Visiting a U.S. National Park is a transcendent experience, no matter what time of the year you go. But autumn’s foliage offers an unmatched spectrum of colours and showcases the beauty of the parks unforgettably. It’s a superb backdrop to paint lasting memories of a magical natural adventure. The weeks before winter’s first freeze also offer an excellent opportunity for animal sightings as wildlife is typically active during this period. For the best leaf-peeping experience, head to one of these six parks throughout the fall season. However, it’s a brief window of time before the leaves fall, so plan accordingly!

Yosemite National Park

This California icon is one of the most popular in the U.S., and the array of vibrant fall colours makes visiting during mid-October the perfect time for a trek. Visiting the park at this time offers a chance to avoid the heaviest crowds. You’ll have a much better chance of finding accommodations during these months. Check this guide for suggestions on where to find the best colours throughout the park. For the best views from your car, drive along Tioga Road for some or all of its twisted miles. Staying at one of the campgrounds is an easy way to explore many of the gentle hikes in the area (Mirror Lake is a favourite). You could also spend a day tackling more demanding climbs like Four Mile Trail (actually 9.6 miles, so be prepared) that give you incredible vistas.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

With over 100 species of trees throughout the area, the fall colours in this North Carolina/Tennessee park last for several weeks and can display a full array of hues. For those who want to drive the most scenic routes, head out on the Blue Ridge Parkway for any stretch of its 469 miles showcasing the Appalachian wilderness. These other suggested drives and hikes will give you a range of options if you start on a trail and find it’s too crowded – the area is popular during the leaf-peeping season! Stay in Gatlinburg, TN, for excellent access to the trails, along with a vibrant local dining scene, family attractions, and lots of fun artisan shops.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

For a unique adventure to see fall colours in the Midwest, board the scenic railway that travels alongside the Cuyahoga River and offers a great chance to see the abundant wildlife and changing leaves. With bucolic trails that pass farmlands and traverse creeks, gentle hikes provide many options that show off the region’s colours. Nearby, the towns of Akron and Cleveland offer many attractions and plenty of opportunities for lodging and dining.

Photo: Shawn Roberts via 123RF

Rocky Mountain National Park

A Colorado treasure, this national park displays vibrant yellows starting in mid-September as the abundant aspen change along the slopes. Because most of the trees are aspen, you won’t see the variety of colours available in other locations. Still, the contrast with the crisp blue sky and dark evergreens is worth the visit. Heading on a gentle hike around one of the many lakes (Bear and Lily are favourites) will give you spectacular views. A more strenuous hike on the Twin Sisters trail is prime for viewing colours from smaller foliage that turn various shades. For a driving tour, head on Trail Ridge Road for the 48 miles starting in Estes Park and pull off along the way at the designated viewing spots to take pictures. For more driving and hiking suggestions, try this guide. Staying in Estes Park gives you easy access to the park and plenty of small-town amenities and shops that provide great entertainment.

Grand Teton National Park

As the northernmost location on the list, this national park will see fall colours as early as late August and continue through September, so planning an early-season visit is best. With stunning lakes and sheer cliffs as the backdrop for an array of fall colours, this park is a must-see for nature enthusiasts. Guides for the best hikes and drives are plentiful since this park is popular, so make reservations for accommodations early. Stay at one of the campgrounds in the park (several open through October), at a lodge, or in nearby Jackson Hole, WY, where you can find many traditionally rustic shops and attractions.

Shenandoah National Park

Situated in the Appalachians in Virginia, this park holds a Fall Foliage Bike Festival that can help take your leaf peeping to the next level. The regional colour variety is breathtaking, and visitors who want to explore on foot or in the car have many options. The area is most popular during the fall, so plan for crowds and go during the week if possible.

If you’re looking for the best way to experience the fall colours this year, head to one of the United States national parks and enjoy nature at its finest.

Report an error

Read our guiding principles

Thanks for reading!

Our goal is to cover all the local news and events happening in Northeast B.C. If you believe in this coverage, becoming a Supporter is a great way to help!

As a Supporter, you also get our investigative stories early and a FREE mug!

More stories you might like