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Just because school is back in session and you’ve returned to work doesn’t mean your adventures have to cease. The fall is an excellent time of year to explore America’s National Parks.
Take advantage of a long weekend or fall break to plan a trip to one of these best National Parks to visit in October.
Whether you’re near the West, Southwest, Midwest, South, or Northeast, there’s a National Park nearby worth visiting this fall.
Let’s dive in!
What Is a National Park?
A National Park is an area of land the federal government protects for conservation and education. In 1872, Yellowstone became the first National Park. However, the government didn’t create the National Park Service for another 44 years.
Since then, the National Park System has expanded to 423 units, covering more than 85 million acres. Sixty-three of those units are National Parks.
According to the National Park Service, “A National Park contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.” Alaska and California have the most National Parks, with eight each.
Is October a Good Time to Visit National Parks?
The fall is one of the best times to visit the National Parks because of the milder weather. Generally, hurricane season is over, wildfires aren’t as standard, and outdoor recreation is more enjoyable due to lower temperatures.
The changing colors of the trees provide breathtaking views from the West to East Coast.
What Are the Best National Parks to Visit in the Fall?
There are a few National Parks that are excellent options for fall. This might be because of the better weather, the smaller crowds, or the beautiful foliage.
More comfortable temperatures are at Death Valley National Park and Everglades National Park during the fall. Beautiful colors fill the other locations on our list, like Shenandoah National Park, Acadia National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and more.
Best National Parks to Visit in October (And All of Fall)
Whether you’re looking to escape the crowds, get discounted rates for lodging, or photograph the beauty of the oranges, reds, and yellows that fill the landscape, these are the best National Parks to visit in October.
If you can’t make it in October, September and November are lovely, but for peak leaf season, you’ll want to schedule your visit for October.
Acadia National Park
Location: Bar Harbor, Maine
Why You Should Visit in the Fall: Summer is the peak season for Acadia National Park. If you wait until fall, you’ll experience shorter lines, less crowded hikes, and more parking opportunities inside the park.
It can get cooler in Maine in October, but the weather is pretty comfortable before the frigid winter arrives. You can’t beat the fall foliage as you stand on Cadillac Mountain or Bubble Rock and look out at the stunning colors of the beech, oak, and maple trees.
The Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast is full of hiking trails that range from easy to strenuous. Acadia National Park is a hiker’s paradise with tracks like the Beehive that include rungs, ladders, and steep ledges.
The 45 miles of carriage roads are ideal for mountain bikers traveling through the park. For visitors who want to soak in the views, the Park Road Loop is one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the country.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: North Carolina-Tennessee
Why You Should Visit in the Fall: Like Acadia National Park, the changing colors and falling leaves make this one of the most beautiful locations in the country in October. As the most visited National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains sees over ten million visitors yearly.
Fall is a high season since the weather remains mild and comfortable in the Appalachian Mountains, so you’ll still encounter crowds. But if you want to bask in the vistas of oranges, reds, and yellows, October is a prime time to visit.
Resting along the North Carolina-Tennessee border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers ample hiking, biking, and wildlife viewing opportunities for visitors.
If you’d rather stay in your car, drive along Cades Cove Loop Road, Newfound Gap Road, or the Foothills Parkway for breathtaking views and overlooks.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also an excellent location to learn more about the Cherokee people and the Trail of Tears that sent them away from their homeland to Oklahoma.
Mount Rainier National Park
Location: Ashford, Washington
Why You Should Visit in the Fall: If you want to experience fall colors on the West Coast, Mount Rainier National Park is an ideal option. The best places to see the vibrant colors are Sunrise and Chinook Pass, the Paradise area, Reflection Lakes, Bench, Snow Lake, and Grove of the Patriarchs.
You’ll miss the summer crowds, but you’ll also get chillier temperatures. Grab a coat to explore the park as temperatures range from 32-50 degrees most days in October.
Iconic Mount Rainier ascends 14,410 feet above sea level. Also an active volcano, it’s the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states.
Beautiful wildflower meadows and endless forests surround Mount Rainier’s lower slopes. From biking to hiking and climbing, Mount Rainier is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.
Keep in Mind: Fall is quickly approaching! You’ll Want To Buy these things to make your fall camping experiences more enjoyable!
New River Gorge National Park
Location: Glen Jean, West Virginia
Why You Should Visit in the Fall: Like Acadia and the Great Smoky Mountains, New River Gorge is another prime East Coast National Park to explore in October because of the spectacular scenery. The colors don’t get much better than here.
Plus, on the third Saturday in October, West Virginia’s largest one-day festival, Bridge Day, celebrates the October 1977 completion of the New River Gorge Bridge. Fall is the peak season for visitors, so you’ll still experience similar crowds as the summer along the scenic drives and hiking trails.
