9 Best National Parks to Visit in The Fall
If you want to see wildlife, Old Faithful, or Grand Prismatic Spring without crowds, October is the perfect time to visit. During peak tourist season in the summer, parking lines for sites like Grand Prismatic can stretch a mile down the road. Wildlife will be hard to stop for (since everyone will already be fighting for parking spots), and nearby towns will be quiet and calm. Better yet, wildlife flourishes in the fall in Yellowstone. Late summer is the worst time to visit for wildlife, but many species, including bison, grizzly bears, and elk, come down from high tundra mountains to lower Yellowstone valleys in the fall in preparation for winter, making it the perfect time to visit.
As of summer 2022, Arches National Park implemented a permit entry system that takes place every summer. If you come to Moab on a whim or plan your trip late in the season, chances are you will be unable to obtain an entry permit.
The park is also one of the smaller national parks, meaning the summer still brings extremely high crowds, even with the permit system in place. Fall offers the perfect time to visit for numerous regions – warm weather (think 70s), fewer people, and fewer park restrictions.
3. Great Smokey Mountains
If fall colors are a priority for your travelers, the Great Smokey Mountains must take a top spot for national parks to visit in the fall. Each October, the leaves along this stretch of the Appalachian Mountains turn to bring red, orange, and yellow.
If you dream of walking around quaint towns with a hot coffee and the crunch of crisp fall leaves under your foot, this is the place to be in the fall. And unlike many locations further north, temperatures here in October can still be comfortable and mild.
Glacier National Park is one of the hardest national parks to visit as of 2023. That is because, like others on this list, they now have an implemented permit system. And unlike other locations that allow entry before & after a specific time without a permit, Glacier does not.
The permit system ended on September 10, 2023, just in time for fall in the park. Autumn brings the yellow colors of the Aspen trees, freshly white peaks, and cheaper rates for visitors. Like Yellowstone National Park, October can be one of the best months to spot wildlife such as moose, bear, and elk.
Yosemite National Park is an outdoor mecca year-round, but fall is a little extra special. The weather is mild, the colors are beautiful, and a stillness blankets the valley this time of year. After a hectic summer of kids, hikers, and vacationers, fall is…peaceful. Summer runs a million miles an hour in this National Park, and fall is the calm after the storm. Time is slow; people move relaxed, never hurrying to the next destination. You’ll watch leaves fall from the trees and make the only ripples on a glass lake reflecting El Captain. When people explain the magic of Yosemite, this is the season they are talking about.
Like Arches National Park, Zion is incredibly crowded and tough to visit in the summer. Since COVID, visitors in the summer cannot drive into the park and must take a shuttle, which can be difficult for those with families or mobility issues. Mid-late September is the best time to visit when the weather is still comfortable & warm, but the summer vacationers have long left.
If you plan to hike the narrows, fall has the lowest water of the season, making it the best time to make the trek. The famed Angel’s Landing hike now requires a permit, which is easier to obtain this time of year.
Fall colors, moody beaches, & picture-perfect towns plucked straight out of a Hallmark movie all describe Acadia National Park in the fall. In spring and early Summer, some of the most famed hikes in the country are closed for falcon nesting, but summer opens them up for visitors to enjoy.
Unlike other national parks on this list, such as Glacier, Grand Teton, and Arches, which will still have a decent number of visitors in the fall, Acadia is one of those places you can go & feel as if you have the entire place to yourself: solitude finding pebbles on the beach, or an entire mountain summit to yourself. Maine, in general, is beautiful, but Acadia is a must.
8. Grand Teton
Jackson Hole, the valley surrounding Grand Teton National Park, rarely has a down season. Jackson Hole Ski Resort is one of the nation’s most coveted ski areas (and one of the most expensive). Ski season often lasts in April, with summer picking up in early May. Fall is the ONLY time the town of Jackson slows down, making it a perfect time to visit.
Grand Teton National Park typically closes for the season around November 1st, so be sure to plan and prep your fall visit around this. We recommend visiting anytime after Labor Day to the end of October.
9. Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon hits extreme temperatures on both sides of the spectrum. In the summer, temperatures often exceed 100+ degrees, especially at the bottom of the canyon at Phantom Ranch. In the winter, visitors can wake up to temperatures in the single digits.
Fall is perfect – the mornings are cool and crisp, while the afternoons are warm and comfortable. You can hike around in layers without suffering from either heat exhaustion or extreme hypothermia. If you’re looking to explore the Grand Canyon away from the main lookouts and go out to hike, fall or spring are the only comfortable seasons.
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