The 8 Best National Parks to Explore in Fall

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Fall colors on the Colorado River

CHECK OUT THESE 8 NATIONAL PARKS THAT ARE THE PERFECT DESTINATIONS TO VISIT ONCE THE FALL SEASON ROLLS AROUND.

 



While summer is usually the most popular time to visit the USA's numerous national parks, we instead believe that fall is one of the absolute best times of the year for an exciting outdoor adventure. This is mostly due to the fact that during fall, you usually have cooler temperatures, fewer people, and colorful fall foliage (depending on where you are exploring of course).


If you are considering heading out on a fall adventure in the USA, then we cannot recommend these 8 destinations enough. Below you will find (in our opinion) the 8 best national parks to visit in the fall, as well as information on what to see and do, and how to get there.


Happy adventuring!





1 | Capitol Reef National Park


The state of Utah is full of incredible sites to see. From the mountains in the north, to the Great Salt Lake, to the red rocks of canyon country, the Beehive State sure knows how to pack a punch. And this includes one of our all-time favorite destinations, Capitol Reef National Park.


This national park is located in the middle of famed Canyon Country (think large red-rock canyons) and is truly gorgeous: colorful striped rock walls, massive arches, wide open desert vistas, exciting canyons and even a historic pioneer town; which, if you come during the fall, has fruit trees you can pick and homemade pies.


So if you are looking for a real off-the-beaten-path fall desert adventure, then definitely consider adding Capitol Reef National Park to your list.



DETAILS

WHERE: Utah

COST TO ENTER: $20 /vehicle (valid for 7 days)




THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK


When the temperatures start to cool off, you know it is time to head out on the many desert trails in this beautiful national park. Below are some of the best hiking trails to explore in the fall, as well as some of our favorite canyoneering routes - for those of you feeling even more adventurous.



HIKING

Capitol Reef National Park has a large number of hiking trails available, from the easy to the more difficult and all the way to multi-day backpacking trips. Some of the best trails to head out on include:


| Cassidy Arch (also see for canyoneering): 1.7 miles roundtrip, moderate difficulty, great views of a massive natural arch


| Chimney Rock Loop: 3.6 miles roundtrip, moderate difficulty, great views of Waterpocket Fold cliffs and excellent for sunset


| Hickman Bridge: 0.9 miles roundtrip (but there is an option to go farther), an overall easy hike with good views of Fruita below


| Halls Creek Narrows: 3.8 miles roundtrip, multi-day backpacking route that follows Halls Creek Drainage, a year-round stream of water. While the distance is not crazy long, there is a lot to explore in the area - so take your time. Learn about other backpacking routes here.


One thing to remember about hiking in Capitol Reef is to always come prepared for the oftentimes intense sun (even in the fall). Make sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat - for there is very little shade to be found out in the desert. We always try to hit the trails as early as possible, not only to avoid the heat of the day, but more so to avoid other people. Plus, during the early morning hours you are more likely to see wildlife.



CANYONEERING

We really fell in love with this national park because of all the incredible canyoneering opportunities that can be found within its boundaries. For us, canyoneering is one of the best ways to get off-the-beaten-path and explore an area that is likely to be way more wild and untouched. Some of our favorite canyons in the park are:


| Cassidy Arch: while it is a great hike on its own, what makes Cassidy Arch so special is the first rappel. You actually hike up to the very edge of the natural arch and then hook in and rappel along its edge. It is a free hang (meaning you don’t “walk” down the wall) and while it is a bit nerve wracking at first (it is a tall rappel) it is also just incredibly fun. Highly, highly recommend this one.


| Stegosaur Slot: What makes this canyon so fun, and 100% worth doing, is not the rappels, but the crazy tight slot canyon that doesn’t require a harness, but instead some grippy shoes, strong knees and a daring attitude.


| The Wives: consisting of 7 shorter canyons, all of which are side drainages of the larger Cohab Canyon, The Wives really only takes about an hour or so to do once the approach is made. The best one is Wife 5, though if you have the time Wife 3 is good as well. One thing to note about Wife 5 is that some of the downclimbs can be a bit tricky (higher jumps than you might feel comfortable with).


Learn about other canyoneering options, as well as more information on these three routes here.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: permits are required for canyoneering. Free day-use permits can be obtained in person at the visitor center or via email. A separate permit is required for each canyoneering route.




HOW TO GET TO CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK


What makes Capitol Reef National Park so special is the feeling that you are way off in the middle of nowhere Utah desert. In fact, you really are. This park is not easy to get to, which in our books, only adds to its appeal.


