overlook doesn’t have hiking but it’s a quick stop on the way to the falls themselves.

Some of the best ways to enjoy the foliage from more than overlooks are on the easy hike to Sandstone Falls, the quiet Glade Creek Trail, or on the Fayette Station Road, a seven-mile, one-way scenic drive in the park that takes you down to the river. 

There are plenty of trails to choose from throughout the different areas of the park. If you are feeling adventurous, you could also try your hand at whitewater rafting if it’s warm enough. The best time to go to enjoy the foliage will be mid-October but before and after that you may still catch some color.  

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified logs on a paved trail
Sam/My Flying Leap

By Sam of My Flying Leap

Petrified Forest National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. It’s made up of two distinct areas: the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.

The Painted Desert is a desolate area of badlands created by millions of years of water and wind erosion. You can hike through these sloping rocks which really light up at sunrise and sunset, taking on an amber and violet glow. This area is ruggedly beautiful and similar to the badlands in South Dakota.

The most unique area of the park is the Petrified Forest. It was created over 225 million years ago, and you can walk through this area of fallen fossilized trees. It’s unlike anything you can see anywhere else in the world.

Painted Desert and Petrified Forest (2) | Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, USA

There are a number of short paths where you can walk through the trees to see Native American ruins. You may touch the fossils though you’re not permitted to leave with any. Local shops do sell them near the park if you really want to head home with a souvenir.

The fall is a great time to visit this park. The summer can be incredibly hot in this area and there’s really no shade to be found. The winter can be quite gusty and snowy. The fall is a great time to visit as the summer heat is fading and you can spend more time exploring the park.

Hiking is the most popular thing to do in Petrified Forest National Park. Visit the Agate House Pueblo in the fallen forest and view the petroglyphs in the Painted Desert area. And check out the visitor center to learn more about the people who once lived here. The Petrified Forest is only three and a half hours drive from Phoenix, making it a popular weekend trip. 

It’s a place you’ll never forget.

Read More: How to Plan One Perfect Day in Petrified Forest National Park

Pinnacles National Park

Rock pinnacles stretch toward the sky
Cassie/Cassie’s Compass

By Cassie of Cassie’s Compass

Fall is a great time to visit Pinnacles National Park. Located in Central California, just one hour from the Pacific Coast, Pinnacles is one of America’s newest national parks known for its wildlife and unique geology.

Fall is an ideal time to visit as the foliage is beautiful, and there are fewer crowds than in the summer. Plus, the temperature is perfect for hiking and camping.

The High Peaks Trail is an easy hike that leads you to the top of some of the pinnacle rocks. This trail also provides the best view of the foliage from above.

Pinnacles National Park Condor 1

Pinnacles makes an easy day trip from the nearby cities of San Francisco, Fresno, or Sacramento. But it also makes an easy and beginner-friendly weekend camping trip with its cabins and facilities for tents.

Pinnacles is known for its talus caves, which are formed when large boulders fall and become wedged together. These caves are a great place to explore on a cool fall day.

The park is also home to America’s largest population of condors. These endangered birds are fascinating to watch, and there’s no better place to see them than circling the unique rocks at Pinnacles.

So if you’re looking for a national park that’s beautiful and wildlife-rich, be sure to add Pinnacles to your list!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

A river through badlands with scattered yellow trees
Melissa/Parenthood and Passports

By Melissa of Parenthood and Passports

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the most underrated national parks in the United States.

In fall, the park, located in southwest North Dakota, is ablaze with rich autumn colors as the leaves begin to change from green to yellow.

You’ll also find plenty of easy hiking trails in Theodore Roosevelt National Park that are practically empty during the fall months. So, it is a great place to escape crowds and connect with nature.

To see the best fall colors, check out Wind Canyon trail. This easy hike takes only about 30 minutes roundtrip. It boasts beautiful scenic vistas overlooking the prairies. Below, the Little Missouri River winds through patches of trees, which range in color from light green to yellow and vibrant orange during autumn. 

Because Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located in one of the northernmost states in the US, it tends to get cooler sooner. So, for ideal temperatures and peak fall colors, plan your visit in early fall. September is the best fall month to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Prairie Dog in fall.

The national park on the Great Plains is one of the more unique parks within the US national park system. The only park named after a US president, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is also one of the few places in the United States where you can see wild horses roam on the open prairie lands. Bison, prairie dogs, and deer are also commonly seen throughout the park.

In fact, as you drive the 34-mile scenic loop in the south unit of the national park, you will come across several prairie dog towns where you’ll see hundreds of these adorable creatures peeking their heads out of ground holes.

Be sure to drive slowly and have your window rolled down so you can hear the cute squeaking noises the prairie dogs make as you cruise by. 

Yellowstone National Park

A small pond surrounded by brown grasses and green trees
Sean/Living Out Lau

By Sean from Living Out Lau

If you are looking for a national park to visit in the fall, consider the first national park of the United States – Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and is known for its geothermal features, including geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. 

The park also has waterfalls, canyons, and mountains, and it is home to various wildlife, including grizzly bears, bison, elk, and wolves. There are nearly endless numbers of things to do in Yellowstone National Park, no matter which season you visit.

