Are you ready for a Fall getaway? Vibrant colors light up the landscapes and crisp autumn temperatures fill the air. Check out this complete list of the best national parks to visit in September & October, or what I like to call peak Fall. So, you can get out and see some of the most stunning parks 😍 in the entire US!
I love National Parks and my husband and I have been to all 51 national parks in the Lower 48 🇺🇸. Some of these parks we visited in Fall, others we wish we had visited in Fall. This year we are even planning on going to two of them in October. So, I know the parks that are the best fall destinations for your next vacation.
Below I’ve created a list of the 5 best National Parks to visit this Fall! You can read all about the highlights in the parks, why they are the best parks to visit in autumn, and what you need to know before you go!
Don’t forget to get your National Parks Pass here!
You Might Also Like These Posts:
- Best Road Trips in the USA
- 5 Ultimate Fall Getaways on the East Coast
- 5 Best National Parks to Visit in Summer
Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post. If you use them, I may get a small commission at no extra charge to you. Thanks for your support <3
Table of Contents
5 Best National Parks to Visit in September & October
1) Acadia, Maine
Acadia is a rugged and beautiful park on the coast of Maine 🌲. This park is one of the best in the entire country and people that visit fall in love with the spectacular scenery. Travel to this park to see the gorgeous pine trees that cover the mountains and overlook the sea.
Acadia was created to preserve the unique ecosystem on Mount Desert Island. This island is where the mountains ⛰ meet the sea 🌊. This park is also incredibly family-friendly with great trails to take, a fantastic scenic drive through it, and a plethora of opportunities to explore. Don’t miss out on visiting this incredible area!
Weather in September: Lows in 50s & Highs in 60s
Weather in October: Lows in low 40s & Highs in 50s
Why Acadia is One of the Best National Parks to Visit in Fall:
Acadia may be the prettiest place in the entire country during the months of September and October. Colors change on many of the trees to vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows. However, the pine trees keep their green color, which makes a stunning scene. You’ll be amazed at the kaleidoscope of colors 🌈 that cover the mountains.
Also, after a hot summer, the temperatures cool down and provide the perfect crisp weather to explore. September & October have plenty of sunny days which allow for tons of explorations through the park. Plus, some trails close in the summer for birds nesting and reopen in the Fall, so it’s a wonderful time to get out 🥾!
You’ll experience the quintessential autumn weekend, so get ready do don your favorite flannel as you adventure. Go on stunning hikes overlooking orange trees, get a decadent Lobster Roll 🦞 in Bar Harbor, and feel the sun on your face. Honestly, I wish that I could spend every Fall in Acadia!
What to Do in Acadia:
Important Things to Know:
💵 Acadia’s entrance fee is $35 for a private vehicle which covers 7 day.
⛺️There are 4 campgrounds in Acadia National Park and all of them require reservations. You can make reservations in advance on recreation.gov.
🦮 Pets are allowed in the park, which makes it one of the few pet friendly parks. Make sure to always keep your dog on a leash while in the park.
⚠️ Roads may get closed due to weather so check updates on the NPS website. That way you won’t ever get stuck!
🌄 You will need to get reservations to see the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain. You can get these either 90 days in advance or 2 days in advance at 10 am EST. These sell out within seconds, so you’ll need to be on it!
Find a Place to Stay:
2) North Cascades, Washington
Visit one of the least visited parks in the entire country– North Cascades. This park is just four hours from Seattle and has some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the country. Full of tall mountain peaks, stunning blue lakes 💙, and plenty of wildlife. You’ll wonder why more people aren’t there!
North Cascades is part of the Cascade Mountain range towering above the landscape down below. This park sits at 10,000 feet, which means that snow ❄️❄️ covers the mountains for much of the year. It’s remote and rugged landscape makes it the perfect destination for the outdoorsy adventurers.
Weather in September: Lows in 30s & Highs in 50s
Weather in October: Lows in low 20s & Highs in 40s
Why North Cascades is One of the Best National Parks to Visit in Fall:
North Cascades has been on my fall trip bucket list for forever. I’m finally going to get to cross it off this coming October. During the fall, colors cover the mountains in a stunning display of reds and oranges 🧡. It’s one of the craziest scenes that you could ever imagine.
