We’re going to let you in on a little secret: to avoid the crowds and see the varied scenery of the United States at its very best, pay a visit to national parks in the fall. You can’t beat the autumn months for beautifully colourful foliage, mild weather, and great hiking on quiet trails.
We’ve picked out six national parks in the US that are at their most spectacular during fall, so whether you can squeeze in one, two, or even three during the next few months, you can be sure that you’re getting a glimpse of some of the best vistas the country has to offer. Is there any better way to enjoy the great outdoors and really connect with nature?
Travel guidelines are continually changing, so be sure to check with any attractions or destinations for their specific safety measures prior to visiting.
1. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park in Montana is fantastic in fall. The weather is mild and the wide-open spaces of the park are far quieter than in the summer months, meaning that it can feel like you have the place all to yourself.
Don’t miss a drive along the incredible Going-to-the-Sun Road, which remains open in full until October 19th, after which the closure date will move and the road is open for pedestrians and cyclists. Walking or cycling along this iconic road is an opportunity you’d never get in the summer months, so make the most of it!
Wildlife is active during fall as bears, elk, and mountain goats make their preparations for winter, so you’re likely to get lucky if you’re keen on wildlife spotting. And of course, the fall colours make for great photo opportunities. The larch trees turn golden in mid-October — for the best views and photos, head to Highway 2 around the southern boundary of Glacier.
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This sprawling national park straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Although July is the busiest month for visitors, it’s arguably at its best in the fall months when the trees change colour to create a fabulous vista of gold and red.
Early to mid-October are the best times to catch the colours above 4,000 feet — drive the Clingmans Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Foothills Parkway to experience the very best of the fall colour palette.
Lower elevations usually change colours between mid-October and early November, where you’ll be treated to red maples, scarlet oaks, and sugar maples on deliciously quiet trails.
3. Acadia National Park
New England does fall like nowhere else, so you’re in for a treat if you can take a trip out to Acadia National Park in Maine.
Enjoy a crisp early-morning hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the Eastern seaboard, for a great view of some of the state’s best autumnal colours.
4. Mount Rainier National Park
Most people come to Mount Rainier in Washington for the beautiful wildflowers covering the meadows of Paradise. Fall offers equally stunning scenery, though, with the added benefit of fewer tourists, meaning you’ll have the wide-open spaces practically all to yourself.
As well as hiking on isolated trails (both high and low-level hikes are open year-round, including the flat Snookum Falls Trail and more strenuous Skyline Trail), you can enjoy harvesting the best of the park’s crops.
Pick mushrooms for free with a permit, or head to the Pacific Crest Trail for the best huckleberry-picking spots (no permit required).
5. Arches National Park
Avoid the summer heat and visit this popular Utah national park in fall instead. Believe us, the three-mile hike to the Delicate Arch is far less of a slog in fall when the weather is a bit cooler!
In October, the daytime highs reach 71°F (21°C), and the lowest temperatures are in the low 40s (4°C). By November, it’s much cooler, with highs of around 55°F (12°C) and lows in the high 20s (-2°C).
Make sure to spend a night or two in the park to experience some of the clearest skies and best stargazing you’re ever likely to see. There’s not much that puts life into perspective more than gazing up at a star-filled sky — and isn’t that just what we all need this year? Check out the Windows area of the park and Balanced Rock for the best photo opportunities.
6. Cuyahoga National Park
It might not be one of the big-name national parks, but Cuyahoga in Ohio is a hidden gem, particularly during the fall months. There’s no massive peaks or iconic natural features that bring the masses in from far and wide, but that’s no bad thing. It means that the trails are peaceful, and you can spend as much time as you like admiring the beautiful fall colours.
Every corner of this park transforms into a golden or reddish hue during October or November for scenery that will take your breath away. Experience the solitude of Buttermilk Falls, or hike the Brandywine Gorge Trails to see the falling leaves reflected in the water.
Whichever national park you decide to head to this fall, you’re in for a treat. Go for a day, a long weekend, or even a week and soak up the experience as you fall in love with nature all over again. From quiet trails to mild temperatures, the national parks in fall offer everything you need to get away from it all.