But perhaps the best season to go to Yellowstone is fall. The summer crowd in Yellowstone is nearly unbearable. Oftentimes, you have to wait hours to get a parking spot, especially near the more famous sites in the park, such as Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful.

Autumn Grizzly

During the fall, the park is considerably quieter, which allows visitors to really indulge in the gorgeous nature Yellowstone is known for.

Visitors also have a higher chance of staying in one of the lodges inside the park, which is often booked out months in advance during the summer.

And, because you are not visiting in peak season, the prices are cheaper, so you can spend a few extra days in Yellowstone without breaking your budget.

But the best reason to visit Yellowstone in the fall isn’t the smaller crowd. Fall is when the animals in the park are the most active.

Grizzly bears and black bears are known to be especially active during this time as they bulk up for winter and prepare for hibernation.

Fall is also rutting season, and visitors can see elks bugling at each other in competition. 

Bison calves are also born in the spring, so by fall, they are old enough to frolic around and provide some entertainment. Wolves are also more active during this time as they travel in packs looking for food. There is no better place to see wildlife in Yellowstone than Lamar Valley.

There are plenty of reasons why Yellowstone is one of the best national parks to visit in the fall, so don’t miss the chance if you have the opportunity to stop by America’s first national park!

Yosemite National Park

A hazy view of Half Dome in Yosemite
Be Right Back by Mary

By Be Right Back by Mary

Yosemite National Park is a national park that is located on the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in California. Close to San Francisco, it is a popular national park to visit year round but is especially stunning during fall. 

The best time to spend a couple of days in Yosemite during fall is up until late October. Though November is still technically fall, a number of areas of the park close at that time of the year. The weather conditions also change in November with snow starting to fall and tire chains required to enter the park. 

Fall is a great season to visit Yosemite for several reasons. During September and October, there are fewer crowds in the park making it easier to find parking and enjoy the park without being surrounded by hundreds of visitors.

Although the weather gets chilly and can be a bit uncertain at that time of the year, there are still plenty of sunny and crisp days that will make the park look even more stunning. 

A tall waterfall above orange trees and an orange field with a boardwalk
Unsplash/Jesse Callahan

But the best reason to visit Yosemite in the fall is to see the fall foliage. The park actually is home to a lot of evergreen trees that don’t change color. That said, it is also home to a lot of color-changing trees such as big-leaf maples and black oaks that turn yellow, orange, and red around mid-October.

From Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point, you’ll see lots of trees turning bright and golden yellow. These colors provide a nice contrast in comparison to the gray color of the top attractions of the park such as Sentinel and Half Dome!

On top of Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley, you can also see some fall foliage from some of the meadows and from Tunnel view. When arriving at the park, the rangers at the visitor center can help give you directions to see the best fall foliage on that specific day. 

Important Note: For construction, Glacier Point road will be entirely closed in 2022. In 2023, expect 30-minute delays.

Zion National Park

23 Best National Parks to Visit in Fall 1
Ashley/Create Your Own Road Show

By Ashley from Create Your Own Road Show

Of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks, Zion National Park is the crown jewel, capturing the most visitors and hosting the most impressive sights.

Carved by rivers, this natural wonder in southern Utah is home to towering sandstone cliffs that will leave you marveling at their enormity.

For hikers, Zion has no shortage of bucket-list hikes. Some of the top trails include Angels Landing, The Narrows, and The Subway. In addition to hiking trails, there are scenic drives and bus routes that allow you to take in the views in comfort. 

For many reasons, fall is the best time to visit Zion National Park: there are fewer crowds, milder temperatures, less competitive permits, and you can view fall color change.

The ideal time to visit is mid-October through November. As the second most visited National Park, Zion is no stranger to crowds. In the fall, there are far fewer people with visits down 14% from the summer. 

Zion National Park Autumn Sunset

Along with lower crowds comes less competition for permitted hikes like Angels Landing and The Subway. In November, The Subway, changed to a first-come, first-served permit system rather than a lottery.

If hiking The Narrows is on your list, there is less risk of flash flooding, which commonly shuts down this hiking route in the spring.

Temperatures are far milder in the fall which is a massive plus. Average temperatures in the summer can reach close to the 90s, which can be uncomfortable for hiking. From October to November, temperatures average between 60 and 70°F. 

One of the best parts of visiting in the fall is viewing the color change. The best place to see this is along the Virgin River where the leaves of the Cottonwood Trees turn a golden hue.

The Pa’rus Trail is a paved, accessible trail along the river that is a perfect stroll to take in the beauty of the changing season. Zion National Park should be on your bucket list any time of the year, but especially in the fall.

Pin Our Favorite National Parks to Visit in the Fall

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

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this post! We hope this has helped you plan a fall getaway to an incredible national park near you.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment!

I asked fellow travel writers to share what they believe are the best national parks to visit in fall. Whether you’re traveling in September, October, or November, there’s an incredible autumn national park getaway waiting for you.
I asked fellow travel writers to share what they believe are the best national parks to visit in fall. Whether you’re traveling in September, October, or November, there’s an incredible autumn national park getaway waiting for you.
I asked fellow travel writers to share what they believe are the best national parks to visit in fall. Whether you’re traveling in September, October, or November, there’s an incredible autumn national park getaway waiting for you.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.