Looking to take a fall national park trip? Fall can be the perfect time to enjoy the beautiful weather and scenic fall foliage. Check out this guide to find out our top picks for the best national parks to visit in the fall.
Fall is just the perfect time to take a national park trip. The summer crowds have settled down, the leaves are starting to change, and the weather couldn’t be more perfect for outdoor activities.
Our family travels full-time and has spent fall in many spectacular places. Here are our favorites for a fall national parks visit.
Acadia National Park Fall – Best National Parks To Visit In September
Oh, Maine how we love you! Maine has a special place in our hearts. We have spent 2 summers in Maine and Acadia National Park and just love it. It is one of our favorite destinations.
However, Acadia is extremely crowded in the summer months. The crowds wind down as the season does in late September and early October.
There couldn’t be a better time to enjoy the cooler weather, fall foliage, and fewer crowds.
One extra perk for thrill seekers visiting Acadia in the fall is the Precipice Trail is open. The Precipice Trail is one of Acadia’s unique ladder trails.
A ladder trail is part climbing on metal rungs nailed into the side of the cliff and part hiking.
This is a thrilling hike with narrow ledges combining hiking and climbing for those not afraid of heights. It is also the nesting area for the endangered Peregrine Falcon which keeps the trail closed most of the year to protect the birds on the cliffs.
This trail opens in the fall again for hikers to enjoy.
The Acadia National Park area, and Maine in general, start to close up at the end of October. The national park is open year-round but hotels, campgrounds, and businesses begin to close.
Make sure to check the dates on where you wish to stay.
Also, check out: 3 Unique Things To Do In Acadia National Park
Shenandoah National Park Fall – Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall
Shenandoah is a mountain range national park that gives you an incredible view over all of the Virginia Shenandoah Valley. This is the perfect spot to enjoy the fall foliage.
While this park is full of outdoor activities and hiking opportunities, it is also great to just take a long mountain ridgeline drive to enjoy the view. Skyline Drive runs along the mountain ridge of the park and has many pull-outs where you can stop for photos and enjoy the view.
We got the thrill of seeing a mother black bear with her cubs along Skyline Drive.
Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park – Best Places To Visit In Fall
While visiting this area, you can’t miss another scenic and fascinating stop, Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park. The scenery of the train tunnel and mountains around the river at Harper’s Ferry is breathtaking.
It’s even more stunning once the leaves change. This park is full of Civil War history and was a site of an old armory. There was so much to learn about walking in and out of the old town buildings.
One of our favorite features of this park was the old-fashioned candy store, which had sweets dating back to when they were first created. It was fascinating to discover and taste original old-fashioned candies.
The store was part candy store and part candy museum. We loved learning about the history of candy there. This was such a beautiful and interesting place to visit.
The Blue Ridge Parkway – Best Places To See Fall Foliage
Shenandoah is the northern end of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. This parkway which is also part of the national parks system runs all the way from Shenandoah National park down to Great Smoky Mountains National Park ending in North Carolina.
The drive is famous for its scenery but really comes to life in the fall with all of the beautiful colors.
A couple of can’t-miss stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway include Grandfather Mountain and the Natural Bridge. There are so many amazing places to stop and enjoy the scenery along the Parkway but these 2 stops really are spectacular.
Grandfather Mountain is a great area for hiking that also includes a rope swinging bridge for thrill seekers and those not afraid of heights. It’s a must-see area when driving the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Natural Bridge is off of the Parkway a few miles but worth the trip over. It is a naturally formed rock arch bridge over the river that is over 200 feet tall and carved out of limestone.
It’s a really beautiful stop to walk around by the river.
Great Smoky Mountains Fall – Best Fall Foliage Smoky Mountains National Park
You just can’t mention fall foliage and national parks without talking about Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the most beautiful fall park on our list.
We have visited this area twice in the fall and it never disappoints!
It’s also the most crowded national park in the fall so put on your patience hat for this visit. It really is worth it though.
The Smoky Mountains are gorgeous in any season but really come to life with all of the incredible fall colors.
Don’t miss out on a trip to Clingman’s Dome, the highest viewpoint in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This lookout tower sometimes even gives you a view from above the clouds.
It’s an ideal location to take in the spectacular fall colors while also seeing the entire park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also a great park for hiking. We really enjoy hiking to Laurel Falls.
This is a fairly easy 2.6-mile out and back hike that provides beautiful mountain views and ends at the waterfall.
Gatlinburg, TN – Best Places To Visit In The Fall
We always enjoy it when there is a fun and scenic town right outside of a national park and Gatlinburg is that town to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It has beautiful scenery, tons of shops, hotels, and restaurants, and really fun activities great for the whole family.
Do you love moonshine? There are many places in Gatlinburg where you can sample for free and even enjoy live entertainment.
The tastings are always a blast and it’s wild how many flavors they have to choose from there.
Our favorite activity in town is Anakeesta. It’s a scenic gondola ride up the top of the mountain where the views are incredible and it is the perfect place to enjoy the fall colors.
There are also many fun things to do once you reach the top. Our favorite was the tree canopy walk.
The tree walk was also lit up and looked incredible at night. We also recommend Ripley’s Aquarium which is across the street.
New River Gorge National Park Fall – Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall
This newer national park in West Virginia may be one that you have never heard of before. It’s still a secret gem in the national park system.
Actually, West Virginia itself is an unknown travel gem that you just have to check out.
This park is a river gorge region surrounding the beautiful New River and scenic New River Bridge. The magnificent mountains that surround the New River are ideal for taking in all of the fall colors.
Our visit was a bit too early to enjoy the foliage but our visit was still a great time.
This area is popular with white-water rafting enthusiasts, and we would love to go back for another visit and try it. For adrenaline junkies, there’s a thrilling alternative to crossing the bridge.
You can strap on a harness hooked up to a rope and walk along an exposed walkway across the gorge beneath the bridge. This gives you the opportunity to view the gorge from a new perspective. Wouldn’t that be a thrill?
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn more about the region’s coal mining and history. The history in this area is fascinating and we learned so much here.
We took an incredible guided tour of one of Beckley’s underground mines, which was one of our favorite experiences we’ve ever had during our travels.
We boarded a coal car at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and traveled through the mine with our ex-coal miner guide, who told us wild tales from his days as a miner. This tour was amazing, and we highly recommend it!
Rocky Mountain National Park Fall – Rocky Mountains In Fall Vacation Ideas
There are several fantastic national parks to explore on your autumn road trip. One of our family’s favorite fall national parks is Rocky Mountain National Park.
With the changing leaves, the beautiful mountain vistas and lovely lake views become even more breathtaking.
Don’t miss the hike to Emerald Lake on your trip. This trek is full of beautiful lakes surrounded by mountains, which makes it a must-see.
On the route to Emerald Lake, you’ll pass Dream Lake and Nymph Lake with stunning views of Hallet Peak. It’s one of our favorite national park hikes we’ve ever done.
Take a walk around and explore some of the breathtaking high-altitude vistas available in Rocky Mountain National Park, or take a drive up to the must-see Alpine Visitor Center for an even better view over the park.
This visitor center is higher than any other in the national park system at over 11,000 feet!
This region straddles the continental divide and experiences significantly different weather from that seen elsewhere in the park.
In fact, while on our September trip, it was 74 degrees in Estes Park but began snowing as we ascended into the mountain, forcing us to buy sweatshirts in the visitor center gift shop up there. We were so unprepared!
Estes Park, CO – Best Place To Visit In The Fall
The picturesque town of Estes Park, Colorado, which is located near the foothills of Rocky Mountain National Park, is a wonderful destination to visit in the fall. Its charming businesses and restaurants are a major attraction for park visitors.
When the elk are in mating season in the fall, they are extra active and may often be seen simply strolling around the town’s center. Every day during our visit we saw elk on the main street.
Also don’t miss checking out the Stanley Hotel. This historic hotel was featured in the classic horror film The Shining.
You may also go on a historic hotel tour by day or an intense scary ghost tour by night.
Fall Yellowstone National Park – October Yellowstone: Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall
The fall season is a spectacular time to visit Yellowstone National Park. Not only are the crowds much fewer, but the fall foliage is spectacular.
A fall visit is skirting the shoulder season for this park so while there are less crowds, there can also be some winter weather. Make sure to pack for possible cold temperatures, especially at night.
It also snows sometimes in September and October so keep that in mind especially if you plan on camping there. Some park amenities and activities are already closed down for the season in the fall so be sure to check the park calendar to see if what you are interested in is still open during the dates of your visit.
Fewer crowds, traffic, and noise can also increase your chances of viewing wildlife. So as refreshing as it is to hike in the cooler fall air, make sure to bring bear spray along. Right before hibernation, the bears are extra active stocking up on food.
Yosemite In The Fall – October In Yosemite National Park
The Yosemite Valley is worth seeing at any time of year, and we’d even like to go there in the winter to see the park with snow. Fall is an excellent season to visit this park. It’s not only more comfortable weather, but the crowds are less, which adds to the enjoyment of the park.
The valley is breathtakingly beautiful, although it may get extremely congested from time to time. A trip in the fall is simply ideal.
Besides enjoying the beautiful views of the Yosemite Valley and Yosemite falls, one of the best parts of the park is Glacier Point. Don’t pass up the chance to visit this picturesque lookout with views over the entire Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome.
Glacier Point sunset is breathtaking. We brought a picnic supper and sat on a rock to enjoy the sunlight reflecting from the granite rocks until it all turned to shadows. This is a can’t-miss stop in the park.
Yosemite Reservations – Visiting Yosemite In September
If you visit Yosemite National Park early in the fall you will still need a park entrance reservation to enter between the hours of 6 am and 4 pm.
The park reservations end for the season on September 30th which is another great reason to visit the park in October.
Don’t have a park reservation but still want to visit Yosemite? I have a few tips.
Check out: Secret Ways To Skip Reservations For Entrance To Yosemite National Park
Frequently Asked Questions For Best National Parks To Visit In The Fall
What is the best national park to visit in the fall?
Our favorite fall national park is Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The fall foliage is incredible and there is so much to see and do in the surrounding area.
Rocky Mountain National Park and Acadia National Park are also spectacular choices for a fall visit.
What is the best National Park to visit in October?
A road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountain National park is as good as it gets for spectacular October fall foliage.
This is a bucket list trip full of scenic pull-outs that are gorgeous in the month of October which is usually the peak fall color for this region.
Is October a good time to visit national parks?
October is an amazing month to visit a national park. The leaves are changing color and the cooler air is perfect for outdoor activities.
As a whole, the crowds are fewer throughout the national park system in October. National parks known for spectacular fall foliage can be in peak season though for crowds.
Are national parks crowded in October?
Most national parks see a drop in crowds in September and October once the summer season is over. The exceptions are the parks that are known for fall foliage.
Those parks are in peak season during the fall and can be very crowded. For example, October is one of the busiest months in Great Smoky Mountain National Park due to the amazing fall colors. It’s worth it though!
Fall is simply an incredible season to enjoy a national park trip. The cooler weather is just right for outdoor activities.
The beautiful fall foliage makes the parks even more stunning than usual. And the fewer crowds make the entire experience that much more enjoyable.
Looking to camp during your fall national park trip? It can be tough to get reservations! Grab our FREE Guide: How To Score Sold-Out Campsites In State & National Parks
Looking for a national park experience with fewer crowds? Check out: Least Visited National Parks To Skip The Crowds
Want to be sure to pick a great national park for your trip? Check out: 6 Worst National Parks And Where To Go Instead
I hope these national park ideas inspire you to get out there and find your own incredible fall adventure. Enjoy your adventure detour!