Maple Pass Loop is known as being one of the ✨ best hikes in the entire country ✨ in the Fall. Autumn colors light up the trail and it is one of the most incredible sights that you’ll ever see.
North Cascades is the perfect destination for Fall because the colors are crazy, the crowds are small, and its one of the rare times of year that you can access the trails there without snow. By this time of year, all of the parts of the park are open 👍🏻, which means that you’ll be able to see everything you want. This park is truly one of the most underrated.
What to Do in North Cascades:
- Hike one of the prettiest fall trails- Maple Loop
- Drive the scenic North Cascades Highway
- See the stunning Diablo Lake
- Travel up to Washington Pass
- Go on wonderful treks to Blue Lake or Rainy Lake
- Go stargazing under the clear night’s sky 💫
Important Things to Know:
💵 There is no fee to enter North Cascades! This is one of the few national parks without any entrance price.
☀️ Weather changes quickly in the North Cascades. Make sure that you stay updated and that you take the proper precautions. If there are signs of bad weather, stay in the lower elevations.
⛺️ There are 6 campgrounds in North Cascades National Park. You will need to make a reservation during the peak season, but in the shoulder season after September 10th they are first-come, first-served.
🐻 North Cascades is bear country, so make sure to stay bear aware and make loud noises when hiking on the trails. Pack bear spray with you at all times. Use the rule of thumb when viewing wildlife, so that you stay the correct distance away.
🦮 Pets are not allowed in the park other than on the Pacific Crest Trail and only within 50 feet of all roads.
⚠️ In the fall, you may still have various road and trail closures in the park based on the yearly snowfall. You can get updates on openings on the NPS website or ask the rangers in the park when you arrive.
3) Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina & Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains are the most visited national park in the entire US! There’s good reason for that with gorgeous mountainous views throughout, hundreds of trails, and plenty of wildlife 🦌. There’s truly something for everyone in this wonderful landscape.
The Smokys straddle the line between Tennessee and North Carolina. You can start your visit in one state and then head to the other. This park is more than 500,000 acres 😮, which means there’s plenty to see and do. You could go back hundreds of times and still find something new.
Weather in September: Highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s
Weather in October: Highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s
Why the Great Smokys is One of the Best National Parks to Visit in September & October:
If you are looking for somewhere that has both great Fall weather and vibrant colors, then the Smokys is the best destination. September and October have mild to warm temperatures that get up into the 80s at times 😎. But, the colors still continue to change on the mountains.
All you need to do is drive through the park to get spectacular views over the yellow and orange trees. But, the best way to explore the autumnal scene is to get into the forest 🌳 and on the trails. There, you’ll be completely surrounded by the Fall colors and sunshine.
What to Do in the Great Smoky Mountains:
- Drive up to Newfound Gap
- Visit Clingmans Dome-the highest point in the park
- Complete the trek up to Mt Leconte
- Hike one of the many great trails including Andrews Bald, Chimney Tops, or Alum Cave
- Travel through the scenic Cades Cove or Roaring Fork Nature Trail
- Explore the town of Gatlinburg
Important Things to Know:
💵 Great Smoky Mountains does not charge an entrance fee. However, they recently started charging for parking within the park. You can get a week-long parking tag for $15.
⚠️ Some trails in the park close due to storms or trail maintenance. You can check the status of all trails here.
☀️ The temperature can vary by 10-20 degrees from the base of the Smokys to the mountain tops. It’s best to wear layers and if there is any sign of inclement weather you should stick to lower elevations.
⛺️ There are a plethora of options for camping within the Smokys. There are 10 campgrounds in the park or you can go into the backcountry. If you don’t want to camp Gatlinburg is just outside the park with many options for lodging.
🦮 Pets are allowed at campgrounds and in parking lots, but they are not permitted on most trails.
4) Congaree, South Carolina
Congaree is one of those parks that is not on most people’s radar. However, this park is incredibly unique and is one of those places that will pull you in. You’ll feel as if you’re in the setting of a book or movie as you walk or kayak 🚣♀️ through the park (maybe you’ll feel like you’re in the Notebook). It’s easily accessible and dog friendly as well, which makes it that much better!
Just 30 minutes from Columbia, South Carolina, Congaree is ideally situated. This park is home to the largest area of old growth bottomland hardwood forest. Waters from the Congaree River run through this park, making it a wonderful area for plant and animal life. You’ll definitely want to see this unique ecosystem 🍃!
