Wyoming

13 Best National Parks to See in the Fall

Posted October 29, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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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.

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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 MaineFoliage.com.

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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.

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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 KentuckyTourism.com for updates.

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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 Michigan.org's Fall Color Map to see the status of local foliage.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 editor@smartertravel.com.

 

Your Own Private Yellowstone

Posted March 25, 2010 by Jamie Moore

Yellowstone You could shuffle past the wonders of Yellowstone with the rest of the crowd, but then you'd end up with the same geyser story as everyone else. Instead, take a private tour, pick up an exclusive piece of "Yellowstone Collection" furniture, or get serenaded by a string quartet at sundown. You'll feel like an A-lister without spending like one.

Play
Yellowstone Association Tours
: Thanks to Yellowstone Association naturalists, you can leave your field guide in the car. These local experts will take you and your family or friends on a private eight-hour jaunt through the park. See the geysers, mud pots, and hot springs, and find out why they do what they do. Or learn about the historic reintroduction of wolves in the park and, with any luck, see them. Daily group rates are $495 for up to five participants.

Shop
Old Hickory Furniture's Yellowstone Collection
: Go ahead and fall in love with the lamp, nightstand, mirror, or dining room chair at Yellowstone's Old Faithful Inn. Now you can take home a replica piece of this 1904 hotel and National Historic Landmark. Yellowstone gift shops have teamed up with Old Hickory Furniture Company (building pieces for the lodge since it opened) to sell a new "Yellowstone Collection" of furniture. Lamps go for $199, chairs for $475—a bargain when you consider sentimental value and the fact that the original dining room chairs are still in use today.

Stay
Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins
: The apres-hiking scene at this historic lakeside hotel is something right out of The Great Gatsby. In the lobby, guests sip whites and reds as they watch the sinking sun and daydream to the sounds of a string quartet. The premium rooms restored to 1920s decor are a bit on the pricey side, but you can stay for less in the hotel's adjacent annex rooms ($145 per night) or in your own cabin ($130/night).

You can use our tool to compare airfares from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Sascha Burkard)

Channel Your Inner Cowboy and Find Deals in Jackson Hole

Posted February 16, 2010 by Amy Westervelt

JacksonHole Jackson Hole still has that cowboys-and-saloon feel, but thanks to world-class skiing and some over-the-top resorts, it has become somewhat of a playground for the rich and famous. If you know where to look, though, there are still a few cowboy deals to be had here at the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

Play
Yellowstone National Park
: Although it may be overrun with tourists in July and August, Yellowstone National Park is still worth a visit, particularly if you go in May or early June, or wait until after the summer entirely. You simply cannot visit Jackson Hole and not allot a few minutes to ooh and ahh at Old Faithful. The drive into the park can sometimes take awhile, but the friendly bison clomping along beside you will keep your mind off it. A $25 per car or $12 per bike entry fee gets you access for seven days.

Drink
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
: For a taste of what Jackson Hole was like years ago, put your boots on and head over to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where the drinks are stiff, the country music is live (Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jr. have each graced the stage), and the saddle-seat bar stools are magnificent.

Stay
Elk Country Inn: Only about a five-minute walk from the town square in Jackson Hole, the Elk Country Inn is ideal in every season. It offers three types of lodging—doubles and queens in its main lodge, detached two-room log cabins with kitchens, and larger family-size rooms. Both rooms and cabins are decked out in cowboy country decor and there's a large, shared barbecue and picnic area in the back. The inn is also on the shuttle route to the ski resort, which makes it convenient in the winter. Rooms start at $55 per night in the winter and $76 per night in the summer.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Jackson Hole from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Pete Collins)

Channel Your Inner Cowboy and Find Deals in Jackson Hole

Posted February 11, 2010 by Amy Westervelt

JacksonHole Jackson Hole still has that cowboys-and-saloon feel, but thanks to world-class skiing and some over-the-top resorts, it has become somewhat of a playground for the rich and famous. If you know where to look, though, there are still a few cowboy deals to be had here at the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

Play
Yellowstone National Park
: Although it may be overrun with tourists in July and August, Yellowstone National Park is still worth a visit, particularly if you go in May or early June, or wait until after the summer entirely. You simply cannot visit Jackson Hole and not allot a few minutes to ooh and ahh at Old Faithful. The drive into the park can sometimes take awhile, but the friendly bison clomping along beside you will keep your mind off it. A $25 per car or $12 per bike entry fee gets you access for seven days.

Drink
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
: For a taste of what Jackson Hole was like years ago, put your boots on and head over to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where the drinks are stiff, the country music is live (Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jr. have each graced the stage), and the saddle-seat bar stools are magnificent.

Stay
Elk Country Inn: Only about a five-minute walk from the town square in Jackson Hole, the Elk Country Inn is ideal in every season. It offers three types of lodging—doubles and queens in its main lodge, detached two-room log cabins with kitchens, and larger family-size rooms. Both rooms and cabins are decked out in cowboy country decor and there's a large, shared barbeque and picnic area in the back. The inn is also on the shuttle route to the ski resort, which makes it convenient in the winter. Rooms start at $55 per night in the winter and $76 per night in the summer.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Jackson Hole from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Pete Collins)


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