From Acadia’s Maples to Zion’s Cottonwoods: 13 Best National Parks for Fall Color

The first cool breeze sparks a desire to experience all things fall. From colorful leaves to a campfire to an afternoon hike, a national park is the best place to celebrate fall this year. Coast-to-coast, travelers can find the best national parks for fall color near them, like Maine's Acadia or California's Yosemite.

Best National Parks for Fall Color

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After summer crowds simmer, fall travelers might find wildlife outnumbering visitors. Planning is still essential for the best trip in the best national parks for fall color, especially in snowy areas. Lodging inside the parks is always at a premium, so reservations are a must. In addition to that chai or pumpkin spice latte in an insulated cup, layers are just as important. 

1. Acadia National Park

Peak foliage at Bubble Rock in Acadia National Park.
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With the rugged coast of Maine's Atlantic coast as a backdrop, the trees might outshine the ocean at Acadia National Park. Visitors should hop the free Island Explorer and get off at any of the popular stops on Acadia's Mount Desert, like Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Jordan Pond.

Visitors should head to one of Acadia National Park's historic carriage roads for easy hiking trails. Leaf peeping is at its top, so a trip up Cadillac Mountain is worth it (vehicle permit required). Hiking makes visitors hungry. The Jordan Pond House remains open for popovers and tea until the end of September. 

Acadia National Park is just south of Bar Harbor, Maine. It is open year-round, though seasonal road closures are in effect from November through March. Admission is $25 per car for a 7-day pass.

2. Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site

Franklin D Roosevelt,House
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Within two hours of New York City, the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site packs it in for fall. Overlooking the Hudson River, the former president's estate is an idyllic landscape. FDR worked with the New York State College of Forestry to develop techniques to keep ]p its forests sustainable.

In addition to the grounds, the site offers FDR home tours along with the FDR Presidential Library. Both the FDR Home Tour and the Presidential Library require an additional ticket. The FDR National Historic Site is at 114 Estates Lane, Hyde Park, NY. The Grounds are open year-round from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. (8 p.m. during the summer) and are free to enter.

3. Glacier National Park 

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At the top of the continent in Montana's Glacier National Park, the fall color season starts early, and leaves change colors in mid-September. Leaf peepers will find Western Larch and Aspen trees that turn golden and pop against the evergreens and the granite mountaintops.

In addition to the goldenrod colors up and down the mountains, visitors can see some wildlife during their fall mating season. Good idea to check out the weather since the Going-to-the-Sun Road closes down for the season early. Glacier National Park is in Northern Montana on the Canadian border. It is open year-round, and a vehicle permit might be required. A 7-day pass costs $35 per car. 

4. Grand Canyon National Park

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Known nearly worldwide for the mile-deep canyon, Grand Canyon National Park is a fall color hot spot, especially the South Rim. Visitors will find Fremont Cottonwoods and Gambel Oaks along park roads and into the canyon. Hikers can rejoice; fall brings milder temperatures inside the canyon. 

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is located in Northern Arizona, about 4 hours from Las Vegas. It is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. A 7-day vehicle pass is $35.

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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With about 100 native tree species, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the Best National Parks for fall color. Visitors will find American beech, scarlet oak, sweet gum, hickories, and several types of maples. 

A scenic drive is the easiest way to see fall color, though expect traffic delays. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Foothills Parkway, and Clingmans Dall are tops for the best fall color. Located in Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is close to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and free to enter. 

6. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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Home to the high point of Texas, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is also the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains. Fall travelers can spot the park's maples and Texas Madrones near the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Located in West Texas, it is close to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Admission is $10 a person for 16+ for a seven-day pass.

7. Hot Springs National Park 

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With its selection of deciduous trees, autumn is an excellent time to visit Hot Springs National Park. Trees include several types of oaks along with birch, elm, and popular. This Arkansas park offers hiking and scenic drives to see the best fall colors. Its convenient location in the quaint town of Hot Springs adds to its attractiveness. Hot Springs National Park is in central Arkansas in Hot Springs. The park is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. It is free to enter.

8. Rocky Mountain National Park

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The quaking Aspens starts to mellow into its signature gold color from mid-September until mid-October, depending on weather and elevation. In this popular Colorado National Park, a scenic drive is the easiest way to see the season's colors. Trail Ridge Road is the main scenic route traveling across the park from east to west.

Animal spotters need to keep a lookout for elk that are active for the annual rut. Rocky Mountain National Park is in Northern Colorado. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. One-day admission is $30 per car, and visitors will need a timed entry vehicle pass until late October. 

9. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

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The mighty sequoia trees are the kings of this California forest; however, visitors will find dogwood shrubs that turn a fiery red. Aspens are also at home in the forests of the Sierra Nevada. At the lower elevations, Blue Oaks are plentiful. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are in southeast California. Open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. A 7-day pass for $35 per vehicle covers both parks. 

10. Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park
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About two hours from Washington, D.C., visitors come for scenic drives in the fall, like Skyline Drive. As a part of the Appalachian Mountains, leaf peepers will see Red Oak, Maple, Sassafras, and Yellow Poplar. Shenandoah National Park is in Northwestern Virginia. Open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. A 7-day pass is $30 per vehicle.

11. Yellowstone National Park

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The summer travelers are barely gone before the trees start to change color in Yellowstone National Park. Travelers will find Quaking Aspen, Narrowleaf Cottonwood, Willow, and Hawthorne trees with the park's geysers. Yellowstone National Park is in Northwest Wyoming. Most lodges shutter in the fall, and most roads close with the first big snowstorm. Open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. A 7-day pass is $35 per vehicle.

12. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park in California
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The Yosemite Valley offers the best fall color, with Quaking Aspen, dogwood, big-leaf maple, and black oak. This area offers lots of hiking, from quick walks in the valley to longer hikes up the rock formations. Visitors can head up Tioga Road in the Tuolumne Meadows area for the earliest fall color. This area is less crowded, nestled among the mountaintops of the Sierra Nevadas. Yosemite National Park is in central California. It is open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. A 7-day pass is $35 per vehicle. 

13. Zion National Park 

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Fall colors dip into the valley from the top of Zion's ridges, especially the Freemont Cottonwoods. With contrasting colors, the red sandstone, the pinyon trees, and the yellow-colored trees make Zion National Park particularly scenic during autumn. Once inside the park, most head to Zion Canyon for the top hikes. Visitors will have to take its free Zion Valley Shuttle. Zion National Park is in Southern Utah. Open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. A 7-day pass is $35 per vehicle.