Fall is a beautiful time to get out and explore National Parks. Once the summer buzz is over and kids are back in school, parks slow down and there are fewer crowds on the popular trails.
One great reason to visit in the fall is to see the leaves change. The vibrant reds, oranges and yellows add a new element of beauty to our treasured National Parks. Each park depending on its location and elevation have different dates for when the best time to view changing leaves is.
Below are the top 10 Nationals Parks in the US for leaf peeping this fall.
One of the best places to see fall foliage is Acadia National Park. Here peak leaf season occurs during the first few weeks of October. The changing leaves of hardwoods create a brilliant contrast against the dark evergreens and the blue of the ocean.
A good way to see the fall colors is to drive the 27-mile loop road that starts at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center.
Along the drive there are numerous viewpoints and overlooks to stop at to take in the park’s beauty. Of course, the best way to explore the fall foliage is to take a walk along the historic Carriage Roads throughout the park.
Address: Acadia National Park, Maine
Shenandoah National Park is a great place to check out fall foliage this autumn. In early October, start looking for changing leaves at higher elevations. By mid-October the colors make their way down onto the hillsides and into the valleys.
Late October focus on the lower elevations and valleys as the hilltops will be brown and bare by then. One easy way to see fall colors is to drive the Skyline Drive.
This 105-mile-long road has 75 overlooks and pullouts, so there’s plenty of opportunity to see the leaves. There are also a few easy hikes for leaf peeping such as the Little Stony Man Overlook, Stony Man Summit, Crescent Rock Overlook and the Pinnacle and Mary’s Rock.
Address: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
In the Great Smoky Mountains, colors are changing all season long. Above 4,000 feet leaves begin changing late September, early October. Colors last throughout the park until early November. To see them, drive along the Clingmans Dome Road, Blue Ridge Parkway or the Foothills Parkway.
Fall foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains is so spectacular due to the diversity of tree species found in the park. Around 100 species of native trees, the majority of them deciduous, change color and drop their leaves each fall. This is what makes this park so spectacular to visit in autumn.
Address: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park has thousands of acres of changing trees which makes it such a spectacular place to leaf peep in the fall. Hike along the Brandywine Gorge Trail to Brandywine Falls.
This is a great place to photograph the colors in late afternoon. Another great place for views of changing trees is from the Ledges Trails. The trail offers great views overlooking the valley as the leaves change. Other great options in the park include Octagon Shelter access road, Oak Hill Trail, Pine Hollow and Indigo Lake.
Address: Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Colors begin changing early in Grand Teton National Park with fall colors starting as early as September and lasting through October. This occurs because of the parks high elevation and temperatures beginning to drop sooner, spurring the change in leaves.
Here you can see a variety of reds, oranges and yellows, thought the most spectacular is the golden aspen groves. Whole groves change at once creating a brilliant pop of color in the fall.
Address: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Glacier National Park has two “falls” each year. Two distinct groups of trees change and shed their leaves at two points throughout the fall. First, the lower elevation cottonwood and aspen trees changes to vibrant gold and shed their leaves.
This happens mid to late September in the park. Next, come mid-October, the western larch or Tamarack change and drop their needles. These deciduous conifers change to a brilliant gold before dropping their needles each year.
Address: Glacier National Park, Montana
In September, leaves begin to change in Mount Rainier National Park. These plants shrubs and trees change to create a beautiful landscape of color. One good place to view this change of color in the park is the Reflection Lakes.
Be sure to bring your camera here because on a clear day the vibrant colors reflecting in the lake is a picturesque sight. If you’re up for a hike, walking the Skyline Trail is a great way to see views of Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Tatoosh Peaks, as well as the changing fall foliage.
Address: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Fall is a great time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. Here you can see the transition of color in plants, shrubs and tree below, at and above tree line. At low elevations aspen groves turn brilliant gold mid to late September and glow against the deep blue Colorado sky.
As you head up in elevation you’ll find more variety in color amongst the shrubs and other vegetation. Drive along the Trail Ridge Road to see what is changing at each elevation.
In addition to the changing foliage, fall is a great time to experience the elk in rut and hear them bugling looking for mates.
Address: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Address: Yosemite National Park, California
Although there is not as much diversity of color in Grand Canyon National Park as there is in other parks, the changing of the aspens is something to not overlook. Though the south rim is the more popular destination, there are more changing aspen along the north rim.
Leaves typically change in the park throughout October. This is one of the best places for leaf peeping in Arizona.
Address: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona