15 US National Parks You Need to Visit This Fall!

Best US Parks to visit in the fall

As a continuation of last week’s 20 of the Best National Parks around the World to Visit in Fall, I bring you another 15, all in the US! My country is diverse and incredibly beautiful and our national parks system do a wonderful job at making this scenery accessible. Enjoy this list of some of our best parks to visit in the fall!

Denali National Park, Alaska

by Natasha of Om Shanti Adventure

If you think Alaska is magical in the summer, it’s absolutely enchanting during autumn. Fall colors abound, mountains are dusted with snow, and wildlife is preparing for a brutally cold winter. It’s a fantastic time to visit Denali National Park. One of the most remote National Parks in America, Denali is located deep in Alaska and covers over 6 million acres!

Summer is the most active time for visitors in Denali, which is one of the reasons why autumn is ideal! Fewer visitors means considerably less traffic. That leads to more opportunity to see bears, moose, and wolves without them being scared off by lots of vehicles. 

As there’s no bus service during the fall, a rental car is necessary to get to the park. That’s actually a good thing as you’ll have greater flexibility to pull over for photos and wildlife viewing. You can even plan to camp overnight and possibly see the Northern Lights.

There’s plenty to do in Denali during autumn, from backpacking and hiking to camping or just enjoying the views. In September there’s the Road Lottery, where 1600 winners are selected to drive the entire length of Denali’s park road – all 92 miles as long as the weather cooperates.

If you’re not one of the lucky winners, or visit after the Road Lottery is finished, you can still drive to Teklanika River at Mile 30, weather permitting. Weather conditions vary drastically and can change by the hour, so plan accordingly and don’t forget to bring a good quality jacket, hat, gloves!

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

by Shobha of Just Go Places

Visiting the Grand Canyon in fall

We visited the Grand Canyon National Park at the end of October because our children had half-term break from school. The evenings did get cold but the days were crisp and dry. in Autumn there are also less people in the park because most American families have gone back to school. 
The weather in October at the Grand Canyon was perfect for hiking.  We took the Bright Angel Trail which is easy to reach from the village area. The trail is a dirt road and a moderate hike. We went to the Mile and a Half Rest House for amazing views and it was great to get a little of the way into the Grand Canyon. As the name suggests, getting down to that first rest house and back to the rim will be a 3 mile hike round trip. The rest house is fairly basic and remember to take water with you. 
We did not hike all the way down to the Colorado River. It is inadvisable to hike to the river and back on a day trip because of the length and steepness of the trail. You need camping permits to stay overnight in the Grand Canyon. We were with people who were able to get the camping permits last minute as well because it wasn’t peak season in the park. Usually you need to apply well in advance to get camping permits. After our initial hike, my son is now enthusiastic about getting camping permits and hiking all the way to the river to stay overnight.
We were able to get accommodation in the Grand Canyon National Park pretty easily and fairly last minute. Staying in the national park itself allowed us to see both the sunrise and the sunset in the Grand Canyon which truly were spectacular. We were even able to get the teens to get up for an early for a sunrise around 6 AM but only because we were staying within the park. The sunrise and sunset were truly a highlight and I truly would not be able to tell you which one was better!

Death Valley National Park, California

by Wendy of Empty Nesters Hit the Road

fall in death Valley California

After the blazing hot heat of summer subsides, a visit to Death Valley National Park is in order. This desert terrain comprises the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the United States. This may not sound appealing at first, but a closer look is needed. The geology of Death Valley offers some of the most unique scenery anywhere in the world. From Zabriskie Point to Artists Palette and Badwater Basin to Devil’s Golf Course, this place is unlike any other national park.

One of the most popular activities in the park is hiking. There are dozens of trails for hikers of all experience levels. Our personal favorite is Golden Canyon, which might just be one of the best hikes in California. Due to the dryness and heat of this park it’s imperative to bring plenty of water for all activities, especially hiking.

For non-hikers, just driving through the park and appreciating all the scenic outlooks is quite enjoyable. For photographers, Death Valley offers amazing views at sunrise and sunset.

Accommodations in the park include hotels and campgrounds. The main Visitor’s Center is located at Furnace Creek and is an ideal place to learn more about the park or get some guidance on hiking trails.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

by Michelle of The Wandering Queen

The best US National Parks to visit in the aurtum

One of the best national parks to visit in the Fall is Joshua Tree. The first reason is the crowds. There are fewer people than the busy Spring Time. It is easier to grab a spot at the much sought after campsite “Hidden Valley.” The second reason is the weather. It is still a little too hot in September, but October and November are the best months of the year to visit Joshua Tree National Park. The temperature is perfect and makes it more comfortable to explore this unique park. The fresh, crisp air lets you climb, hike, and take pictures of these beautiful trees without having to worry about overheating.

