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. 

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Discover How Affordable Charlottesville Can Be

Posted August 18, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Charlottesville Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville, Virginia, offers natural beauty in a small town atmosphere. Come discover an area rich in history and culture by taking a tour of Thomas Jefferson's former home, staying in a masterfully crafted inn, and snacking on to-die-for donuts made the old-fashioned way.

Monticello: Step inside the house depicted on the nickel to learn all about Thomas Jefferson. Completed in 1809, Monticello and its grounds have been restored to what the President would have called home during his retirement. You can see the gadgets, furnishings, and objects that made Jefferson such a unique man. Admission costs $15 or $20 (depending on season), and includes a tour of the house, grounds and gardens, and the 5,000 acres of plantation. Save money with a Presidents' Pass, where you can also tour the Ash Lawn-Highland (home of James Monroe) and Michie Tavern, as well as Monticello, for only $29 or $34.

The Dinsmore House Inn: The Dinsmore House Inn stands as a testament to the fine craftsmanship of Thomas Jefferson's master builder, James Dinsmore. Built in 1817, the property still maintains Dinsmore's architectural design. Choose from the inn's eight guest rooms, and enjoy extras such as complimentary drinks and snacks, an evening wine and cheese social hour, and an indoor pool. Rooms start at $109 per night, and include a full breakfast. You can also save a little by choosing from one of the inn's many package options.

The Spudnut Shop: Though not connected to Thomas Jefferson, the Spudnut Shop is a Charlottesville institution. With only a handful of places in the country still producing these potato-flour donuts, the cafe is living proof that some traditions are just too sweet to ever go away. The shop makes a variety of homemade spudnuts each day, including the plain glazed, which is an all-time favorite.

To search for flights and compare prices to Charlottesville, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Klaas Lingbeek-van Kranen/IStockphoto)

Pony Drives on Chincoteague Island

Posted May 28, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Chincoteague Chincoteague Island, located off the northern Atlantic coastline of Virginia, is a resort island with a twist. Hotels and restaurants can be found alongside campgrounds and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, where more than 260 species of birds can be found. Crabbing and clamming are favorite pastimes, and the island's old-fashioned charm is downright enchanting.

Chincoteague Pony Swim: Once a year since 1925, the wild ponies of Assateague Island are rounded up to swim across the channel as part of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company's annual carnival. On July 28 this year, the ponies will once again take to the water, and you can watch this legendary herd known for its beauty and grace. And if you fall in love with one of the horses, be sure to put in a bid at the annual auction (if, of course, you have enough room and patience for one). Two days later, watch the ponies return to their island.

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

(Photo: iStockphoto/Sandy Manter)

Get Smart in Wise County, Virginia

Posted April 14, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Wise Scenic overlooks and babbling brooks are the major tourist draw to rural Wise County, Virginia. With more than 35,000 acres of nearby Jefferson National Forest that you can explore on foot, on a bike, or in a canoe, Wise is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Families and couples can also enjoy the town’s cultural and historical attractions.

The Clapboard House: The Clapboard House, one of the oldest buildings in town, may look like a cozy Appalachian home on the inside, but in fact everything is for sale—even the furniture. You can take home a brand name sofa, or hand-forged wrought iron furniture as a souvenir you’ll use every day. For a memento that fits in your carry-on, though, browse through the Appalachian Showcase, which features crafts, books, art, and more created by locals. As you walk through the organized chaos of the displays, you’ll find everything from bark baskets and coal jewelry to regional music, so be sure to keep your eyes open for that special keepsake.

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

(Photo: Tim C. Cox - Wise, VA)

Trail Blaze in Damascus, Virginia

Posted March 18, 2010 by Jamie Moore

Damascus Dig out those hiking boots for a leaf-crunching hike in Trail Town, U.S.A. (Damascus, Virginia). This small town is the gateway to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, and 166 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Get going with home-cooked food and then, after hitting the AT, laze about at a cozy trailside inn.

Appalachian Trail: Virginia is home to 550 miles of the Appalachian Trail, more than any other state. Walk some of them in Damascus, where the national trail runs right down the main thoroughfare. It also winds north and up, way up, to Mount Rogers, the highest point in the state. If you're not feeling that ambitious, go south to the flat ridge, known in summer as the "green tunnel."

In the Country Bakery & Eatery
: Refuel at In the Country Bakery & Eatery, a crafts store-turned-restaurant that offers plenty of tasty treats. Enjoy the crowd favorite chicken salad, pulled pork barbecue with slaw, or a bologna and cheese sandwich beneath a shade tree on the porch. The attached ice cream shop bakes their own waffle cones, so you won't be able to resist treating yourself to a scoop for dessert.

Lazy Fox Inn
: A long hike makes it easy to justify a lazy evening. Sling your whole body into the backyard hammock at the Lazy Fox Inn, or get comfortable underneath the covered gazebo. In the cozy rooms, you'll fall asleep to the murmur of a nearby creek. Loyal guests return for the legendary breakfasts: scrambled eggs, hash browns, cheese grits, fresh fruit, bacon, and sticky buns. Second and third helpings encouraged.

