Best National Parks to Visit in Fall for Peak Colors – Bearfoot Theory

Fall is often one of the best seasons to visit National Parks across the US. With school back in session and the busy vacation season over, you’re more likely to find some solitude even in the most popular National Parks. Plus, many National Parks exhibit stunning fall colors and the crisp, cool weather makes for great hiking, backpacking, and car camping.

We’ve rounded up a list of the best leaf-peeping National Parks to visit in the fall season – from Alaska to Tennessee – where the colors are about to explode. So get your camera ready and the car packed for a National Park trip during the most beautiful season of the year.

As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practice good trail etiquette and remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage, being respectful of others on the trail, and following the established rules.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Location: North Carolina/Tennessee
  • Best Time To Visit in Fall: mid-September – early November

Of all the National Parks to visit in the fall, the Great Smoky Mountains win our hearts for the best fall foliage. With some of the oldest and largest old-growth forests in the country, you’ll see blankets of reds, oranges, and yellows in the rolling mountains as far as the eye can see. At above 4,000 feet, the fall colors begin to change in the Smokies sometime in late September. At that elevation, the climate more closely mimics that of New England and as the leaves begin to change up top, the colors slowly make their way down the mountainside until early November.

Fall is the perfect time to visit spots like the Blue Ridge Parkway, Clingman’s Dome, Newfound Gap Overlook, Deep Creek Loop, and Ramsey Cascades (see our trail guide here).

>> Read Next: Smoky Mountains Fall Travel Guide

Deep Creek Loop waterfall during peak fall foliage in Smoky Mountains National Park
Deep Creek Loop. Photo: Sarah Vaughan

Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Location: Colorado
  • Best Time To Visit in Fall: September

Catching the change of color of Colorado’s aspens nearly beats out sunny summer days on the trail or a pow day at the mountain. During the fall season, Rocky Mountain National Park turns golden thanks to the aspens and the rest of the tundra region also explodes with autumn colors. Peak typically occurs sometime in late September when you’ll enjoy an explosion of colors with a backdrop of the snow-capped Rockies.

At lower elevations, you can get away with a few warm layers but be sure to keep an eye on the weather in the alpine when snow, frost, or even hail can surprise hikers and other park visitors.

Bear Lake, Sprague Lake, and Trail Ridge Road are popular things to do during fall in the Rockies (and you can check out our favorite Rocky Mountains hikes here!).

>> Read Next: Tips for Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park

Fall foliage in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

  • Location: Ohio
  • Best Time To Visit in Fall: late September – November

Northeast Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the best National Parks to visit during the fall season when its sugar maples have turned bright red and the Sassafrass is a perfect hue of deep, burnt orange. This National Park is easily accessible from Cleveland, Ohio and provides the perfect day trip from the city.

Hike the famous Brandywine Gorge Trail to Brandywine Falls for great photo ops and a full fall color spectrum, and check out the Ledges Trail for unique rock formations.

>> Read Next: What To Wear Hiking in Fall

Cuyahoga Valley National Park // Check out the best National Parks to visit in the fall for the a leaf-peeping vacation. Enjoy autumn colors in these 10 great parks.
The Ledges Trail

Grand Teton National Park

  • Location: Wyoming
  • Best Time To Visit in Fall: September – October

One of our favorite National Parks to visit during the fall is Grand Teton National Park. While it’s hard to predict exactly when peak leaf-peeping time will occur due to various climate factors, the Tetons are usually bursting with color from September through October.

During this season, male elk will bugle and even spar with each other to show their dominance. Catching this mating ritual from a safe distance (at least 100 feet) is an unforgettable experience.

Be sure to check out Delta Lake, Jenny Lake, Snake River Overlook, Inspiration Point, and many of the pull-offs throughout the park.

>> Read Next: 7-Day Yellowstone & Grand Teton Road Trip Itinerary

Grand Teton National Park // Discover the best National Parks to visit during fall for the best leaf-peeping vacation. Get tips on hikes, scenic drives, and more.