If you’re a photographer, you’ll love the way the golden light illuminates the impressive and outstanding boulders. Furthermore, Joshua Tree hosts an annual music festival in the fall called “Joshua Tree Music Festival” outside of the national park.

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park in the fall is by far, the absolute best time to visit this magnificent national park.

Yosemite National Park, California

by Catherine D’Cruz from We Go With Kids

El Capitan
Yosemite National Park is a a wonderful Fall location.  Our family visited Yosemite with kids in October when the Park was relatively quiet, but the weather was perfect for hiking – not to hot, and not to cold.  It’s a bit of a drive from the front gate to Yosemite Village, but the views are spectacular.  We stopped just past the  Wawona Tunnel to get a closer look at the exquisite panorama of El Capitan and Half Dome, and the family picture we took is still on display in our family room.
While parking in Yosemite Valley can be challenging during the Summer months, we had no problems finding a spot and getting on the next shuttle.  With two young boys, we opted for easier hikes to Bridalveil Falls and Mirror Lake.  We also participated in a Junior Ranger program, and our boys earned badges.  We finished off the day watching the sunset over Half Dome from Glacier Point.
Another can’t miss attractions include the giant sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove near Yosemite’s entrance.  “Giant” is truly an understatement as these trees can reach over 300 feet tall and 25 feet in diameter.  The hike to see Mariposa Grove’s most famous trees, Grizzy Giant and California Tunnel Tree, is a two-mile loop that was easily doable for our family.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

by Jessica of Unearth the Voyage

One of the best National Parks in the United States to visit in Autumn has got to be Rocky Mountain National Park. There are many reasons why you should visit in the fall, but the first and best reason to visit in the fall is to see the gorgeous aspen trees light up the entire park in a bright golden-yellow color. Besides gorgeous scenery and fall colors, September is a great time to see hundreds of elk, as they migrate down from the high mountaintops to find a mate for the winter.

This area of Colorado also experiences ideal weather for hiking during this time, as temperatures are cool and there is minimal rain. It can get quite crowded in Rocky Mountain during this time as it is the prime season, so if you are looking for a reprieve from the crowds we recommend checking out Little Horseshoe Park area as many people stay in the more famous areas of the park. In this area, you can hike through a large meadow where you can view the beautiful aspens changing colors as well as elk grazing. There are also many other awesome hiking trails through Rocky Mountain National Park that are worth checking out during your visit!

Delaware Water Gap, Delaware 

by Sue of Travel for Life Now

Delaware in fall

If you like waterfalls, hiking and wonderful fall scenery, the Delaware Water Gap is the place to be in the fall. Stretching from New Jersey into northeast Pennsylvania, the park can be reached from many places in both states.

If you like waterfalls, the Milford, Pennsylvania area is a good place to start. There are easy hikes to waterfalls like the Raymondskill Waterfall, Bushkill Falls and Dingman’s Falls. Just over the border in New Jersey, you’ll find Buttermilk Falls. At 150 feet over three sections, Raymondskill is the largest waterfall in Pennsylvania. If waterfalls are not your thing, the Milford Knob Trail (3.5 miles) offers a stunning view of the Delaware River from the top. You can also hike or mountain bike alongside the Delaware River on the 33 mile long McDade Trail. If you are interested in being on the Delaware, there are excellent spots for canoeing, kayaking and fishing.

After enjoying the fall colors, stop by the nearby town of Milford to eat in one of the local restaurants or check out the antique and boutique shops. There are several hotels and B&Bs in town.

Milford is a 90 minute drive from New York City, a 2 ½ hour drive from Philadelphia and about 4 hours from Boston. If you’re a baseball fan and love the fall, consider doing the very scenic 2 hour drive to see the fall colors in Cooperstown.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

by Halef and Michael of The Round The World Guys

Fall US National Parks

Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most isolated US National Parks, some 70 miles southwest off of Key West. It is a series of islands in the Gulf of Mexico. While it could be challenging and expensive to get here, you’ll land at some of the best beaches in the State of Florida and the United States.

The white sand beach of Dry Tortugas is pristine – the National Park Service regulates the number of visitors who come here every year. In addition to the beach activities and Fort Jefferson guided tour, Dry Tortugas National Park offers several kayaking programs, as well as snorkeling the surrounding coral reef systems.

