The best national parks to visit in the fall

As the end of summer approaches, you may expect to spend more time at home. But don’t forget that fall is one of the best seasons for outdoor exploration in the United States. Fortunately, there are natural wonders in our own backyards.

“Fall is my favorite time of year to visit national parks,” Jim Pattiz, co-founder of the organization More Than Just Parks, told HuffPost. “Crowds and prices for peak summer travel have dwindled and many parks are ablaze with beautiful fall foliage. Animals are on the move this time of year as they prepare for winter, giving you great opportunities to see each park’s unique wildlife.

Of course, some parks are better suited to fall visits than others. We asked Pattiz and other experts to share which national parks they think are the best to visit during the fall season.

Acadia National Park

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For Riley Mahoney, creator of The Parks Expert website, Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the best options for the fall season.

“Fall colors are amazing, with deep reds, oranges and yellows in the best years,” she said. “Fall also brings cooler weather, excellent for hiking.”

Mahoney recommends experienced hikers consider exploring one of the park’s most popular experiences, Precipice Trail, which opens in the fall after peregrine falcon nesting season ends.

“This heartbreaking trail is not for those afraid of heights or small children, but perfect for anyone looking for a memorable adventure overlooking the beautiful fall colors below,” she noted. .

Rocky Mountain National Park

“Every fall, Rocky Mountain National Park is painted with beautiful yellow aspens, lining the famous Trail Ridge road,” Mahoney said. “Also, during your hike you may hear the incredible sound of elk slabs. This only happens during the mating season, which is also in the fall.

While the cooler fall temperatures are perfect for hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, she also warned that it could snow, so it’s important to arrive prepared for that possibility.

Will Pattiz, the other co-founder of More Than Just Parks, also endorsed this park for a fall visit, thanks to the incredible views and smaller crowds that allow for a more intimate experience.

“Here you can find kaleidoscopic displays of fall foliage that cover the valleys and mountainsides in orange, gold and yellow,” he said, adding that elk rutting season is also amazing to see. “During the day, you can see the elk roaming the open spaces of the park and interlocking their antlers with each other. At night, the unforgettable sounds of the elk’s bugles steal the show as the males search for mates.

Congaree National Park

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Although people associate the season with mountain views to admire fall foliage, Janisse Ray ― naturalist and author of “Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonders in a World Beyond Humans” ― recommends the marshy environment of Congaree National Park for your next fall trip.

“The 26,000-acre wilderness, added to the national park system in 2003, is located in central South Carolina,” she said. “It’s a terrific example of what’s left of the southern bottomlands forests.”

Ray praised Congaree’s UNESCO-certified biodiversity, from ancient forests to champion trees.

“Fall temperatures are reducing South Carolina’s intense heat and humidity, and something else is happening as well,” she added. “The marshes, known to be mysterious and magical places, change shape in the fall. In the wetlands, the cypress needles turn a vibrant and beautiful orange, creating scenes so beautiful they get caught in the throat. Although sometimes more subtle and without a color peak, Congaree is a beautiful place to observe the leaves.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

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“The National Park Service’s largest park is also one of the first to display fall colors,” said Mikah Meyer, national park travel expert. “Due to its location in Alaska, the leaves begin to change color in August and peak earlier in September than parks in any other United States. This means you can jump early in the fall if c It’s your favorite season, like me!

He noted that you will encounter fewer tourists and buggers visiting Alaska in the fall instead of the peak summer tourist season.

“It will make your hikes around the abandoned Kennecott Mines more beautiful due to the changing colors, and less buggy!” Meyer said.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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“It’s really hard to beat the scenery of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina in the fall,” said Jim Pattiz.

He thinks the fall colors and views are some of the most spectacular in the world.

