Autumn is a wonderful time to experience all that national parks have to offer, from crisp weather for hiking to a beautiful display of color. We’ve compiled a short list of our must-see national parks and a few hiking suggestions for your autumn adventures. Be sure to pack layers and hot apple cider when exploring these 5 fall-favorite parks:
Great Smoky Mountains Park
There’s no other park we’d want to kick this list off with. An eastern national park, Great Smoky Mountains is blanketed with over 100 species of trees, many of them deciduous, that turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow during the fall months. While peak leaf peeping season is hard to predict, it often falls around mid-October to early November. Be sure to take a drive along route 441 through the park and pause at several overlooks for breathtaking views and crisp autumn air. Any hike in the park showcases the fall colors, but our favorites are Alum Cave, Oconaluftee River Trail, Grotto Falls, Abrams Falls, and the Appalachian Trail starting at Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Something magical happens in Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park—the changing of the season brings new colors to the aspen, turning them from green to orange, red, and a rich gold. Peak leaf peeping season for these trees starts around mid September, and we’d recommend the following hikes to make the most of it: Bierstadt Lake, Alberta Falls, Gem Lake, Fern Lake, and Upper Beaver Meadows. Keep your ears open to the sound of male elk bugling, as fall is rutting season. Remember to observe wildlife from a safe distance and never approach or feed them. Please note you’ll need a timed entry permit if you plan on visiting in the fall of 2023.
Shenandoah National Park
Similar to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park is home to expansive deciduous forests that boast dramatic fall foliage in late-September through much of October, though it is difficult to predict when peak leaf color will happen. Be sure to follow the park’s social media for updates on the changing colors. Drive along the famous Skyline Drive, a 105-mile, north-to-south road that spans the park, and stop along a few of the 76 pullouts for spectacular views of the valley below. Looking to stretch your feet? Try the Stony Man, Marys Rock, Dark Hollow Falls, or Hawksbill Summit. This is a very popular time to visit the park, particularly for leaf peepers, so be prepared for longer lines, booked campgrounds, and busy trailheads.
Grand Teton National Park
Fall in Grand Teton National Park is something every park lover should see in their lifetime. The bright fall foliage and chilly mountain air are the perfect combination for an unforgettable visit. If you’re looking for the best time to see peak leaf season in the park, visit late September through mid-October. Photography is a popular activity in the park, and here are a few spots that should be on your itinerary, along with these hikes: Schwabacher Landing, Oxbow Bend, Mormon Row Historic District, Phelps Lake Overlook, and Swan Lake Loop Trail. Be sure to wear layers, as the weather can vary greatly this time of year.
Acadia National Park
The final park on our list, Acadia National Park is an excellent spot to experience a New England autumn. Plan your trip for mid-September to mid-October for the best foliage viewing, and be prepared to be blown away! Hiking recommendations in the national park include: Beehive Loop, the Bubbles, Jesup Path, and Cadillac North Ridge Trail. Be sure to catch a sunrise if you’re camping in the park or staying in town at the popular Cadillac Mountain, but please note you’ll need a vehicle reservation to drive up. After all that hiking, grab a bite to eat in the lovely town of Bar Harbor and explore the area after a day of enjoying the foliage.
While these are some of our favorites, there are plenty of other great national parks, monuments, and forests to visit in the fall! Remember to follow all the rules and regulations when visiting these places, and be sure to leave them better than you found them!