Camping in Dry Tortugas is highly recommended, and the camping ground is the only option to stay overnight on the island. The National Park Service offers a very limited number of these primitive camping spots, so plan accordingly. There will be no place to get food, no shower facilities, cell connections, or even electricity. During the summer months, it can be extremely hot to stay here overnight.

Spring and Fall seasons are the best times to visit Dry Tortugas, as summer months are almost unbearable to do too much activities other than on the beach. There are migration of birds from the north that lives around these waters of Dry Tortugas. However, keep in mind that Hurricane season start from June, all the way till November, and it may affect your travel plan to pretty much everywhere in Florida.

Acadia National Park, Maine

what to do in Acadia National Park Best sunsets in Acadia National Park
Sunset in Acadia National Park.

Pristine pine forests settled along both Maine’s rocky coastline and white sand beaches make this park a place you need to visit. Take away the crowds of summer and add in the famous New England fall foliage and you can see why Acadia is best seen in the fall. 

While in Acadia, you can have a famous popover at the Jordan Pond House, see the US’ first rays of sunlight or walk over to an island on land that is underwater most of the time. 

There are so many hiking options to choose from both easy and very challenging and don’t forget to have some fresh lobster.

For more information, read my Family-Friendly Three-Day Guide to Acadia National Park.

Crater Lake, Oregon

by John Paul of The Hangry Backpacker

Fall Visit to Crater Lake National Park Oregon

Crater Lake is the only U.S. National Park in the State of Oregon. Although Oregon is full of beautiful nature, Crater Lake’s distinction as a National Park – and, above all, the stunning scene on display – draws considerably more attention than other attractions in the state. 

Crater Lake is truly a place where pictures cannot adequately justify the beauty. In person, the lake is far larger than most visitors realize. The road around the crater rim is more than thirty miles long. And the water at the lake is a deep blue like nowhere else on Earth.

Visiting Crater Lake National Park takes some effort. The remote location makes access difficult for passersby. The location, in the Cascade Range, makes the park inaccessible for much of the year. The park receives dozens of feet of snow each year, and many of the roads are closed during this time. 

Autumn is a great time to visit Crater Lake. Snow begins to fall in early Autumn, but levels are not to the point where access is impractical. With a small window of good weather, Summer receives the bulk of visitors. With smaller crowds and decent weather, Autumn is the ideal time to visit Crater Lake National Park.

Arches National Park, Utah

by Jill at Lets Travel Family

US National Parks to Visit in Autumn

With its trails and scenic views, Arches National Park is definitely a National Park one that you shouldn’t miss! Home to more than 2,000 sandstone arches in eastern Utah, Arches has a lot to offer. As a full time traveling family that’s visited twice, we can tell you that you won’t run out of things to do in Arches National Park even if you’re staying for a few weeks. Hiking trails, campsites, stargazing, photographing the giant Arches, you name it! The park offers a wide variety of activities that can be fun for both kids and adults. You can pick from many ranger-led programs or even participate in the junior ranger program.

We recommend that you go to the visitor center first to watch an introductory video and start planning out your time in Arches. Use the bathrooms and fill up your water bottles here before you venture into the park. For hikers, the park has over 15 trails ranging from easy ones that may take 10 minutes to an hour all the way to difficult trails that can take 4 hours. Our kids loved the short hike towards the Sand Dune Arch and it’s a good area to get some shade. On the other hand, my husband and 10-year-old son enjoyed a long hike to the Double O Arch!

If you don’t like waking up early, then you can bike your way through the arches. Biking is allowed inside the park as long as you don’t go off-road but beware of the long lines at the entrance during peak seasons. If you want to take the difficulty up a notch, you can try a backpacking experience which requires you to find your own route. BUT extra precautions are needed and permits required.

What better ending is there for your trip other than a stargazing experience? With the area’s dark skies, staring at the stars sounds like the perfect plan. The best time to visit Arches National Park is either Spring or Autumn due to the hot desert sun in the summer and the snow in the winter. If you visit in the Fall, then you have shorter days and a better opportunity to take in the beautiful night sky as well.

With Arches National Park being only 10 minutes outside of Moab, Utah, there are so many other fun things to do in the area during a visit that you’re bound to find fun things to do for just about anyone.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

by Maggie of Pink Caddy Travelogue

Visiting Shenandoah National Park in fall

Looking for beautiful fall colors? Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is where you need to go! Shenandoah is the East Coast’s playground. It is only 50 miles from Washington D.C., and an easy weekend trip from New York and Philadelphia. With over 200,000 acres of protected wilderness, it’s the perfect escape for families, couples and solo travelers.

While Shenandoah is beautiful year-round, it’s most famous for the bright hues of orange, red, and yellow during peak leaf-changing season in the Fall. In October and November, the mountain slopes are transformed from their normal green to every shade of autumn foliage. The air is crisp and the normal Virginia humidity levels are low. Hikers can enjoy the fall colors from any of the park’s 500+ miles of trails. Others can cruise along the famous Skyline Drive, which travels along the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and take in the park’s beauty from the comfort of their car. Either way, Shenandoah is the perfect place to enjoy the leaf-changing season.

If you’re looking for a Fall vacation, be sure to check out Shenandoah National Park.For more, visit Shenandoah National Park for First-Time Visitors.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

by Erika at Erika’s Travels
Washington in fall

Mount Rainier National Park lies 85 miles southeast of Seattle, in the U.S. state of Washington. Featuring the tallest mountain in the Pacific Northwest and miles upon miles of woodland trails, the national park is a spectacular place to visit. 

Mount Rainier National Park was founded in 1899, making it one of the oldest national parks in the country. The park’s main feature is an active volcano that last erupted in 1894. It is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, and certainly one of its most iconic. 

Due to Mount Rainier’s high altitude and snowy conditions, roads leading up to the park are often closed in winter and spring. In summer, when some of the roads and hiking trails begin to open for the season, the mountain showcases flower-carpeted meadows. Late summer is one of the most beautiful times to visit Mount Rainier and the warm weather continues throughout much of Autumn. 

By early autumn, when most of the snow around the base of the mountain has melted, the park is a wonderland for hikers and backpackers.  

Mount Rainier’s forest-covered foothills contain numerous hiking trails that pass by alpine meadows and thundering waterfalls. Those seeking a mid-length backpacking trip can attempt the famous 93-mile Wonderland Trail. Alternatively, experienced intrepid climbers can attempt to summit the mountain’s snow-capped peak.

With its spectacular views, abundant hiking trails and diverse topography, Mount Rainier National Park is a fantastic autumn escape for hikers, photographers and outdoor-lovers. 

Olympia National Park, Washington

by Catherine of Traveling with the Littles

We visited Olympic National Park in Autumn, and it was stunning.  Fall foliage, exotic rainforests, abundant wildlife, endless beaches- Olympic National Park is vast and has it all. 

There are three main ‘parts’ to Olympic National Park.  The most visited area (and probably your starting point) is the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center area.  Next is the Hoh Rain Forest, located on the southwest side of the park.  And lastly are the Pacific Beaches, located on the west side of Washington State, on the edge of the United States. 

Full disclosure, the rainy season in Olympic runs from October – June, so be prepared for rain.  We visited in late September and didn’t have a problem with the rain.  The two best reasons for visiting Olympic in the fall are to see the fall foliage and to see the waterfalls.  You’ll probably catch glimpses of fall foliage everywhere, but our favorites were the Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest, and the drive up to the Hurricane Ridge visitor’s center. 

By late summer most waterfalls have lost their thunder (so to speak), but with the rains, the powerful waterfalls return. They are a sight to behold, and given that a good part of Olympic is rain forest you have good canopy cover to protect you from the rain. 

A few other things that I’d recommend if you have time- catch an autumn Pacific storm out near La Push, watch the salmon spawn, and hear the Elk perform their annual mating rituals.  Visiting the Pacific beaches near La Push is a must, storm or no storm! 

Yellowstone, Wyoming

by Sean of LivingoutLau 

A fall visit to Yellowstone, Wyoming

Come to Yellowstone National Park in the autumn for an unique experience. As one of the most popular and touristic national park in the entire world, Yellowstone National Park gets about 6 million visitors a year. The majority of those visitors come during summer, leaving the national park extremely packed. However, when autumn comes, the summer crowd has died down. Summer vacation is over, kids are back to school, and Yellowstone National Park feels like its a different place. Places like the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Mammoth Hot Springs that were jammed with tourists are now quiet and tranquil.

Aside from all the tourists, come in autumn to see the foliage turn into a lovely autumn color. Animals are most active around autumn as well. In general, autumn is the season for migration. This means that many animals such as elks, bisons, and others are moving from high elevation to the lower elevated parts of the park to endure winter. For elks and bisons, autumn is also rutting, or mating season. Elks and bison will let out high- and low- pitched sounds to attract the females. It is also not uncommon to see males fight to compete for the females. Bears in the park are also much active because they are preparing for hibernating. Autumn is the time when they are out foraging nuts and berries to prepare for their winter hibernation.

I hope this list has inspired you to start planning your autumn trips now! If you want more information about travelling US National Parks off-season read The Beauty of US National Parks Off-Season.

Which is your favorite US National Park to visit in fall? Please let me know in the comments.

 

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