8 of the Best National Parks to Visit in Fall
This fall, why not check out a National Park?
This year marks the park system’s 100th birthday. That’s all the more reason why you should plan a trip to one of them this year. Fall is a great time to travel— summer travel season has come to an end, the kids are back in school and you’ll typically find great travel deals reflecting that. Not sure which are the best national parks to visit in fall? Read on!
Yosemite/Redwood National Parks
Even though neither park really explodes with fall colors, autumn is a great time to visit these northern California spots. Why? They’re less crowded. That’s good news for people who like to experience nature without traffic jams and tons of other people photobombing your selfies. All areas of Yosemite remain open through October (sometimes November). Redwood National Park is open year-round, however, it does rain quite a bit October – April, so dress accordingly. If you have a week, it might be fun to hit up both with a stop in wine country or San Francisco in between.
Acadia National Park
As a born-and-bred northeasterner, I love New England in the fall. One of the best spots for color has to be Acadia’s National Park. If you’re looking for a fun hike, try Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the east coast. You’ll get sweeping views of the coastline as well as the bold tree tops. Forget your hiking boots? No problem, you can drive almost all the way to the summit. In both fall and spring, early birds arrive (with coffee in-hand) to witness the nation’s “fist sunrise.” Fall foliage and sunrise means getting a two birds with one stone natural beauty fix! The state of Maine knows people are serious about their fall color viewing, so they’ve created an official fall foliage website. How great is that?
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Just a short drive from both Akron and Cleveland, Cuyahoga National Park feels a world away from the city. In autumn, you’ll see brilliant sugar maple reds and brown oaks along roads and hiking trails. The Brandywine Gorge Trail is one of the best places to soak up the park’s natural beauty. Hike to the 65-foot Brandywine Falls for spectacular views. Not so into hiking? Hop aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic railroad, which runs in both summer and fall.
Shenandoah/Great Smoky Mountain National Parks
Fall marks one of the post popular times to visit both of these spectacular parks. It’s easy to see why—it’s vibrant sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgums, red maples and hickories as far as the eye can see. My advice is to start out at one, then drive the Blue Ridge Parkway to the other. You’ll experience all the fall colors, spectacular views and can even plan a night or two in Asheville—one of my favorite cities. The Blue Ridge Parkway Association offers excellent advice on things to do along the route, as well as tips for accommodations, adventure activities, food recommendations and more.
Grand Teton National Park
When I see photos of the Grand Tetons in the fall, I can’t help but think of PBS artist Bob Ross. Fiery fall colors set against the majestic Grand Tetons, all reflected in a crystal-clear lake—it’s exactly what I’d picture good ol’ Bob painting. Venture there mid-October for the full color spectrum. You’re also likely to see elk spar, hear their mating “bugle” (funny—I didn’t know it was called that!), and bears looking for their last supper before their long slumber. Store your food appropriately, you don’t want that meal to be you! Be sure to spend some time in Jackson, a place I adore and can’t wait to get back to. Here’s a few of my favorite stops in that western town.
Olympic National Park
When you think fall, you probably think colors. At Olympic National Park, autumn means something else: salmon spawning season. Look on as the Coho salmon leap up the Sol Duc and Quillayute rivers—it’s like a real-life IMAX movie! Coho leave the Pacific for the Sol Duc River, leaping over cascades en route to their spawning grounds. According to the National Parks Service, the best viewing locations include the Salmon Cascades in the Sol Duc River in October, and the small tributary of the Hoh River, accessed by the Hoh Visitor Center nature trail in November and December.
What do you think are the best national parks to visit in fall?
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CC photos: Marvina Munch/USFWS; Paul VanDerWerf; Jen Goellnitz; Dave Hensley
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