6 National Parks to Visit This Fall
When is the best time to visit a national park? The answer: Fall. Once school is back in session and summer vacation is over, national parks become some of the best places to travel to. Not only have the crowds thinned out, but the weather tends to be more temperate, and costs for lodging, flights and car rentals drop as well.
All practicalities aside, the best reason to visit during the fall is of course for the scenery. Trees like maples, aspens, cottonwoods, oaks and dogwoods transform the landscape from shades of green to vibrant colors of red, yellow and orange.
Below, we’ve listed our top six national parks to visit this fall, but don’t worry if none of these are near you. The National Park Service has 61 designated national parks throughout the country. Click here to find one near you.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile stretch of road that runs through Virginia and North Carolina and coined America’s Favorite Drive by the National Park Service. With speed limits of 45 mph – and sometimes even slower – this scenic drive includes long-range vistas and up-close views of the rugged Appalachian Mountains.
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway you will find Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain peak in the eastern United States, Linville Gorge, the deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon, Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Rockies, and abundant biodiversity.
56 Roanoke River Pkwy., Roanoke, VA 24014. Plan your visit.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
If you love Aspen trees, the Rocky Mountains are going to rock your world. At higher elevations, the peak of fall colors known locally as the “gold rush” usually begins in late September and makes its way down to lower elevations in October.
The four best places to catch the changing colors here are Bear Lake Road, the Peak to Peak National Scenic Byway, the Cache la Poudre National Scenic Byway and the Colorado River Headwaters National Scenic Byway.
1000 Hwy. 36, Estes Park, CO 80517-8397. Plan your visit.
Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
No trip to Washington is complete without a visit to Mt. Rainier, but missing the incredible colors that emerge during the fall would be a downright travesty. Don’t believe me? Check out the live National Park Service webcams!
At a striking 14,410 feet above sea level, Mt. Rainer is an active volcano with glaciated peaks that spawn five major rivers and over 100 waterfalls. For the coveted and spectacular fall colors, head to Reflection Lakes, where the mirrored water creates twice the abundance of red, yellow, green and orange.
Pro tip: Whether you have one day or four days, Mt. Rainier has plenty to see. Check here for recommended itineraries.
70002 SR Hwy. 410 E, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Plan your visit.
Zion National Park, Utah
Situated in southern Utah, Zion National Park is home to massive sandstone cliffs that range in color from cream to pink to red! During the fall, Zion National Park is like a painting come to life. The reds are bright, the yellows are golden-mustard and the oranges pop against the landscape.
Zion’s 146,597 acres of pure heaven can seem daunting to navigate, but the shuttle system makes getting around super easy. There are only two lines, the first is the Springdale Shuttle, which has nine stops in the town of Springdale. The second is the Zion Canyon Loop Shuttle that has 10 stops beginning in Zion Canyon Village and ending at the Temple of Sinawava.
Whether you have three days or just a few hours, Zion during the fall will leave you in awe of nature’s majesty.
Pro tip: Get there early because parking is limited and fills up quickly. And if you only have time to see one thing, make sure it’s the Narrows. To get there, take the Zion Canyon Shuttle to the very last stop (Temple of Sinawava), walk one mile along the paved path and prepare to step into another world.
1101 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy., Hurricane, UT 84737. Plan your visit.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley is most famous for the 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire, which galvanized the environmental movement leading to the first Earth Day, the EPA’s establishment and the passage of the Clean Water Act.
As we have over 61 national parks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park rarely makes the top lists, but it earns a place here because the autumnal colors are out of this world. As native broad-leaf trees, which are influenced by the annual photoperiod (amount of daily sunlight) begin to see less sunlight, a transformation occurs. The weather turns cool, the nights become crisp and as a result, the sugar and red maple trees splash the park in red, yellow and orange colors.
Pro tip: The best place to find fall colors is at Brandywine Falls. The 65-foot falls are the embodiment of its name with cascading water dropping over rocks like wine spilling over tiered glasses. At the boardwalk, look closely at the Berea Sandstone. Careful inspection will reveal granules of sand dating back as far as 320 million years ago.
15610 Vaughn Rd., Brecksville, OH. Plan your visit.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Known as the crown jewel of the North Atlantic coast, Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the top 10 most visited parks in the United States. Established in 1916, Acadia National Park is 49,052 acres of woods that roll on down to meet with the Atlantic Ocean. As the easternmost territory in the United States, Acadia is also one of the first places to catch the sunrise.
As for those bright fall colors, look no further than Park Loop Road, a 27-mile stretch that begins at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and connects to lakes, mountains, forests and the famous rocky coast.
Pro tip: Skip the stress of traffic and limited parking by using the free Acadia Shuttles.
25 Visitor Center Rd., Bar Harbor, ME 04609. Plan your visit.
Whether you’re the type to stroll idly through nature and gently observe its natural wonders or the type to seek out the highest peak and hike your way to the top, each of these national treasures has an abundance of things to do and see.