As you embark on your cross-country move or start settling in your new home, keep your hiking boots and flannel shirt handy — it’s time for an adventure!
With the onset of fall comes stunning displays of autumn foliage set against dramatic landscapes, there’s no better place to take in the seasonal spectacle than America’s national parks. And there’s no better way to make your move — or move-in — memorable than with a national parks adventure.
Our National Parks Guides advocate for just that — using these wide-open spaces to stretch your legs, settle your mind and prepare you for your new chapter in life.
From the red and gold leaves of New England to rainbow-colored forests of the Pacific Northwest, some of the country’s most gorgeous scenery is on full display this time of year. So, pack up the car, get out into nature and experience the seasonal wonder for yourself.
We’ve picked the five best national parks to visit for foliage fix — not to mention a “vacation from your move” — this fall.
Yellowstone National Park: Dramatic Geysers and Vibrant Aspen Trees
Yellowstone National Park is one of the best places to see jaw-dropping fall foliage and spurting geysers — especially since every autumn, the park’s aspens explode into a sea of gold.
In September and October, make your way to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its thundering Lower Falls. The vibrant yellow aspens lining the canyon contrast beautifully with the deep greens of the pines. For the best views, hike part of the North Rim Trail or South Rim Trail.
While you’re there, don’t miss the park’s famous geothermal features, like Old Faithful and the kaleidoscopic Grand Prismatic Spring. The billowing steam and vivid blues of the hot springs are especially striking in fall. For a scenic drive, head to Firehole Lake Drive to observe Great Fountain Geyser and White Dome Geyser on full display.
With massive herds of bison, elk, and bighorn sheep, you’ll likely spot wildlife along the roads and hiking trails, too. Listen for the eerie bugling of bull elk during the fall mating season. Dawn and dusk are the best times for wildlife viewing and photography.
Other must-sees are the thundering Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, gorgeous Emerald Pool, and the scenic North and South Rim drives. Rustic Old Faithful Inn is also worth a visit.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A Kaleidoscope of Fall Colors
One of the top spots to see autumn in all its glory is Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, this park is home to stunning fall vistas, especially along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In October, the rolling hills blaze with color as the leaves change. Vibrant reds, oranges and golds ripple across the landscape, set against a backdrop of azure blue skies and wispy white clouds. There are over 100 species of native trees here, including maple, hickory, birch and ash, making for one spectacular show.
For postcard-worthy views, drive 33-mile Newfound Gap Road across the center of the park. Stop at the many overlooks and trailheads along the way to photograph the fall colors unfolding below you. At Newfound Gap, you’ll find yourself at the highest point of the road, situated right along the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.
The park has over 800 miles of trails to explore on foot, many leading to hidden waterfalls or scenic overlooks. For fall foliage vistas, hike the 3-mile roundtrip Alum Cave Trail to Alum Cave Bluffs, the 5.5-mile roundtrip hike to Charlies Bunion or the 8-mile roundtrip hike on the Ramsey Cascades Trail to Ramsey Cascades waterfall. Although the trails are likely to be crowded, especially on weekends, the views make it worth navigating the throngs of leaf peepers.
Acadia National Park: Maine’s Rugged Coastline Ablaze With Fall Foliage
Acadia National Park showcases some of the most stunning fall foliage in America. Located along Maine’s rugged coastline, the park is ablaze with vibrant hues of red, orange and yellow each autumn.
One of the best spots to view the fall colors is Cadillac Mountain, the highest point along the Atlantic coast. You can drive the winding 3.5-mile road to the 1,530-foot summit, where panoramic views provide a sea of color as far as the eye can see. For a more active leaf-viewing option, hike one of the many trails to the top. The stunning vistas from the granite peak are well worth the effort.
For a moderate hike with rewarding views, head to the Parkman Mountain Trail. The 3.5-mile out-and-back trail climbs through a forest of maple, birch and oak trees. Pause at the overlook halfway up for a splash of color across Somes Sound, the only fjard on the east coast of the U.S. The trail ends at the summit where Acadia’s autumn landscape spreads out in all directions.
Acadia’s historic carriage roads, free of motor vehicles, are ideal for biking, walking or horseback riding in autumn. Meandering for 45 miles through picturesque woodlands and along ponds and lakes, the carriage roads are lined with vibrant maples and birches. Rent bikes to explore the carriage roads at your own pace, stopping for photos and to soak in the fall scenery.
Yosemite National Park: Towering Granite Cliffs Against a Backdrop of Gold
Yosemite National Park is one of the best places to view fall foliage in the U.S. Massive granite cliffs tower over meadows and forests bursting with autumn color. As the temperatures cool in September and October, the park’s dogwood, maple and oak trees ignite into shades of gold, scarlet and amber.
The park’s namesake, Yosemite Valley, is especially stunning this time of year. The granite monoliths of El Capitan and Half Dome loom over golden groves of black oaks and bigleaf maples. For one of the valley’s most scenic drives, head to Southside Drive and stop at the many viewpoints to gaze at the golden gates of Yosemite.
Mariposa Grove with its giant sequoias is a sight to behold in autumn. These massive redwood trees with cinnamon-colored bark stand amid dogwoods and maples with leaves of gold. The grove’s Grizzly Giant, one of the largest trees in the world, is believed to have witnessed over 2,000 autumns in its lifetime. Take a quiet stroll along the grove’s trails and relish this seasonal spectacle in a cathedral of ancient giants.
For panoramic vistas of fall color, head to Yosemite’s high country. Trails like the Chilnualna Falls Trail and the Pohono Trail offer views of alpine meadows and granite peaks dusted in snow, all backdropped by a sea of gold. You may spot wildlife like black bears fattening up for hibernation and herds of mule deer with velvet-covered antlers. The crisp air and solitude make autumn the perfect time to explore Yosemite’s scenic high country.
Shenandoah National Park: Crimson and Orange Along the Blue Ridge Mountains
Each October, Shenandoah National Park’s ridges and valleys explode with vibrant shades of crimson, orange and gold.
The park spans a portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains, an ancient mountain range blanketed in forest. Oak, hickory and maple trees dominate, and their fall transformation is simply breathtaking. The range of colors, from bright yellows to deep burgundies, creates a patchwork quilt effect along the mountainsides.
For the best views, drive along Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that traverses the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 75 overlooks along the drive where you can stop and gaze at the colorful display. Some of the most stunning viewpoints are Stony Man Overlook, Pinnacles Overlook and Thornton Gap. Hike to the top of Old Rag Mountain or White Oak Canyon Trail for a panoramic vista of the autumnal wonderland.
Mid- to-late October is the prime time to see the fall colors at their peak. However, the display is fleeting — it usually lasts two or three weeks. Check the park’s official fall foliage report in the weeks leading up to your trip to see how the colors are progressing. The colors often peak at higher elevations first before moving down into the valleys.
Want to explore some more? Our interactive, downloadable and shareable guides are ready and waiting:
- National parks of the West Coast
- National parks of the Interior West
- National parks of the Southwest
- National parks of the Midwest
- National parks of the Southeast
- National Parks of the Northeast
Ultimately, where you’re headed during your move determines the options at play. Visiting some national parks enroute to your new home can help your arrival coincide with when your belongings arrive.
And once you do? These guides are a great way to strike out and explore the amenities near and around your new abode. Looking for more ways to explore your new neighborhood? Be sure to check out our state and city guides for ideas. And don’t forget to check out our blog for great ideas to help you settle in and make your new house a home.