Weather in September: Highs in 80s, lows in 60s
Weather in October: Highs in 70s, lows in 50s
Why Congaree is One of the Best National Parks to Visit in September & October:
Congaree is a fantastic park to visit in the Fall while temperatures are warm and water levels are low. The old growth forest begins to change colors in October and it’s a magical setting. You’ll feel as if you’re in a fairytale 🧚♀️!
You’ll get to explore one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world while the park is humming with life. Animals are still active in the Fall and the plant life is still flourishing before the winter. Also, the water levels are low which means that it’s a calm time to get out on the water.
Congaree will win your heart and show you how truly magical it is 💫 if you visit this autumn! I hope that you add it to your bucket list.
What to Do in Congaree:
- Go on a Guided Ranger Walk
- Walk the Boardwalk Loop Trail
- Go Kayaking or canoeing on Cedar Creek
- Spend time fishing in the waters
- Go Backpacking further in the backcountry
Important Things to Know:
💵 Congaree is yet another park that does not have any fee. This is another great reason to go for a visit!
⛺️ There are two campgrounds in the park as well as backcountry camping. You have to book the campgrounds in advance on recreation.gov. If you want to camp in the backcountry then you will need to get a permit at the visitor center.
🦟 There are bugs in the park until the mid-Fall. So, you will want to bring insect repellant to keep the bugs at bay!
🦮 Pets are allowed on all trails and in the campgrounds, making it one of the most pet friendly parks!
5) Zion, Utah
Transport yourself to another world and visit Zion National Park. As you drive or hike through this park, you’ll be surrounded by red rock cliffs. Climb up to the tops of mountains or along the gushing Virgin River 💦. There’s really no such things as a bad time in Zion.
Zion is one of the most beautiful parks in the entire country. In Southern Utah, this park preserves the stunning sandstone cliffs that sit within its bounds. Canyon walls are cut by the Virgin River creating a spectacular geological formation. You’ll be amazed at the natural artistry 🎨 on display in the park!
Weather in September : Highs in the 80s, lows in the 50s
Weather in October: Highs in the 70s, lows in the 40s
Why Zion is One of the Best National Parks to Visit in September & October:
If you’ve always wanted to visit this park, then Fall is the best time to go! Yellow colors 💛 start to cover the trees and contrast the red cliffs in the landscape. Temperatures cool down from the heat of the summer and crowds start to dissipate.
One of the best parts about visiting in the fall is that most of the hikes in the park are accessible! The Narrows and Angels Landing are two of the most unique hikes in the country and they should be on everyone’s bucket list. The Narrows closes at times due to high water levels, but the water dies down in the fall.
Zion is truly one of the most unforgettable places in the world. Fall is absolutely the best time to visit and you will be in awe 😱 at all the wonders of Zion!
What to Do in Zion:
- Trek through the Virgin River in The Narrows
- Defy heights and climb up to Angels Landing
- Go on other scenic trails in the park including Emerald Pools, Canyon Overlook, or Pa’rus
- Take a bike ride through the park
- Take a shuttle through the scenic drive
Important Things to Know:
💵 Zion costs $35 for a private vehicle that covers 7 days. However, you may have to park outside the park regardless.
🎟 The Angels Landing hike requires permits. You can try to snag them on the recreation.gov lottery the day before your hike. The lottery opens at 12:01 am and closes at 3 pm every day. If you do not get a permit, you can still do the hike until the chains.
⛺️ Zion has three campgrounds. However, one of them (Lava Point) is an hour away from Zion Canyon. The other two campgrounds require reservations, which you can make on recreation.gov.
⛈ Large storms can sweep through Zion and cause flash flooding. If there is any sign of rain in the forecast then you should not go in the Narrows. It can be very dangerous and even fatal.
🦮 The only trail that pet is allowed on is the Pa’rus trail. Otherwise, they are not permitted.
Find my favorite gear for outdoor adventures here.
Fall is a fantastic time to visit the national parks! The colors change, crowds dwindle, and temperatures are mild. If you are looking for a fun adventurous trip, then any of these parks will be fantastic. Go on a family trip or a weekend getaway and get outdoors!
Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this list!
📍 Pin 5 Best National Parks to Visit this Fall to Pinterest