The 6 Best US National Parks to See Fall Foliage – Best Life
One of the best parts of fall — aside from the arrival of “spooky season” and the return of pumpkin spice — is the beautiful foliage. There’s nothing quite like stepping outside and realizing that fall has arrived, with trees displaying vibrant shades of orange, red, and yellow. If you enjoy diving into fall, or even consider yourself a “leaf scout,” consider heading to a US national park when the leaves begin to change. Read on to find out where travel experts say you should book a trip to enjoy crisp temperatures and the most stunning seasonal scenery.
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If you’re a fan of foliage, head to Maine on the northeastern tip of the United States for the most unbeatable views. If you want to see the state’s best sights, Acadia National Park is a must-see.
“Virtually wherever you go, you’ll be treated to incredible views, whether you’re hiking a trail or kayaking on Jordan Pond.” Melissa Rowe, teachers and bloggers of hiking through Maine says. “However, for the most incredible views, go to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the East Coast. Here you have an incredible view of mountains, forests, small islands and the sea. It’s breathtaking.”
Rowe recommends visiting during peak foliage season in October. You may even be the first person in the US to see the fall sunrise — for that day at least — if you decide to hike to the top of the Cadillac. If you’d rather drive through the park, Rowe recommends driving up Park Loop Road, where you can admire the foliage along the 27-mile road.
Along with changing leaves, Acadia simply thrives in the fall, Rowe says Best life. “The main fall activities, after leaf-gazing, in Acadia National Park are the Mt. Desert Island Marathon and Oktoberfest, a 10-day celebration around Maine that includes a brewfest, wine tasting, music, food, and everything else you might expect would be at a 10-day celebration,” she says, adding that you’ll also face fewer crowds if you visit in October.
Another up-and-coming fall addition is Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, considered one of the most beautiful travel destinations in the United States. Adam Marland, Travel photographer and blogger by We Dream of Travel, explains.
“All of Colorado is particularly spectacular in the fall, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rocky Mountain stands out as a premier destination for foliage hunting,” says Marland best life.
In this national park you can see the vibrant colors of the changing aspen trees. “Aspen leaves begin to ‘quiver’ in late summer and early fall, beginning at the highest elevation and gradually moving lower,” says Marland. “This term refers to the beautiful golden palette and sensitivity to wind that the leaves take on in the fall season.”
For the best prospectshike the Bear Lake Road, drive through 10 miles of “prime aspen country” in the Kawuneeche Valley, or drive to the lookout point at Farview Curve, the National Park Service (NPS) suggests.
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If you want to watch the changing leaves between the mountains, visit Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
“Grand Teton offers breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, and in the fall the mountains are wrapped in a colorful blanket.” Fred Baker, Senior Travel Editor of travelness, explained. “When the leaves of the aspen and other trees change color, the contrast with the snow-capped peaks is simply stunning.”
Baker recommends visiting between mid-September and early October. During this time the NPS suggests hiking Valley Trail for some of the best fall viewpoints or a loop around Emma Matilda Lake where you can also see wildflowers and a view of the Teton Range.
Animals also migrate through Grand Teton in the fall, ahead of the colder winter temperatures, according to the NPS. Drive to Timbered Island catch a glimpse of moosewatch bison and pronghorn graze along Mormon Row, or head to the Snake River for a glimpse of bald eagles, ospreys and beavers.
Zion National Park is well known for many reasons, but you might be surprised to see it on this list.
“It’s unusual for a desert biome to make the list of best fall travel destinations, but Zion National Park has become a true fall crowd-pleaser.” Sophia Clapton, travel blogger for We Dream of Travel, explained. “Cotton and aspen are the main protagonists, each turning yellow to gold colors when temperatures start to drop around October.”
Zion is one of the most popular national parks, and visiting in the fall also has its perks when it comes to crowds. “Aside from the added magic of the fall colors, this is also a great time to visit Zion National Park since summer crowds and restrictions have eased,” says Clapton. “Visitors are no longer limited to buses and shuttles to explore, but can instead enjoy the park on a self-drive tour.”
If you’re attempting to hike one of the park’s most popular spots, Angel’s Landing Trail, Clapton also says cooler temperatures make the process “a little bit more manageable.”
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Visit the newest national park, New River Gorge, and soak up the fall atmosphere. This West Virginia park was first designated in December 2020, and the fall foliage is best viewed between mid and late October. Becky Sullivan, Managing Director of the New River Gorge Convention & Visitors Bureau, says.
“The best view is from the New River Gorge Bridge, which is just outside of Fayetteville,” Sullivan explains. “There are spectacular views from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center…which has two viewpoints of the gorge and the bridge.”
You can also get a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the gorge by doing the Bridge Walk. This walk takes two to three hours and spans a catwalk 25 feet below the New River Gorge Bridge. The park even organizes an annual “bridge day” on the third Saturday of October, “due to peak fall foliage season,” says Sullivan.
“This event celebrates the bridge by allowing pedestrians, BASE jumping, abseiling, vendors and more to line up along the road and bridge overlooking the canyon,” she adds.
Deciding on your fall travel plans? You won’t want to miss the exhibit at North Cascades National Park in Washington. Corresponding Jessica Smith of travel page Uprooted Traveler, this park is not only generally underrated but also overlooked when it comes to fall colors.
“The foliage is unique for several reasons – first, the foliage here is not limited to the leaves of the towering trees, but the wildflowers and shrubs that cover the mountainsides also take on brilliant shades of gold, orange and red,” , says Schmit best life.
And if you’re willing to hike a bit, you can also catch a glimpse of the larches, which grow exclusively on “high alpine hills,” she says. “Come autumn, [this tree] takes on a spectacular golden hue before the needles fall off for the winter,” explains Schmit.
Schmit recommends hitting the Heather Maple Pass Loop or the Blue Lake Trail for the best fall views.