Shenandoah National Park

  • Location: Virginia
  • Best Time To Visit in Fall: September – November

It’s no surprise that the fall season is prime time to visit Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. From the months of September through November, Shenandoah’s lush and varied landscape is bursting with color. Follow Skyline Drive through the park for epic fall foliage views. If you’re up for a long day hike, Old Rag Mountain is a must.

PS. if you’re traveling with a dog, Shenandoah is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks, with over 480 miles worth of scenic hiking trails that you’re pup can join you on.

Shenendoah National Park // Discover the best National Parks to visit during fall for fall colors and foliage. Get tips on hikes, scenic drives, and more.

Acadia National Park

  • Location: Maine
  • Best Time To Visit in Fall: mid-September – October

New England is the leaf-peeping capital of North America, which makes Maine’s Acadia National Park the crown jewel on this list of best national parks to visit in the fall. Primetime fall foliage in Acadia hits around mid to late September and continues through October.

Head up to Mount Desert Island to see the colors, Cadillac Mountain for sunrise panoramic views, and Jordan Pond for an afternoon picnic.

>> Read Next: Best Things To Do in Acadia National Park

Jordan Pond

Denali National Park and Preserve

  • Location: Alaska
  • Best Time To Visit in Fall: August – September

Some of the best fall colors in the west are found way up north in Denali National Park. The area around Denali experiences an early cold snap that takes place in August and makes for a crisp climate that ushers in a beautiful display of foliage.

Fall is also an amazing time to watch wildlife such as moose and caribou prepare for winter in the tundra and lowlands – at a safe distance, of course.

To catch your glimpse of both fall colors and wildlife get here before September is over, as fall in Alaska goes fast!

>> Read Next: Alaska National Park Road Trip Itinerary

Denali National Park // Discover the best National Parks to visit in fall for the best leaf-peeping vacation. Get tips on best hikes, scenic drives, and more.

Yosemite National Park

  • Location: California
  • Best Time To Visit in Fall: late September – mid-October

While you won’t see many of the famous Yosemite National Park waterfalls during fall, it’s still one of the best seasons to visit the park with fewer crowds and perfect hiking weather. Peak usually occurs sometime in late September or early October, although it’s important to note that Yosemite has mostly evergreen trees so don’t expect booming fall foliage. Tunnel View and Glacier Point are two must-see viewpoints during the fall, and top Yosemite hikes include Four Mile Trail, Half Dome, and Taft Point.

>> Read Next: Yosemite National Park Travel Guide & Best Things To Do

Yosemite National Park at sunset during the fall

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

  • Location: Texas
  • Best Time To Visit in Fall: mid-October – mid-November

A National Park in Texas may not be an obvious choice for viewing fall colors, but that’s what makes it even better! Visit Guadalupe National Park’s McKittrick Canyon for some spectacular fall foliage that stands in contrast to the dry desert landscape of Big Bend National Park in West Texas.

To get a glimpse of Texas’ best display of fall foliage, hike the 4.8-mile out-and-back McKittrick Canyon Trail, which is perfect for a leisurely leaf-peeping afternoon, or make it a full day with the 11-mile-long trek to the ridgeline for amazing canyon views.

McKittrick Canyon

Mount Rainier National Park

  • Location: Washington
  • Best Time To Visit In Fall: mid-September – mid-October

Fall in Mount Rainier National Park is an unbelievably scenic place to be. Evergreen conifers, golden yellow larches, and crimson red huckleberries light the region up with fall colors to make every hike a memorable experience.

Need a few ideas? Check out Skyline Trail, Shriner Peak, or Indian Henry’s via Kautz Creek to name a few of our favorite Mt. Rainier hikes.

Mt Rainier National Park during peak fall foliage

Looking for More Fall National Park trip Ideas?

We love a good leaf-peeping road trip in fall, but if you’re not necessarily choosing a park for its fall colors, here are a few more great National Parks to consider visiting:

What National Parks are on your list to visit for fall colors? Do you have other National Parks you’d recommend visiting in the fall? Share your experience in the comments!

Check out the best National Parks to visit in fall for a leaf-peeping road trip, plus tips for exploring from the car or the trail.

Written by
Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

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