The closest airports (with driving times) are found in Salt Lake City, Utah (3.5 hours), Denver, Colorado (6.5 hours) and Las Vegas, Nevada (5 hours). Your best option is to probably fly into one of those cities and then rent a car (find a good one here).


Or if you have a car and are looking to instead road trip to Capitol Reef National Park, then you are actually quite central in Southern Utah - Moab is 2 hours away, Lake Powell is 4 hours away and Zion National Park is only 3 hours away.


READ MORE | THE ULTIMATE ADVENTURE GUIDE TO CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK IN UTAH






2 | Acadia National Park


Acadia National Park is located in the far northeastern state of Maine. The national park protects the stunning natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the whole Atlantic coastline of the USA, as well as an abundance of habitats and a rich cultural heritage. Even though the park is pretty far north, it still sees, on average, 4 million visitors a year - making it one of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the United States.


Each fall, once the temperatures start to cool down, Acadia National Park's forests begin bursting with color; including, bright yellows, reds, and oranges. The peak of fall foliage generally comes in mid-October, but this can vary year to year. Whether you are planning to explore the national park by foot, car, bike, or boat, you are sure to have a memorable fall experience.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the park's visitor center closes on November 1st (and then reopens in May). But many of Acadia National Park's facilities begin to close in mid-October. Make sure to check what is open before arriving at the park.



DETAILS

WHERE: Maine

COST TO ENTER: $30 /vehicle (valid for 7 days)




THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK


Once summer starts to wind down, Acadia National Park begins to light up in fall colors. Some of the best places to experience the fall foliage are along the Bubbles Nubble Loop (2.6 miles total), the Jesup and Hemlock Path Loop (1.5 miles total), and the Jordan Pond Path (3.3 miles total) and Jordan Cliffs Loop (5 miles total). All of these hiking trails will give you an up-close view of the fall colors as well as just some beautiful Northeast scenery.


Other great fall adventures in Acadia National Park include driving the Scenic Park Loop Road (27 miles) and paddling around Jordan Pond.




HOW TO GET TO ACADIA NATIONAL PARK


The closest town to the national park is Bar Harbor - an adorable seaside town with lots of character and charm. The park entrance is roughly 1.4 miles from downtown Bar Harbor.


Acadia National Park is just over 2 hours from Augusta, Maine - the capital of the state - and just under 3 hours from Portland, Maine - the largest city in the state. If arriving in either city, you will likely need to rent a car to reach the national park. Find a car rental here.









3 | Isle Royale National Park


Head up north to explore this rugged, isolated island. Isle Royale National Park - which is located in Lake Superior off the coast of the states of Minnesota and Michigan (technically it is in the latter) - offers numerous adventures for backpackers, hikers, boaters, paddlers, and divers - especially in the fall when the temperatures begin to cool, the bugs start to disappear and the leaves slowly change colors.


Once summer starts to wind down, Acadia National Park begins to light up in fall colors. Some of the best places to experience the fall foliage a along the over 450 smaller islands. Together, they encompass a total area of 850 square miles (including submerged land, which extends 4 1/2 miles out into Lake Superior, aka the largest fresharewater lake in the world).


One important thing to keep in mind about this national park, is that it is actually NOT open year-round. Due to the winter weather, the park actually closes on October 31st and doesn't open until the middle of April (usually the 15th). Similarly, the ferry and seaplane services to the island usually only run from mid-May to the end of September.



DETAILS

WHERE: Michigan

COST TO ENTER: $7 /person a day




THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN ISLE ROYALE NATIONAL PARK


You really have two choices when it comes to exploring Isle Royale: hike/backpack around the island on its 165 miles of trails, or stick to the coast and explore its many bays and beaches (learn about the national park's boating regulations). Whichever one you choose, you are sure to have a memorable experience - especially in the fall when the leaves change colors and the coast gets all moody.



HIKING AND BACKPACKING

There are plenty of trails to choose from depending on how long you have to explore the national park. If you are just looking at doing a day hike, then you will need to explore the trails that start from either the harbor of Windigo on the west end or Rock Harbor on the east end.


If you land in Windigo, consider checking out the Windigo Nature Trail for great views (1.2 miles total) or the Minong Ridge Overlook Trail (6.6 miles total). As for backpacking, you do have a lot of options depending on how far you want to go. One popular route is to head out on the Greenstone Ridge Trail all the way out to Malone Bay, which is just under 22 miles one-way.


Some great trails to check out in Rock Harbor are Suzy's Cave (3.8 miles total), Mount Franklin (9.4 miles total), and the Scoville Point via the Stoll Trail (4.7 mile loop). If you are looking to backpack from Rock Harbor, then your best bet is to hike out to either Moskey Basin Campground (10.2 miles one-way) or all the way down to Windigo via the Greenstone Ridge Trail (39.6 miles one-way).


