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.


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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


Set Sail in Romantic Saint Michaels

Posted April 26, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Saint Michaels Saint Michaels, Maryland, is located on a peninsula in the Chesapeake Bay. Its maritime history is well-represented at numerous historic buildings around town, as well as in the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Nautical attractions and tasty seafood are guaranteed to give any landlubber their sea legs. If you’re looking for a romantic seaside getaway, Saint Michaels offers the perfect mix of seclusion and activities to enjoy.

Sail Selina II: What better way to explore the Chesapeake Bay than on a 1926 sailboat? The Selina II is a classic New England Crosby Cat designed boat, and treats guests to an old fashioned sailing experience. The ship takes daily two-hour cruises around the Bay, but for something special, reserve a spot on the Sunset Champagne Cruise. Listen to Captain Iris describe the waterfront and the history of St. Michaels, then sip on Champagne (or the drink of your choice) and sample hors d’oeuvres as the sun dips below the water. Champagne Cruises start at $65 per person (limit of six), daily sails cost $50 per person. Cash discounts are available.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Baltimore or Washington, D.C., the closest major airports, from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: iStockphoto/William Britten)

Annapolis Turns 300 and Is as Affordable as Ever

Posted February 16, 2010 by Anne Banas

Annapolis Set along Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis' connection to the water is undeniable. Not only is it "America's Sailing Capital" and home to the U.S. Naval Academy, but its maritime history is centuries long. In 2008, the city celebrated its 300th anniversary, and now is the perfect time to discover its past by strolling around the refreshed City Dock. Then crack open a few crabs at a local sailor's bar nearby, or curl up sea-captain style at a 1870 inn, all while keeping within an ordinary seaman's budget.

City Dock
: After taking a few months off for a beautification and reconstruction project, this historic Annapolis boardwalk has reopened. Come watch sailboats proudly strut their stuff as they parade up Ego Alley. Or visit the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial, which commemorates the author of "Roots" and the landing of his enslaved ancestor, Kunta Kinte, from Africa. The dock also hosts History Quest for a before and after look of the harbor. Everything is free.

Boatyard Bar & Grill
: Take the water taxi from City Dock to Eastport's restaurant row, and tack into one of the top sailing hangouts in the world (according to Coastal Living). Nosh on surf and turf like the blue crab sandwich for $10.95 or boatyard burger for $8.95, while rubbing elbows with local sailors. Look for specials like Crisfield crab cakes for $14.95 on Monday nights.

Flag House Inn
: This nautical-themed B&B is so close to the water that the house motto is: "If you're a real slow walker, it might take you a minute to get there." The home is composed of two Victorian townhouses, so guests have their own entrance and more privacy. If guests are interested, owners Charlotte and Bill Schmickle will share all their Naval Academy and historical preservation insights from personal experience. Free parking and state or country flags hung for every guest make Flag House a true downtown Annapolis gem, from $160 per night.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Baltimore or Washington, D.C., the closest major airports, from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: Hart)

Ocean City, Maryland's Boardwalk and Free Fun

Posted June 23, 2009 by Jamie Moore

MD-OceanCity-Brdwlk-DEF No place captures the scent of summer like a classic boardwalk. Take an early morning bike ride or a stroll at dusk as the aroma of French fries, saltwater taffy, and funnel cakes swirls in the sea air. Here you can roll up your sleeves and feast on fresh Maryland crabs, then feel some serious Gs on a roller coaster (maybe not in that order) before overnighting at a picturesque inn on the boardwalk.

The Boardwalk: Travel Channel and USA Today both rank Ocean City's boardwalk among the best in America. On almost every night in summer there is something free going on. Feel like a kid again and delight in amusements and thrills of all kinds. Don't miss the antique carousel and the view from atop the Ferris wheel.

Phillips Seafood Restaurant: An Ocean City legend just a block off the boardwalk, this restaurant is best known for its all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. On the menu, try the steamed hard shell crabs by the dozen or the traditional crab cakes made with the restaurant's original 1956 recipe. Crab imperial, baked in a cream sauce and topped with cheddar cheese, is a house specialty. Looking for a deal? Order some appetizers for take-out—a fun alternative to standard beach picnic fare.

Inn on the Ocean: This enchanting oceanfront B&B right on the boardwalk is a quaint place to fall asleep to the roll of ocean surf. Relax in an elegantly appointed room or on the wrap-around veranda that overlooks the beach. Rates start at $275 per room in late summer ($135 in winter), a great value considering they include a huge gourmet breakfast, afternoon snacks, bicycles, beach umbrellas, and beach chairs.

To search for flights and compare prices to Salisbury, which is home to Ocean City’s nearest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Town of Ocean City Tourism Office)

Step Back in Time Through the Brandywine Valley

Posted May 19, 2009 by Kate Hamman

DE-WinterthurMuseum-DEF Located at the point where southeastern Pennsylvania meets northern Delaware, the Brandywine Valley overflows with history and culture. Within a single day, you can dine in a Civil War meeting place for Union soldiers, tour one of the Du Pont mansions, and sleep in an antique bed. When you travel through the Brandywine Valley, you travel back through time.