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


Exploring Virginia's Presidential Stomping Grounds

Posted October 26, 2009 by Jamie Moore

Va-montpeliar-def Election fever is upon us (even though this year's election season isn't quite as exciting as last year's), and we couldn't help but follow the campaign trail to some of central Virginia's best spots with historic head-of-state ties. Drive two hours south of D.C. near Orange, Virginia, to James Madison's newly transformed Montpelier estate, a country inn built by Thomas Jefferson's kin, and vineyards with a storied presidential past.

Montpelier: In September the historic home and estate of James and Dolley Madison reopened after a five-year renovation, bringing it back to its original appearance. Take a tour and find out what new insights the archaeologists and architects uncovered about the lives of the Father of the Constitution and one of the nation's first First Ladies. You could easily spend an afternoon wandering the mansion, gardens, historic buildings, old-growth forests, new visitor's center, cemetery, and freedman's cabin and farm. Admission is $14.

The Inn on Poplar Hill: Get swept away to another political era in this restored 1890s Queen Anne Victorian B&B built by Thomas Jefferson's great-granddaughter. Period antiques, handcrafted quilts, and claw-foot tubs grace the six charming rooms starting at $139 per night. Here you can awake to the aroma of a huge Southern breakfast with pumpkin pecan waffles, soak in the outdoor hot tub, or hike trails on the inn's 28-acre expanse in the heart of wine country.

Barboursville Vineyards: Even Virginia's wine country has presidential connections. On the grounds of Barboursville Vineyards are the ruins of early Virginia governor James Barbour's mansion, the last house Thomas Jefferson designed. The surviving columns and brick walls are a backdrop for Shakespeare theater in summer. Tours and tastings at the award-winning winery, in a Northern Italian-style farmhouse, are free on weekends. It's one stop on the 21-winery Monticello Wine Trail, which also includes the vineyard where Jefferson tried unsuccessfully to grow wine grapes.

To search for flights and compare prices to Charlottesville, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Kenneth M. Wyner/The Montpelier Foundation)

Relive 18th-Century Glory in Colonial Williamsburg

Posted July 13, 2009 by Amy Westervelt

Virginia-Williamsburg It's hard not to feel seized by the spirit of revolution in Williamsburg, even if you're not one of the legions of history buffs that descend on the town annually. Visit this living history museum in the summer for special children's activities such as dance lessons and tours, and explore the 500 or so restored buildings, homes, and gardens from the 18th-century. And for a break, you can eat, sleep, and shop in colonial style.

Mary Dickinson Shop and McKenzie's: You'd be hard pressed to find three-cornered hats and silk bonnets in shops elsewhere in the country. Take advantage of Williamsburg's historic kitsch and pick up a bonnet at the Mary Dickinson Shop (Jones Mill Lane) or an old-fashioned tonic and some rock candy at McKenzie's (Jones Mill Lane).

The King's Arms Tavern: The most authentic British pubs in the country are Williamsburg's colonial taverns. Play like John Quincy Adams and tuck into a wooden, candle-lit table at The King's Arms for hot and hearty prime rib or Game Pye (similar to a chicken pot pie). It's a good idea to call ahead for dinner reservations, particularly on weekends, but lunch is usually a safe bet. Expect to pay from $27to $35 for dinner, $12 to $14 for lunch.

Colonial Capitol B&B: A crisp white and black 18th-century colonial manse, the Colonial Capitol B&B also boasts dozens of windows that keep the house airy and bright all year round. The friendly hosts will pick you up at the airport or train station upon request, and rooms are cozy with antique wood furniture and soft, fluffy bedding. The B&B is just a three-block walk to the heart of Colonial Williamsburg and several local restaurants. Rooms start at $145 per night and include full breakfast.

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

(Photo: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

Visit Virginia Beach for a Vacation That Won't Drain the College Fund

Posted June 26, 2009 by Amy Westervelt

Va-vabeach-kids-def With more than 20 miles of white sandy beaches, a three-mile boardwalk, and pleasant, sunny weather much of the year, Virginia Beach is a great place for the all-American family holiday or a wild and rowdy spring break. Thankfully, unlike a lot of beach resorts, prices here are affordable for families and college students alike.

Rudee Tours: After a few hours of playing on the beach, head out to sea for a dolphin cruise with Rudee Tours. The tours are led by naturalists from the Virginia Beach Aquarium who really know their stuff, and dolphins frequently frolic next to the boat. In the winter, Rudee also offers whale watching cruises, and the chance to spot humpback and fin whales as they make their way down the Virginia Beach coastline. Dolphin tours cost $19 per adult.

Tautogs Restaurant: A quaint cottage-turned-eatery, Tautogs Restaurant is a hamlet of charm in the midst of sometimes-tacky Virginia Beach. It also serves up some of the best and cheapest local seafood, with tasty she-crab bisque, sage and cornmeal-coated catfish, and terrific crab cakes. Most entrees range from about $11 to $16.

Four Sails Resort: To escape Virginia Beach's high-rise oceanfront hotels without missing out on the view, book a condo at the Four Sails Resort. Located at the north end of the beach and offering all the amenities of a hotel but with more privacy, each one-bedroom condo has a full kitchen and an oceanview balcony, and the complex also includes a pool and gym. Rates range from $69 to $259 per night.

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

(Photo: Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau)

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