“In October, the summer crowds have dissipated in America’s most visited national park, and the misty old hills of southern Appalachia are bursting with gorgeous reds, oranges, golds and yellows,” Pattiz said. “The many viewpoints in the park provide perfect opportunities to stop and gaze at the rolling mountains awash in the colors of the season. There’s a charm about the Smokies in fall that keeps me coming back to watch the shiny leaves of old trees float to the ground amid the quiet splendor of a creek or a weathered pioneer cabin.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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Kurt Repanshek, founder of National Parks Traveler, thinks you should head to the Midwest for the best fall park experience.

“Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota requires some determination to reach due to its location, but in the fall the cottonwoods in both campgrounds and along the Little Missouri River shed gold across the landscape,” he said. “There are bison and wild horses on the move, and herds of sandhill cranes swinging on their fall migration.”

Arches National Park

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“We cherish the cooler temperatures and reduced crowds at iconic Arches National Park,” said Derek Wright and Amy Beth Wright, outdoor enthusiasts and creators of Parks and Points. “Arches is so popular in the summer that the National Park Service recently introduced a reservation system. However, this seasonal policy ends on October 3, when many return to work and school – as visitor numbers drop dramatically, this otherworldly expanse of sandstone formations and monoliths becomes a big space. open and easy to explore.

They noted that hot temperatures during summer limit the number of hours during the day you can spend exploring Arches, while autumn brings average temperatures of 85 degrees in September and up to 55 degrees in November. .

“Early mornings can be a little chilly, but who doesn’t love exploring a national park in a cozy fall sweater!” the pair added. “Another outstanding reason for a fall visit to Arches are the sunrises and sunsets. Due to the nature of the desert landscape, there are no massive forests blocking your view and the photography, even on your cell phone, is magical. Colors become richer, and deep shadows and rays of light create vivid effects on iconic formations like Double Arch, Balanced Rock, The Windows, Delicate Arch and Devils Garden.

Shenandoah National Park

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“Hands down the best park for fall exploration is Shenandoah National Park,” said REI experiences program manager Michael Collins. “Fall in Shenandoah means breathtaking views of changing leaves, beautiful weather, and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.”

In addition to the “breathtaking” vistas, he touted the park’s proximity to Washington, DC, and therefore several major airports.

“The only public road through the park is Skyline Drive,” Collins added. “True to its name, it stretches 105 miles along the crest line of the Blue Ridge Mountains and has 75 stops allowing you to soak up views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Massanutten Mountains to the west and the Piedmont region of Virginia to the east. If the views of the fall foliage aren’t enough, come for a chance to see one of the park’s wild black bears prepare for winter or try to track the number of white-tailed deer eating along Skyline Drive.

yellowstone national park

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For Kate Brassington, co-founder of The Family Vacation Guide, the best national park to visit in the fall is Yellowstone.

She highlighted its 2.2 million acres of wilderness, 37 landmarks (such as Old Faithful Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring) and more than 50 species of mammals, many of which are most active in the fall. .

“Throughout the fall season, Wyoming is an absolute delight,” Brassington said, noting that the summer heat extends well into the fall. “This is one of the most scenic states to experience fall foliage from late September to mid-November as the scenic park will provide beautiful changing colors.”

“The West America State is also the least busy state, offering mountain ranges, high plains and dense forests,” she added. “One of the best places to watch the leaves!”

With recent flooding in Yellowstone, be sure to check park accessibility and road conditions before planning your trip.

Yosemite National Park

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“It’s hard to beat eastern parks like Acadia and Shenandoah for fall color, but I have a soft spot for certain parks where you don’t expect the trees to unleash in the fall. There’s nothing more photogenic than a flash of red, orange and yellow leaves against the gray granite walls of Yosemite Valley. said Joe Yogerst, travel expert and author of National Geographic’s “50 States, 500 Campgrounds.”

He also encouraged park visitors to be understanding when planning their visits for peak fall foliage.

“Although the National Weather Service and The Weather Channel try to predict when the leaves will change, climate change has made predictions much more difficult than before,” Yogerst said. “Over the past few years I’ve tried to catch the maximum colors in various places and always feel like I’m getting there a week too early or a week too late. Unfortunately, that’s not a absolutely exact science.