13 Best National Parks to See in the Fall

Posted October 29, 2013 by


U.S. national parks are beautiful to begin with. But when the deciduous trees that blanket so many national parks become aglow with radiant fall foliage, the spectacle is astounding. You might need to pack a sweater, but you can snap gorgeous photos, partake in special activities, and, of course, enjoy the colors of autumn when you plan a trip this season.

Although fall means fewer crowds (and perhaps the chance to more easily spot wildlife) in popular parks, the weather can be unpredictable, and some facilities even close up after the summer season. Be sure to contact your park for details on what's open and what's not before planning your trip.


Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia might be the first place that comes to mind when you think of fall colors at national parks—the destination attracts thousands of leaf peepers in autumn, so be prepared for some crowds. But it's totally worth it—traverse the park's more than 125 miles of hiking trails to discover amazing views, take a ranger-led bird-watching walk among the changing leaves, or rent a kayak and take in the scenery from the water.

When to Go: Peak fall colors generally pop up around mid-October. Check the region's leaf status on


Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Texas

You might be surprised to learn that the Texas Hill Country is a prime place for leaf peeping down south. Head to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, where you can get a side of American history with your foliage. The park is home to the LBJ Ranch (also known as the Texas White House), which is surrounded by wild brush country. Here, sumacs, oaks, and haw hollies become awash with intense fall hues during autumn.

When to Go: You'll likely find the best foliage from mid-October through November.


Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

This park's famed cave system—more than 400 square miles of explored underground caverns that make up the world's longest—is the reason most visitors make the trip. But don't overlook the scenery aboveground. Forests of oaks, hickories, gum trees, and dogwoods on rolling Kentucky hills become a mosaic of fall colors this time of year.

When to Go: Check for updates.


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

We love the sweeping views of water and the eyeful of beautiful fall colors that Sleeping Bear's sky-high dunes afford during this time of year. Visitors can get even better views from the air: Board a helicopter or hot-air balloon and view fall foliage on an aerial tour.

When to Go: You'll find peak colors in the region from mid-September through early October. Check's Fall Color Map to see the status of local foliage.


Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania

Just a short drive from Philadelphia, Valley Forge is the site where General Washington and his Continental Army camped during the Revolutionary War. Here, visitors can learn about life in the 18th century as well as explore an expanse of lush parkland, including more than 3,000 acres of grassland, wetland, and deciduous forest, which become awash with rich colors in autumn.

When to Go: Weekly foliage reports are posted on Pennsylvania's official tourism website.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

There are about 100 native tree species in America's most-visited national park, most of which turn kaleidoscopic come fall. Changing leaves are complemented by autumn wildflowers: delicate asters and other varieties furnish pops of color.

When to Go: Get weekly reports on the state of local foliage on the National Park Service website.


Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Since Shenandoah's more than 300 square miles of parkland are so heavily forested, it's a gorgeous place to be when the seasons change. Look for oak and chestnut trees, which are abundant in the park, as well as splashes of autumn pigment from sassafras, sumac, and poison ivy. (Yes, poison ivy leaves change color in the fall. Just don't get too close.)

When to Go: Take a peek at the park's Mountain View Webcam for a real-time look at the changing leaves. Expect the best colors in mid-October in more elevated parts of the park and late October to early November in more low-lying areas.


Glacier National Park, Montana

Fall foliage in this enormous, wild expanse of alpine forests and Rocky Mountains in Montana is quite the sight. But fall is a wonderful time to visit if you want to see wildlife, too. The National Park Service website says that there are fewer people in the park and more animals—including grizzlies, wolves, and eagles—out and about during autumn.

When to Go: Peak fall colors generally appear at the end of September and beginning of October.


Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park's jaw-dropping sky-high cliffs provide the perfect points for seeing miles of mesas and forested land decked out in reds, oranges, and golds. Climb to the top of Zion's massive sandstone cliffs to get sweeping bird's-eye views of the autumn scenery.

When to Go: Zion shows its best colors in late October.


Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia

Peep the leaves in well-tread Harpers Ferry, where 70 percent of the land is covered with forest. Fun fall activities sweeten the deal: Visitors can explore living-history museums on Shenandoah Street or make traditional 19th-century tin housewares using period tools.

When to Go: Follow Harpers Ferry on Facebook for the latest foliage updates. According to the page, the leaves are already beginning to change.


Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Close to Cleveland and hugging the winding Cuyahoga River, this national park is a Midwestern sanctuary for fall foliage seekers. There's so much to do: Hike along more than 125 miles of trails, take part in an EarthCaching adventure, or go bird-watching (look out for the bald eagles). One of the most relaxing ways to enjoy the fall colors is to hop onboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which rolls through the park past lush woods, meadows, the Cuyahoga River, and historical small towns.

When to Go: The best colors flourish in mid-October. Check the Fall Color Report for real-time updates.


Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming

These parks are so close that they almost touch, and they offer amazing autumn colors against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, waterfalls, forests, and lakes that reflect the changing leaves. Hikes, horseback rides, and ranger-led treks are fabulous ways to see the foliage. Or get a bird's-eye view with a hot-air balloon ride or a trip on the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram.

When to Go: Head to Wyoming in September and early October to see the foliage. Read more on the Wyoming Office of Tourism website.


You Might Also Like:



What to Pack for Unpredictable Fall Weather







10 Quintessential Fall Weekend Trips







10 Best Fall Foliage Train Rides in North America





This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 13 Best National Parks to See in the Fall. 

 Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at at [email protected].


Succulent Seafood and Spectacular Views in Port Clyde, Maine

Posted March 19, 2010 by Amy Westervelt

Port Clyde Surround yourself with natural beauty in the picturesque fishing village of Port Clyde, Maine. Artists such as N.C. Wyeth have long been inspired by the charming downtown, busy harbor, and gorgeous views. Find out why at a cozy bed and breakfast, an idyllic island cafe, or at the most photographed lighthouse in Maine.

Seaside Inn
: Snuggle up at the Seaside Inn, an 1850s sea captain's home converted into a welcoming bed and breakfast. Help yourself to complimentary coffee, tea, and cocoa before turning in for the night in one of the nine cozy guestrooms.

The Barnacle:
An easy day trip from Port Clyde is a visit to Monhegan Island and the popular local cafe The Barnacle. The cafe is in a building dating back to the early 1900s when local fishermen and tourists enjoyed tea and goodies there. Not much has changed, and visitors and locals alike pop in for award-winning locally-roasted coffee, tea, and homemade goodies. You can also take your java to go along with a picnic lunch to munch while you explore Monhegan Island's local art galleries and 17 miles of hiking trails.

Marshall Point Lighthouse:
Marshall Point Lighthouse has two claims to fame: It was featured in the movie Forrest Gump and in the popular children's story Nellie the Lighthouse Dog. A short, scenic walk from Port Clyde, the lighthouse has been warning boats of the rocky point since 1857. Walk the long ramp connecting the lighthouse to the mainland for a picture-perfect moment, then wander the beautiful grounds. The lighthouse keeper's cottage, built in 1895, houses a seasonal museum highlighting Port Clyde's history and the lives of the lighthouse keepers.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Augusta, the closest major airport, from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: Greg Panosian)

Early Birds Get the Perks in Bar Harbor

Posted June 4, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Maine-Sunset-DEF For many people, Maine is characterized by rocky cliffs, fishing villages, and lobster. Located on Mount Desert Island, the small coastal village of Bar Harbor surpasses these expectations. With local restaurants and comfortable inns, the town acts as a home base for those exploring the mountains, wildlife, and scenic drives through Acadia National Park.

Cadillac Mountain: At 1,532 feet, Cadillac Mountain lays claim to being the highest point along the Atlantic seaboard. From its peak, early risers can be the first in the U.S. to witness the morning sun. For the late sleepers, breathtaking views of the surrounding islands, Bar Harbor, and ocean still make the trek worthwhile. The Park Loop road covers three-and-a-half miles to the top of the mountain, but also navigates through 27 miles of Mount Desert Island. Entrance to Acadia National Park is free November through April, but costs $20 per vehicle for seven-day admission from mid-June through early October and $10 from May through mid-June and early October to the end of the month.

Coach Stop Inn: Take a step back in time with Bar Harbor's oldest inn, which has hosted visitors for more than 200 years. Surrounded by antique apple trees, the New England-style B&B combines the past with modern amenities. Breakfast gives new meaning to "rise and shine," as the award winning chef and owner prepares three courses each morning. Choices include items such as Pistachio Stuffed French Toast, Wild Maine Blueberry Fritters, and Eggs Peloponese. For an afternoon or midnight treat, you can snack on tea and confections from the 24-hour hot bar. Rooms start at $125, but discounts are available at different times throughout the year.

Poor Boy's Gourmet: Serving hungry patrons for more than 21 years, Poor Boy's Gourmet combines classic New England cuisine with affordable prices. Early-birds who come between 4:30 and 6:00 p.m. can take advantage of the $8.95 special featuring a range of dinner options such as Apricot Chicken or Baked Stuffed Haddock. The "Bottomless Bowl of Pasta" is also a favorite for $9.95, and includes a variety of choices such as Pasta Alfredo or Linguini Genovese. Most people come for the "Lobster Feast," however, which includes a boiled lobster, cup of lobster bisque or clam chowder, baked potato or pasta marinara, and a brownie a la mode for $18.95. Whatever you order, leave room for a selection of freshly made desserts like the seasonal wild blueberry pie.

To search for flights and compare prices to Bangor, which is home to Bar Harbor’s nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Index Open)

  • From:
  • To:
  • Depart:
  • Return:
  • Travelers:

Hotels, Rental Cars, Cruises, and Vacations