The 4 Best National Parks to Visit in the Fall

Shades of Perfection

“And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.” So said Irish poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde.

It seems that fall is the one season that everybody likes. If you ask people what their favorite season is, we’re willing to bet that the majority will cite fall as their favorite. You’ll get votes for summer, but some feel summer is too hot. Obviously, winter can get pretty cold. Spring has nice flowers but can be muddy and gray, and you find yourself anxious for summer to arrive.

But fall is like summer without the extremes. It’s a comfortable season where you can wear hoodies and jeans, and it features two of the top holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving.

And foliage is what truly makes fall special. Nothing marks the passage of summer into fall like green leaves taking on fresh new looks. Which – if we remember back to science class – has to do with leaves halting the production of chlorophyll. Once trees sense shorter days with less sunlight, a burst of fall colors is sure to follow.

Leaves change color quite spectacularly in America’s National and State Parks. Here are four fall destinations that are known for their stunning foliage:

Glacier National Park

Sprawling Glacier National Park encompasses more than a million acres. That offers ample space for a staggering number of trees. A foliage best bet? Going-to-the-Sun Road, which in fall should really be called Going-to-Blow-Your-Mind Road. Wow. And while you’re there, don’t miss out on the Great Northwest Oktoberfest in downtown Whitefish.

Going-to-the-Sun Road provides the perfect vantage point to bask in all the fall colors of Glacier National Park.
Going-to-the-Sun Road provides the perfect vantage point to bask in all the fall colors of Glacier National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Smoky Mountains feature more than 100 types of native trees, so fall foliage is something the park does very well. October and November tend to be the best months to experience the park’s kaleidoscope of colors, with the Blue Ridge Parkway offering endless leaf peeping possibilities. Hike to the top of Flat Top Mountain Trail for a stunning fall view from the tallest peak of the three Peaks of Otter.

Shenandoah National Park

Fall is the most popular time to visit Shenandoah National Park. With cooler temperatures, it’s easier to explore the park’s 516 miles of hiking trails. There, you’ll experience landscapes of yellow, orange, red and several colors in between on maple, red oak, birch trees and more. If you’re not one for hiking, take a scenic tour down Skyline Drive, featuring a 105-mile byway that lets you “ride the sky” through the park.

The cooler temperatures of fall make exploring Shenandoah's 516 miles of trail much easier than in summer.
The cooler temperatures of fall make exploring Shenandoah's 516 miles of trail much easier than in summer.

Acadia National Park

Way up north in the Pine Tree State, you’ll find that smaller crowds gather at Acadia National Park in autumn. And in early October, you’ll experience peak fall foliage. Pro tip: check out the views of the trees from appropriately-named Cadillac Mountain.

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Jeff Bucki is a copywriter for Delaware North’s Creative Studio, based in Buffalo, N.Y.