Fall in Full View: National Parks to Visit Before Winter Hits
Visiting national parks during the fall offers an incredible opportunity to witness an annual transformation of our country’s most beautiful and otherworldly landscapes. As foliage changes color and wildlife prepare for the winter months, many of us rush out to view these stunning spaces before the weather turns. However, some national parks can become quite cold or inaccessible due to snow and ice during this season. Below is our curated list of beautiful national parks that are alive with gorgeous seasonal colors while also being generally accessible and not too cold in the Fall. From Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, to Zion National Park in Utah, these are the best national parks to visit in October and November each year.
The Best National Parks to Visit in October and November
If Fall colors are your favorite thing about the season, visit these national parks before it’s too late! Remember that peak foliage times can vary each year based on weather conditions and elevation. Always check the park’s official website or contact local rangers to get the most current information on the best times to visit for fall colors.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, and North Carolina
Established in 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S. with over 12 million visitors annually. It’s renowned for its biodiversity, mist-covered mountains, and preserved historic buildings.
In fall, the park bursts into color thanks to sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgums, and hickories. Snow often begins in December, especially at higher elevations, but the park is open year-round. However, certain roads and facilities might close due to winter conditions.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Location: 35.6131° N, 83.5532° W
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Founded in 1935, Shenandoah stretches along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Famous for the Skyline Drive, it attracts around 1.5 million visitors each year. Oak, hickory, and chestnut trees dominate the forested landscape and provide spectacular fall foliage.
Snowfall can start in November and might lead to temporary closures of roads and hiking trails. The park remains open year-round, but some facilities might have seasonal closures. As such, it might not be one of the best national parks to visit in November. Try to visit the park before the end of October.
Shenandoah National Park Location: 38.4755° N, 78.4535° W
Acadia National Park, Maine
Established in 1919, Acadia is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi River. With over 3.5 million visitors annually, the park is celebrated for its rugged coastline and diverse habitats. Deciduous trees like maple, birch, and aspen contribute to the fall colors. Snow typically starts in December, but the park’s main areas remain open. Some roads and facilities, however, close for the winter.
Acadia National Park Location: 44.3386° N, 68.2733° W
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion, Utah’s oldest national park, was established in 1919. Its red and white cliff walls, narrow canyons, and diverse plant and animal life attract around 4.5 million visitors annually. In fall, cottonwood and maple trees offer vibrant colors. While the park is open year-round, snow can begin in December, affecting accessibility in certain areas.
Zion National Park Location: 37.2982° N, 113.0263° W
Arches National Park, Utah
Founded in 1929, Arches boasts over 2,000 natural stone arches. With over 1.5 million annual visitors, it’s famous for landmarks like Delicate Arch.
While not known for fall foliage, there are cottonwood trees that turn yellow in the fall. The park is open year-round, but snowfall, which can start in December, might affect road conditions.
Arches National Park Location: 38.7331° N, 109.5925° W
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Established in 1929, this park is famous for the Teton Range’s rugged mountains and attracts around 3.4 million visitors each year. Aspens provide brilliant fall colors. Snow starts around November and continues into spring. Though the park remains open, certain roads and facilities close for winter.
Grand Teton National Park Location: 43.7904° N, 110.6818° W
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Designated a national park in 1971, Capitol Reef is known for the Waterpocket Fold and its unique geology. With roughly 1.2 million visitors annually, it offers a display of fall colors in its orchards and from cottonwood trees. The park is accessible year-round, but snow, which can start in December, may impact some areas.
Capitol Reef National Park Location: 38.0877° N, 111.1355° W
Olympic National Park, Washington
Established in 1938, Olympic boasts nearly 3.5 million visitors annually. With diverse ecosystems, from rainforests to coastal shores, it’s a unique gem. Bigleaf maples and vine maples provide fall colors. While the park is open all year, snow, starting around November, affects higher elevations.