Winterthur: At Winterthur, the Du Pont's country estate, you don't simply tour the impressive collections of antiques, you also get to experience them hands-on. In the Touch-It room, school children learn to appreciate handcrafted goods, with activities based on lighting, kitchenware, and crafts. Outside, take a self-guided stroll through the 60-acre gardens featuring plants from around the world hand-picked by the founder, Henry Francis du Pont, or learn more on a narrated tram ride. Admission costs $20 per adult for two consecutive days, and includes entrance to the gardens, galleries, and house. Your ticket also entitles you to an introductory tour, rides on the garden tram, special exhibitions, the Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens, and the Enchanted Woods.

Cornerstone Inn: Built in 1704, the Cornerstone Inn showcases its long history with period decorations, including 18th-century furniture and antique canopy beds, and a stone facade originally fashioned by Quaker masons. Guests are welcomed by candles in the windows, traditionally used to beckon weary travelers. Visitors can relax in the perennial and herb gardens or sit next to a blazing fire on a cold day. Weekend rates start at $130 per night, and include a hearty country breakfast.

Arsenal at Old New Castle: When it comes to history, the Arsenal at Old New Castle is one for the books. Since its completion in 1811, the building has housed civil war troops, cholera patients, high school and elementary students, and most recently hungry patrons. Today, guests can eat in the Eagle and Cannon Tavern, where Union Soldiers once gathered, or dine in the elegant 1812 Dining Room. Dinner entrees start at $18 and include duck breast with mushroom risotto and braised pork loin.

Use our price-comparison tool to search for flights and compare prices to Baltimore and Philadelphia, which are home to the Brandywine Valley’s nearest major airports.

(Photo: Jeanette Lindvig)

A Day in the Life of Southwest Cargo

Posted October 14, 2008 by Carl Unger

Imagine yourself in Baltimore, that grand old seafaring city, ready to sit down to a plate of Maryland's trademark dish—crab. You must be excited! After all, you've traveled all this way, right? Well guess what—so has your crab.

Well, maybe. I'm sure plenty of crab served in Maryland does, in fact, come from Maryland and its environs, and that crab is likely to be clearly labeled on your menu. But the fact is that some crab served in Maryland comes from Texas. And it flies Southwest.

This fascinating (not, I hope, only to geeks like me) video chronicles the journey of a crab shipment from Houston to Baltimore aboard a Southwest flight. Along the way we meet the folks who make Southwest's cargo business run, and get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on. Check it out:

If you're like me, you're asking yourself a few questions right now. These questions could be: How do the crabs not perish/stink up the cargo hold? Personally, I'm flummoxed by this. Second, cardboard boxes? Really? Third, what was that random shot of water around 1:22? Or was it ice?

Anyway, thank you, Southwest, for this enlightening insight into the worlds of cargo shipping and traditional Maryland cuisine.

Hilton Hotels Adds Eco-Roofs to Baltimore, Asheville Properties

Posted August 29, 2008 by Zak Patten

Solarpvarray Who says eco-travel has to mean wearing mosquito netting while avoiding quicksand in a Central American rainforest? Certainly not Hilton Hotels, which is about to have a pair of properties with greener roofs—and last time I checked, neither Asheville nor Baltimore is anywhere near Costa Rica.

What's most interesting about these two projects is that they achieve eco-positive status in two completely different ways. According to Green Lodging News, Asheville's new Hilton Hotel in Biltmore Park Town Square is focused on cutting emissions and fuel costs by installing a "large-scale solar water heating system" on its roof. The new system is expected to supply the 165-room hotel with over 2,000 gallons of hot water per day, and save an estimated $10,000 per year in energy costs, all while giving the hotel a much smaller carbon footprint. In doing so, the Hilton Asheville is set to become one of the first major hotel s in the country to use the sun's energy to heat its water. Combined with "an energy optimization program, the use of recycled, nontoxic and local materials, and the installation of Low-E materials throughout the entire hotel," the fancy solar roof may make this one of the greenest big hotels in the U.S.

The new $300 million, 757-room Hilton Baltimore is also going green, but instead of solar panels, the roofs on its east and west buildings will be home to a 32,000-square-foot garden. With six species and tens of thousands of plantsthis won't look like Grandma's backyard. As The Green Meeting notes, such roofs "are used to provide urban habitat to wildlife, reduce storm runoff, improve air and water quality, lower temperatures and boost aesthetics." So while you may not be able to take an environmentally friendly shower at the Hilton Baltimore, at least all those plants are a lot nicer to look at than a roof full of solar panels. Either way, it's nice to see Hilton blazing an eco-travel trail—without all the bugs.


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