But capturing the beauty of New River Gorge National Park in October is worth it.
The New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent, which is also why it has a rich history.
Floods, droughts, coal mine explosions, and fires have all been a part of its history, and New River Gorge National Park preserves that history and educates visitors on the hardships of surviving this rugged land.
The park also protects wildlife, flora, and fauna. It is the longest and deepest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains.
Everglades National Park
Location: Homestead, Florida
Why You Should Visit in the Fall: The dry season in the Everglades is December through April, which is also the peak season for visitors. Because you’ll encounter fewer crowds in October, fall is a convenient time to visit.
You’ll also enjoy milder weather with lower temperatures and less humidity. Everglades National Park doesn’t have fall foliage like other national parks on this list, but it’s perfect for fall travel because of the weather.
Take an airboat ride through the swamps or go for a hike on the Pine Island Trails. Everglades National Park includes the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.
It provides habitats for rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and Florida panther. Bird watching, boating, and paddling are common ways to enjoy the Everglades.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Location: Estes Park, Colorado
Why You Should Visit in the Fall: Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in October due to the stunning golden and yellow hues of the region’s aspen trees.
The color is much different from the fall colors of the East Coast. Fall is also elk mating season, so you’ll likely see ample wildlife during October.
The 415 square miles of Rocky Mountain National Park include pristine lakes, towering peaks, and beautiful meadows. Drive the Old Fall River Road or the Trail Ridge Road to capture these landscapes.
Go climbing, biking, horseback riding, or hiking to enjoy some of the tallest peaks in the lower 48 states.
Shenandoah National Park
Why You Should Visit in the Fall: Shenandoah National Park joins Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, and New River Gorge as another stunning eastern National Park in October. The numerous overlooks along Skyline Drive provide breathtaking scenes of Virginia’s beautiful ridges.
Although not typically a bustling National Park, the fall is the peak season for visitors. Prepare for heavier traffic than other times of the year. The mild weather of Virginia also provides excellent opportunities for hiking during the fall.
Only 75 miles from Washington, D.C, Shenandoah National Park has over 200,000 protected acres, including waterfalls, fields of wildflowers, and endless forests.
Old Rag Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in the park. Wildlife viewing, birding, and photography are other popular activities.
Arches National Park
Location: Moab, Utah
Why You Should Visit in the Fall: The red rock wonderland of Arches National Park won’t give you the stunning fall colors of the other National Parks on this list. Instead, it’s the fewer people and more enjoyable weather that makes Arches a prime destination in October.
You don’t need a timed entry ticket to enter the park in Octobe. You’ll hike popular trails without sidestepping other hikers.
You also don’t have to get up at the crack of down to beat the heat. The temperatures are much more bearable and pleasant in October.
With over 2,000 natural stone arches and massive balanced rocks, Arches National Park offers unique geology unlike anywhere else in America. Canyoneering and rock climbing are popular activities, plus stargazing and backpacking.
Arches National Park also protects the history and cultures of the land dating to the indigenous people who migrated into the area about 10,000 years ago.
Death Valley National Park
Why You Should Visit in the Fall: Like Everglades National Park and Arches National Park, Death Valley National Park makes this list of best National Parks to visit in October because of the weather and fewer crowds.
When the temperatures regularly reach triple digits in the summer, the fall is a breath of fresh air for visitors in southern California. Enjoy sunrise at Zabriskie Point and walk the dunes at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Take in the breathtaking views at night at Badwater Basin without fighting the crowds. You also don’t have to arrive early in the morning to beat the heat in October.
Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes, from peaks with winter snow to fields of wildflowers. The park includes over three million acres of designated wilderness.
This makes hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, and night exploration popular activities. Learn about the California Gold Rush, the famous Twenty Mule Teams, and other stories about people who have called the area “home.”
Keep in Mind: Not only is Death Valley great to visit in the fall, but it’s a great camping destination! Bring your RV along and stay at one of these campgrounds in Death Valley National Park
Are National Parks Crowded In October?
Most National Parks have peak tourist season during the summer when kids are out of school, and families take vacations. Road trips are also more common in the summertime. As a result, National Parks experience fewer crowds in October when kids are in school and parents return to work.
However, some National Parks like Shenandoah National Park and New River Gorge National Park might experience higher visitation. This is particularly evident on weekends in October, because of peak leaf season.
Explore Our National Parks All Fall Long
Just because summer is over doesn’t mean you can’t visit the National Parks. These are some of the best National Parks to visit in October.
They have more comfortable weather conditions, fewer crowds, and stunning fall colors. So as you’re looking for places to explore this fall, check out these National Parks and bask in America’s beauty.
Which National Park do you want to visit this fall?