The arrival of fall doesn’t just mean that we’re one step closer to finally skiing. The arrival of fall means that it’s prime National Park season. National Parks are obviously glorious destinations any time of the year, but there are numerous reasons why fall is easily the best time to visit our National Parks.
Less crowds. Anyone who’s visited a well-known National Park during the summer season knows exactly what I’m talking about. Every year, there are stories of tourists both foreign and domestic doing mind-bogglingly dumb stuff. It’s difficult to fully enjoy a National Park when there’s busloads of oblivious tourists constantly disrupting your experience. From petting dangerous wildlife to damaging the environment for a photo, the worst of the worst seem to come out of hibernation during summer.
The moderate temperatures. Summers in many National Parks can be miserably hot, and winters in many National Parks can be brutally cold. You can’t really appreciate sweeping vistas when you’re focused on keeping your fingers intact or desperately trying to find the closest shade. Fall finds the perfect balance between the two extremes in temperatures.
Fall foliage. No explanation needed. Colorful fall foliage is typically associated with the East Coast, and rightfully so, but in the opinion of the author, there’s almost nothing prettier than an Aspen tree turning gold. Fall foliage can be found anywhere, not just the East Coast.
Without further ado, here are some of the best National Parks to visit during this glorious time of the year.
1. Death Valley National Park, California
Summer is pretty much a no-go in Death Valley. Death Valley is literally the hottest place on earth, and with temperatures that consistently reach above 120 degrees, you really can’t do much in the park. The NPS doesn’t offer guided tours until late October. It’s called Death Valley for a reason. Fall, however, “opens up” the park. Temperatures in November rarely get above 80 degrees, and since it’s a desert, it can even get quite chilly at night. One of the cooler things to do in Death Valley is to visit the Mesquite Flat Dunes. The dunes reach up to 100 feet in height and wandering around the dunes truly give you an other-worldly experience. You’ve probably already seen the dunes, they were featured in the Star Wars movie franchise. Since Death Valley is flanked by mountain ranges that reach up to 11,000 feet, it’s not uncommon for visitors in the Fall to experience the trippy sight of snow in the backdrop of sand dunes. e
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennesee/North Carolina
Many people are surprised to find out that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most-visited National Park, nearly doubling the visitation numbers of the Grand Canyon. This is in part due to the fact that the GSMNP is in close proximity to the major population centers of the East/South, making it much easier to access than more remote National Parks in the west. But it isn’t just close proximity that makes the park so popular, it’s truly one of the best places in the country to view fall colors. Due to this fact, visitation peaks in the fall, specifically October. But regardless of the crowds, the park is large enough to find solitary. The vibrant fall foliage stretches in every direction, creating views that can’t be found anywhere out west.
3. Acadia National Park, Maine
This is a list about fall, so of course New England has to be listed. Tucked away in the country’s top corner, Maine’s Acadia National Park is hard to get to, but worth the trip. Featuring miles of coastline, lakes, rolling mountains, and authentic Maine charm, Acadia is one of the hidden gems in America’s National Park system. Hiking the various jutting granite peaks around the National Park provide some of the best coastal views on the East Coast, especially when paired with vistas of yellowing Birches. Acadia is one of the smaller National Parks in America, but exploring the rocky Maine shoreline with a backdrop of vibrant foliage is an authentic experience that can’t really be matched anywhere else. For those who are willing to wake up early, the park is so far East that hiking Cadillac Mountain before 6 AM will reward you with views of the very first sunlight to hit the continental United States.
4. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The Grand Tetons of Wyoming offer neck-craning views regardless of the season. Seeing the massive peaks abruptly rise out the plains creates a feeling that you’re in Alaska rather than the mainland United States. There’s a good argument to be made that the park is prettiest during Winter due to the glittering snow draping the range, but winter brings about sub-zero temperatures and deep snow. Fall will grant you the same views of snow-covered peaks, but without the inconveniences of biting temperatures and cloud-obstructed views. The Snake River provides one of the best photographic opportunities in the country.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Aspen trees alone make visiting this park worth it. The Quaking Aspen tree is easily one of the prettiest trees in the world, and each season offers its own unique beauty. In the summer, the rustling leaves will create a mesmerizing effect. In winter, the white bark pairs perfectly with freshly fallen snow. But in fall, the tree will develop vibrant colors that compete with anything New England has to offer. Walking through a cluster of yellow Aspens is the epitome of experiencing fall. Besides the trees, Rocky Mountain National Park offers views of snow-draped mountains and a convenient location in proximity to early-season skiing.