➳ Find even more trails on Isle Royal National Park.




HOW TO GET TO ISLE ROYALE NATIONAL PARK


Isle Royale National Park might just be one of the hardest national parks to reach - at least in the lower 48 states. To start, you cannot drive (or even take a car) to the park due to it being an island in Lake Superior (one of the Great Lakes). Instead you will need to ride a ferry, hop on a seaplane or have your own private boat (or know someone that does).


The best places on the mainland to start your journey from are Copper Harbor and Houghton in Michigan or Grand Portage and Grand Marais in Minnesota. Learn more about how to reach this beautiful island national park here.




Fall colors on the Michigan coastline

EXPLORE MORE | THE TOP 8 NATIONAL PARKS TO EXPLORE IN WINTER






4 | Voyageurs National Park


With over 218,000 acres of land, Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota is an adventurer's playground all year long. The park, which was established in 1975, is full of exposed rock ridges, high cliffs, wetlands, forests, streams and lakes. This is a unique place where you can observe the transition between land and aquatic ecosystems, between southern boreal and northern hardwood forests, and between wild and developed areas.


While the national park has 3 visitor centers you can explore on your own, it is highly recommended that for the full Voyageurs experience you need to head out and explore the islands. You can do this either with a private boat or with a tour company (there are numerous outfitters near the national park).



DETAILS

WHERE: Minnesota

COST TO ENTER: free!




THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN VOYAGEURS NATIONAL PARK


Your options for adventure within this northern national park depend heavily on what kind of transportation you have.


For example, if you only have a car and aren't looking to join a guided boat tour run by the park, then your only option is really to do the few hikes located near the park's three visitor centers (these are still great, don't worry). But if you are down to join a ranger-led tour (which costs up to $85 a person, though often much less), then you should definitely try to check out some of the more iconic places the park has to offer - including the Historic Kettle Falls Hotel.


You can also take a private boat or book a charter from a nearby outfitter to head out to the islands for some hiking or backpacking adventures.


➳ Book your guided boat tours here.




HOW TO GET TO VOYAGEURS NATIONAL PARK


Voyageurs National Park is located approximately 5 hours north of the cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul (where you can easily fly into and rent a car), 3 hours north of the cool town of Duluth on Highway 53, and 4 hours south of Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada.


Depending on which of the three visitor centers you want to visit, your driving time will either increase or decrease.









5 | Grand Canyon National Park


Grand Canyon National Park, located in northern Arizona, encompasses 278 miles (447 km) of the Colorado River and its adjacent uplands. The stunning and iconic national park is actually located in the ancestral homeland of 11 Associated Native American Tribes. The canyon itself is one of the most spectacular examples of erosion anywhere in the world (it is a mind-boggling mile deep).


During the fall, the scorching desert temperatures begin to wane - making it much safer to head out on various adventures, including hiking around the canyon rim or down to the canyon bottom. Obviously, even with the temperatures falling, you will still want to plan ahead and focus on staying safe (read more about this below).



DETAILS

WHERE: Arizona

COST TO ENTER: $35 /vehicle (valid for 7 days)




THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK


Go hiking!


Once you get your fill of views from the canyon rim, consider setting out for an exciting hiking or backpacking adventure. In the fall, the weather starts to cool down and the sun becomes a bit less harsh. But, this is also when the park gets to be the busiest, so to avoid the hordes of people, consider hiking away from the main visitor points - especially on the South Rim, where 90% of visitors go - and getting into the backcountry (if only for a couple of hours).


Some top backcountry hikes include the Bright Angel Trail (up to 12 miles total) and Hermit Trail (up to 7 miles total, for experienced desert hikers) on the South Rim and the North Kaibab Trail (up to 9.4 miles total) and Widforss Trail (up to 10 miles total) on the North Rim.



DESERT HIKING SAFETY CONCERNS

Due to the rugged and unforgiving conditions in Grand Canyon National Park, it is super important to come prepared and to understand basic safety measures that need to be taken. A few key ones to keep in mind are: bring plenty of water and food, avoid the heat of the day (middle of the day usually), know your body's limits and don't push yourself too hard, carry only what you need and make sure to take plenty of breaks.


► Explore more desert hiking tips in this in-depth guide.




HOW TO GET TO GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK


Grand Canyon National Park is located in the northwest corner of Arizona, close to the borders of the states of Utah and Nevada. There are two parts of the national park: the North and South Rims. About 90% of people visit the South Rim due to it being a lot easier to reach - it is approximately 1.5 hours from the town of Flagstaff and 4 hours from Phoenix (a major metropolis with an international airport). The South Rim is also open year-round.