Autumn is the perfect time to visit any of America's national parks, as crowds tend to be at a minimum, the weather is fantastic, and the change of season brings a wash of color to many of these iconic settings. If you're looking to explore a park this fall, and perhaps spend some time on a scenic trail, here are our picks for the very past options to do just that.
Acadia National Park—Maine
Located along Maine's rugged and remote Atlantic Coast, Acadia National Park is one of the most beautiful wildernesses in the eastern U.S. This is particularly true in the fall, when the trees explode with an array of vibrant colors. Most visitors during that time of year come to make the drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak in the park. But you can avoid the traffic jam by hiking up the Cadillac North Ridge Trail instead. The trail isn't particularly long at just 4.4 miles round trip, but the route is steep at times. It rises all the way up to the 1,528-foot summit where views of the ocean and forest meet. Get there before dawn and you'll even have the chance to be one of the first people in North America to witness the sunrise that day.
Rocky Mountain National Park—Colorado
Colorado's famous aspen trees turn a spectacular golden hue come fall, and there are few places more well suited to see them than Rocky Mountain National Park. The snowcapped peaks of the surrounding mountains make a dramatic backdrop for the prolific aspens, which take on a warm glow in the autumn sun. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from in the park, and nearly all of them are fantastic options for a fall outing. But one of the absolute best is the 10-mile roundtrip trek to the top of Mt. Ida, a 12,880-foot mountain that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including several deep-blue alpine lakes. This trek is a bit on the challenging side, particularly as you near the top, but the payoff is certainly well worth the effort.
Great Smoky Mountains—North Carolina & Tennessee
With more than 850 miles of trail inside the park, the Great Smoky Mountains are a fantastic place to hike all year long. But autumn paints the birch, oak, and maple trees there in vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow, making it a special time to visit indeed. It is also the perfect time of year to hike to the top of Mt. Cammerer, an 11.1-mile roundtrip walk that includes more than 3,000 feet of vertical gain. Reach the summit and you'll find some of the most breathtaking views in the entire park as the Smokey Mountains stretch out in all directions around you.