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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