Olympic National Park Location: 47.8021° N, 123.6044° W
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Designated a national park in 2000, it attracts over 2 million visitors annually. Trees like sugar maples, oaks, and sycamores offer fall foliage. The park remains open year-round, with snowfall beginning around December.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Location: 41.2808° N, 81.5678° W
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Founded in 1915, the park sees over 4.5 million visitors yearly. Known for its alpine landscapes, aspen trees provide brilliant fall colors. Snow can start as early as September at higher elevations. The park is open year-round, but certain roads close in winter.
Rocky Mountain National Park Location: 40.3428° N, 105.6836° W
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey
Established in 1965, this area sees about 4 million visitors annually. Oaks, maples, and shagbark hickories offer fall colors. While open year-round, snowfall, starting around December, can affect some activities.
Delaware Water Gap National Park Location: 41.1044° N, 74.9443° W
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Next on our list of favorite national parks is Lassen Volcanic National Park. Established in 1916, this park, with over 500,000 annual visitors, is known for its geothermal features. Trees like aspen, willow, and cottonwood add fall hues. The park is open year-round, but snow, which can start in October, affects higher elevations.
Lassen Volcanic National Park: 40.4977° N, 121.4207° W
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Designated a national park in 1941, it’s the world’s longest cave system. The park, attracting over 2 million visitors annually, sees fall colors from oaks, hickories, and maples. It remains open year-round, with snow starting around December.
Mammoth Cave National Park Location: 37.1862° N, 86.1000° W
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park was established on June 12, 1944. This remote park is located in West Texas and encompasses a significant portion of the Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert. Big Bend is renowned for its striking geological features, including deep canyons carved by the Rio Grande River, vast desert expanses, and the rugged Chisos Mountains.
The park is also a significant biodiversity hotspot, being home to more bird species than any other national park in the United States. Its remoteness and dark skies make it one of the best places in North America for stargazing.
Big Bend isn’t traditionally recognized for its fall foliage in the same manner as parks in more temperate climates. However, in the fall, certain plants like the bigtooth maple in the Chisos Basin might show autumn colors.
The riparian areas along the Rio Grande also see some color changes, primarily from cottonwood and willow trees turning golden. Given its desert location, snow is rare in Big Bend. When it does occur, it’s usually in the winter months and is most likely to be found in the higher elevations of the Chisos Mountains. The desert areas of the park remain quite warm even in winter.
Big Bend National Park Location: 29.2498° N, 103.2502° W
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park in California is another fantastic destination for fall foliage, although it’s often overlooked in favor of its granite cliffs, waterfalls, and iconic landmarks like El Capitan and Half Dome. One of California’s most popular national parks to visit all year round, Yosemite offers a unique blend of colors during the fall season.
Black oaks are perhaps the most striking trees in Yosemite during the fall. By mid to late October, the leaves of the black oaks in Yosemite Valley turn a brilliant gold, creating a dazzling contrast against the park’s iconic granite backdrops.
In the fall, dogwoods in the park transform from green to deep red, offering a lovely contrast to the predominantly evergreen landscape. Bigleaf maple trees turn a bright yellow, and you can find them around the Merced River in Yosemite Valley and along some of the park’s roads.
Found along the Merced River, Pacific Dogwood trees turn a brilliant red in the fall. Especially around water sources, you’ll find willows turning gold.
The best areas to see fall colors in Yosemite are typically around Yosemite Valley, especially near the Merced River. The fall foliage here may not be as extensive as in parks dominated by deciduous forests, but the contrast of vibrant autumn colors against Yosemite’s iconic landmarks is truly stunning. Consider visiting Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, or Grand Canyon National Park while in the West.
Yosemite National Park Location: 37.8651° N, 119.5383° W
When planning a visit, always check the park’s official website or contact park rangers to get the most up-to-date information on accessibility, weather conditions, and peak foliage times. Additionally, while some parks might not be too cold at lower elevations, higher elevations can be significantly colder and may have snow, so it’s essential to come prepared.
If none of the national parks in your state were mentioned, here are a few other parks to consider this Fall. All are stunning from early October through early November.
- River Gorge National Park
- Everglades National Park
- North Cascades National Park
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park