Fall is often one of the best seasons to visit national parks throughout the United States. With school back in session and the busy holiday season over, you’re more likely to find solitude even in the most popular national parks. Additionally, many national parks display stunning fall colors, and the crisp, cool weather makes for great hiking, backpacking, and car camping.
We’ve compiled a list of the best leaf-gazing national parks to visit during the fall season—from Alaska to Tennessee—where the colors are about to explode. So get the camera ready and the car packed for a national park trip in the most beautiful season of the year.
As it goes on all the destinations we share, thank you practice good track etiquette and remember to leave no trace. This means that you must pack out all your rubbish, have respect for others on the trail and follow the established rules.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Location: North Carolina/Tennessee
- Best time to visit in autumn: mid September – early November
Of all the national parks to visit in autumn are Great Smoky Mountains win our hearts for the best fall foliage. With some of the oldest and largest old-growth forests in the country, you’ll see carpets of red, orange and yellow in the rolling mountains as far as the eye can see. At over 4,000 feet, fall colors begin to change in the Smokies sometime in late September. At that elevation, the climate more closely mimics that of New England, and as the leaves begin to change at the top, the colors slowly come down the mountainside until early November.
Autumn is the perfect time to visit such places Blue Ridge Parkway, Clingman’s Dome, Newfound Gap Overlook, Deep Creek Loop and Ramsey Cascades (see our trail guide here).
>> Read next: Smoky Mountains Autumn Travel Guide
Rocky Mountain National Park
- Location: Colorado
- Best time to visit in autumn: September
Capturing the color change on Colorado’s aspens almost beats out sunny summer days on the trail or a pow day at the mountain. In the fall season, Rocky Mountain National Park turns golden thanks to the aspens, and the rest of the tundra region also explodes with autumn colors. Peak typically occurs sometime in late September, when you’ll enjoy an explosion of color with a backdrop of the snow-capped Rockies.
At lower elevations, you can get away with a few warm layers, but be sure to keep an eye on the weather in the alpine, when snow, frost, or even hail can surprise hikers and other parkgoers.
Bear Lake, Sprague Lake and Trail Ridge Road are popular things to do in fall in the Rockies (and you can check out our favorite Rocky Mountain hikes here!).
>> Read next: Tips for visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Location: Ohio
- Best time to visit in autumn: late September – November
Northeast Ohio Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the best national parks to visit during the fall season when the sugar maples have turned bright red and the sassafrass is a perfect shade of deep, burnt orange. This national park is easily accessible from Cleveland, Ohio and makes the perfect day trip from the city.
Hike the famous Brandywine Gorge Trail to Brandywine Falls for great photo ops and a full fall color spectrum, and see Ledges Trail to unique rock formations.
>> Read next: What to bring on hikes in autumn
Grand Teton National Park
- Location: Wyoming
- Best time to visit in autumn: September – October
One of our favorite national parks to visit during the fall is Grand Teton National Park. Although it is difficult to predict exactly when peak leaf-peeping time will occur due to various climate factors, the Tetons are usually bursting with color from September through October.
During this season, the cockerel will bugle and even spar with each other to show their dominance. Capturing this mating ritual from a safe distance (at least 100 feet) is an unforgettable experience.
Be sure to check out Delta Lake, Jenny Lake, Snake River Overlook, Inspiration Pointand many of the pull-offs throughout the park.
>> Read next: 7-Day Yellowstone & Grand Teton Road Trip Itinerary
Shenandoah National Park
- Location: Virginia
- Best time to visit in autumn: September – November
It’s no surprise that the fall season is the best time to visit Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. From the months of September through November, Shenandoah’s lush and varied landscape bursts with color. Follow Skyline Drive through the park to see epic fall foliage. If you are ready for a long day trip, Old Rag Mountain is a must.
PS. if you’re traveling with a dog, Shenandoah is one of them most dog-friendly national parkswith over 480 miles worth of scenic hiking trails for your pup to join.
Acadia National Park
- Location: Maine
- Best time to visit in autumn: mid September – October
New England is the leaf-watching capital of North America, which makes Maine’s Acadia National Park the crown jewel of this list of the best national parks to visit in the fall. Primetime fall foliage in Acadia hits around mid-to-late September and continues through October.
Go up to Mount Desert Island to see the colors Cadillac Mountain for sunrise panoramic views, and Jordan Pond for an afternoon picnic.
>> Read next: Best things to do in Acadia National Park
Denali National Park and Preserve
- Location: Alaska
- Best time to visit in autumn: August September
Some of the best fall colors in the west are found far up north Denali National Park. The area around Denali experiences an early cold snap that occurs in August, providing a crisp climate that heralds a beautiful display of foliage.
Autumn is also a great time to see wildlife such as elk and reindeer preparing for winter in the tundra and lowlands – from a safe distance of course.
To catch a glimpse of both fall colors and wildlife, get here before September is over, as fall in Alaska moves quickly!
>> Read next: Alaska National Park Road Trip Itinerary
Yosemite National Park
- Location: California
- Best time to visit in autumn: end of September – mid-October
While you won’t see many of the famous ones Yosemite National Park waterfalls during the fall, it is still one of the best seasons to visit the park with fewer crowds and perfect hiking weather. Peak usually occurs sometime in late September or early October, although it’s important to note that Yosemite has mostly evergreen trees, so don’t expect blooming fall foliage. Tunnel View and Glacier Point are two must-see views during the fall, and top Yosemite hikes include Four Mile Trail, Half Dome and Taft Point.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Location: Texas
- Best time to visit in autumn: mid October – mid November
A national park in Texas might not be an obvious choice for seeing fall colors, but that’s what makes it even better! Visit Guadalupe National Park’s McKittrick Canyon for some spectacular fall foliage that contrasts with the arid desert landscape Big Bend National Park in West Texas.
For a glimpse of Texas’ best display of fall foliage, hike the 4.8-mile out-and-back McKittrick Canyon Trails that are perfect for a leisurely afternoon leaf-gazing, or make a full day of it with the 11-mile ridgeline hike for stunning canyon views.
Mount Rainier National Park
- Location: Washington
- Best time to visit in autumn: mid-September – mid-October
Drop in Mount Rainier National Park is an incredibly scenic place to be. Evergreen conifers, golden yellow larch and crimson huckleberries light up the region with fall colors to make every hike a memorable experience.
Need a few ideas? Check out Skyline Trail, Shriner’s Peakor Indian Henry’s via Kautz Creek to name a few our favorite Mt. Rainy walks.
Looking for more Fall National Park travel ideas?
We love a good fall leafy walk, but if you’re not necessarily choosing a park for its fall colors, here are a few great national parks to consider visiting: