Vibrant red and yellow changing leaves combined with cooler temperatures make Fall the perfect time to visit many National Parks. While the eastern parks have the advantage here, golden aspens also attract leaf peepers to western parks too. Here’s the breakdown on five of the best National Parks for autumn visits. For more travel tools, visit our helpful National Park Trip Idea Page to choose a park and plan your next trip.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: On the Border of North Carolina and Tennessee.
Known for: The largest stands of old-growth forest in the eastern United States, and the greatest mountains east of the Rockies.
Fall Timing Tip: The biggest crowds in the park arrive mid-June to mid-August, and all the month of October, peak fall color season. Beat the crowds by coming on weekdays and also early in the day, before 10 am. Along most of the park’s roadways there are many turnouts and overlooks to stop and look at the magnificent display of yellows, reds, purples, and browns of autumn leaves. Plan a trip to the Smokies »
Acadia National Park
Location: Maine Coast
Known for: Scenic drives along rocky coastline and the amazing views atop Cadillac Mountain.
Fall Timing Tip: By September, the heat and humidity of summer begin to taper off, making it one of the most enjoyable months to visit. Autumn foliage peaks between the end of September and the middle of October, enhancing the already spectacular views. Plan a trip to Acadia »
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Location: Southern Colorado
Known for: Its land-locked towering sand dunes.
Fall Timing Tip: Even though only about 300,000 visitors come to the park each year, they tend to come in summer and congregate in one area, making the park crowded June through August. Fall and spring are the prettiest times to visit. In September and early October, leaves on aspen trees are turning gold. Plan a trip to Great Sand Dunes »
North Cascades National Park
Location: Northwestern Washington
Known for: Stunning, snow-covered mountain panoramas and pine-ringed glacial lakes.
Fall Timing Tip: The North Cascades Highway is a popular autumn drive in September and October, when the changing leaves (on larches, the only conifer that sheds its leaves, as well as aspen, vine maple, huckleberry, and cottonwood) put on a colorful show. The lowland forest areas, such as the complex around Newhalem, can be wonderfully quiet in early spring or late autumn on mild, rainy days, when you can experience the weather that makes the old-growth forest possible. Plan a trip to the North Cascades »
Shenandoah National Park
Location: Central Virginia
Known for: Skyline Drive, a 105 mi road that winds between open vistas, forest-hemmed stretches, and easily accessible wilderness.
Fall Timing Tip: Skyline Drive and the rest of Shenandoah Park can get crowded on weekends and holidays in the Fall, so avoid these times if possible. The foliage usually peaks in mid-October. If the traffic on the main park road is too slow for your taste, take a hike on one of the more than 500 mi of trails that criss-cross the long and narrow park. Plan a trip to Shenandoah »
Photo Credit: istockphoto/Matej Krajcovic